Surge in the number of inquiries about eyelash essence! Efficacy and labeling examined
PIO-NET1 has received 381 inquiries2 about harmful incidents3 related to eyelash essence since FY2015. Although eyelash essence is advertised to make eyelashes firm, stiff and glossy, it has been reported that some users had swelling around the eyes after applying eyelash essence. There was a surge in the number of inquiries about eyelash essence in FY2018. Some of the users were diagnosed as corneal ulcer by ophthalmologist.
NCAC investigated some eyelash essence products sold on online shopping malls and found that some of them had been produced as hair growth agents and approved as quasi-pharmaceutical products4, although they were sold as eyelash essence products. Some others were labeled as if they would stimulate eyelash growth, indicating "hair growth", "stimulates hair growth" and so on, which exceeds the acceptable range of efficacy expressions for cosmetics.
Therefore, NCAC decided to share information related to eyelash essence and make a request to related organizations to prevent the occurrence of similar problems.
Diagram: Transition in annual number of harmful incidents
The number of harmful incidents was 8 in FY2015, 18 in FY2016, 70 in FY2017, 281 in FY2018, and 4 in FY2019.
- 1 PIO-NET is a database that collects information on inquiries concerning consumer affairs by linking NCAC with local consumer affairs centers and similar organizations across Japan via an online network.
- 2 Among harmful incidents related to cosmetics, NCAC counted cases described with words "eyelash" and any of the following: "beauty essence", "hair growth liquid", "hair growth agent", "pilatory liquid", "pilatory agent", "hair increase liquid", "hair increase agent", "nutrient liquid", "nutrient agent", "cream" or "treatment". Data registered through May 31, 2019.
- 3 "Harmful incidents" in the context of PIO-NET refer to cases in which a product, service, or facility has caused harm (i.e. bodily injury, sickness or disease).
- 4 A quasi-pharmaceutical product "hair growth agent (pilatory)" was approved as external preparation intended to prevent hair loss and stimulate hair growth. The following efficacy of the agent was approved: hair growth, prevention of thin hair, itching and hair loss, stimulation of hair growth, prevention of dandruff, and prevention of hair loss due to disease or childbearing.
About eyelash essence
Eyelash essence is applied on eyelashes with a brush, sponge or by hand, just like applying mascara. It is claimed that some products make eyelashes firm, stiff and glossy, and some others stimulate eyelash growth.
In the category of cosmetics, it is permitted to claim efficacy of making hair firm, stiff and glossy, but not permitted to claim efficacy of eyelash growth under the Standards for Fair Advertising Practices of Pharmaceuticals, etc.5 As of July 2019, there was no eyelash essence approved as quasi-pharmaceutical product.
When checking ingredient labeling of 20 brands of eyelash essence6 sold on online shopping malls, 9 to 57 ingredients were indicated. All the 20 brands indicated plant derived ingredients such as Panax ginseng root extract, Zizyphus jujuba fruit extract, and Swertia japonica extract. Some of the brands indicated alcohol such as ethanol.
- 5 Criteria for regulating advertisements of pharmaceuticals, etc. under the Act on Securing Quality, Efficacy and Safety of Products Including Pharmaceuticals and Medical Devices
- 6 How the 20 brands were chosen is described in the section "Survey of labeling" below.
Outline of inquiries
PIO-NET received 2,140 inquiries about eyelash essence since FY2015 (data registered through May 31, 2019). The most common category of inquiries was "contract, cancellation" (1,897 cases, 88.6%) and the secondary most was "sales method" (1,597 cases, 74.6%), followed by "labeling, advertising" (482 cases, 22.5%), "quality, function, service quality" (408 cases, 19.1%) and "safety, hygiene" (397 cases, 18.6%).
Among the above inquiries about eyelash essence, 381 cases were associated with harmful incidents. The breakdown by age group showed that incidents experienced by those in their 40s to 60s accounted for about 80% (n=360). The breakdown by month of incident showed that about 60% incidents occurred during dry winter months: 86 incidents between November and February.
Sampling of inquiries and complaints
- My ophthalmologist told me that I was suffering from corneal ulcer. I needed to have an operation.
- I got swelling around my eyes after using eyelash essence and received treatment from a dermatologist. When I applied for cancellation of regular purchase of eyelash essence, I was charged the difference between the normal price and the special price for regular purchase.
- Eyelash essence was advertised to make eyelashes long and thick, but it didn't work. Instead, I got swelling around my eyes.
- I had itchy eyes and lost some eyelashes after using eyelash essence. Although I want to cancel the contract for regular purchase of eyelash essence, I cannot get through to the sales company.
Comments by specialist
Skin structure differs according to where it is on the body. Skin around eyes such as eyelids is the thinnest and most likely to absorb particles from the outside. Sebum secretion capacity diminishes with aging. Sebum secretion recovery after face washing slows down when people are aged 40 or older. During dry season from autumn to spring, many people are affected by dry air and are prone to skin problems around eyes. Therefore, some people may have skin problems such as redness, itching, pain, swelling, etc. after applying a hair growth agent (quasi-pharmaceutical product) or eyelash essence (cosmetics) containing numerous ingredients, depending on each person's constitution and the season. In particular, plant-derived ingredients and alcohols like ethanol often stimulate human skins and cause an allergic reaction.
Survey of labeling
NCAC chose 20 brands of eyelash essence sold on online shopping malls from hot selling products, products often picked up by a search engine with words "hair growth" or "hair increase", and products labeled "quasi-pharmaceutical product" or "medicated" to examine websites of manufacturers and sellers, products themselves, packages and instruction manuals (survey from May 10 to July 23, 2019).
- Five brands out of the 20 brands were labeled "quasi-pharmaceutical product" or "medicated". The remaining 15 brands were cosmetics.
- Hair growth quasi-pharmaceutical products on the market have been intended for head hair. The 5 brands labeled "quasi-pharmaceutical product" or "medicated" were hair growth quasi-pharmaceutical products indicating eyelash growth efficacy. About half of the 15 cosmetics had efficacy expressions which might exceed the permitted range for cosmetics under the Standards for Fair Advertising Practices of Pharmaceuticals, etc. Those efficacy expressions appeared to be problematic under the Act on Securing Quality, Efficacy and Safety of Products Including Pharmaceuticals and Medical Devices.
- Five brands of hair growth quasi-pharmaceutical products were sold as the category of eyelash essence on online shopping malls.
Advice for consumers
- There have been many harmful incidents experienced by users of eyelash essence, such as swelling of eyelids, some of which showed that eyelash essence did not work as advertised. Carefully consider whether or not to buy it.
- In case of abnormality such as reddened skin, itching, pain in or around the eyes, or swelling of eyelids, stop using eyelash essence immediately and consult dermatologist or ophthalmologist as appropriate.
- Hair growth quasi-pharmaceutical products are intended for head hair. The efficacy has not been approved for eyelash growth. Do not use it for eyelashes.
Request to businesses
- There have been numerous harmful incidents experienced by users of eyelash essence. NCAC requests businesses to take measures to ensure producing safe products and offering secure transactions for consumers.
- NCAC requests businesses not to label eyelash growth efficacy on hair growth quasi-pharmaceutical products.
- NCAC requests businesses not to exceed the permitted range of efficacy expressions for eyelash essence.
Request for cooperation to the online shopping mall runners
- Some hair growth quasi-pharmaceutical products were sold as eyelash essence products. NCAC requests mall runners to instruct the sellers and properly manage the websites.
Request to the government
- NCAC requests the government to grasp the current status and instruct problematic businesses so that efficacy of eyelash essence will be appropriately labeled and indicated.