Why does the FDA not regulate eyeliner?


I saw a tiktok warning about makeup around the eyes because those in particular aren’t regulated by the FDA and some can contain Mercury as a preservative. Why are eyeliners treated differently?

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Cosmetics are regulated by the FDA. There are basically two categories of FDA regulations: 1) Things that are intended to treat a specific illness; and 2) Everything else.

If your product falls into the first category then, at least in theory, you have to prove to the FDA that your product is safe and effective before being allowed to sell it. That doesn’t stop someone from saying that caustic lye will cure your cancer and selling it on ebay – its basically impossible to stop small sellers from ignoring FDA regulations – but it does stop big companies from doing that.

If your product falls into the second category, which most products do, then you’re allowed to sell it as long as it has an accurate label and doesn’t contain a prohibited compound. Mercury preservatives are generally prohibited compounds, but the FDA does allow their use in eyeliner when used in very trace amounts, below what poses a health risk to people using it.

If the product does have mercury in it, then that needs to be listed on the ingredient label.

As with products in the first category, the FDA can’t go after some dude selling their backyard cosmetics on ebay, so those are a wild west in terms of what’s in the product and whether the label accurately reflects that or not. But if the product is being sold in a major retailer then its going to be compliant with FDA regulations.