How going blind changed cosmetic law

By Adem Lewis / in , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , /

Imagine treating yourself to an eyelash and
brow tint and ending up blind. In the 1930s, that’s exactly what happened
to one woman. Mrs. Hazel Faye Browne stopped by Bird’s Beauty
Shop before a PTA banquet given in her honor. There she was persuaded to get a brow and
lash tint with an eyelash beautifier known as Lash Lure. In the moments following her visit, her eyes
began to sting with pain. Two hours later, she could hardly see. For the next two months, Ms. Brown would suffer
extreme pain and destruction of her eyeballs that would ultimately lead to her becoming
totally blind forever with no hope of recovery. Mrs. Brown wasn’t the only one. The Journal of the American Medical Association
reported at least 17 similar incidents and it’s possible many more were not reported. What happened? The Lash Lure Eye Beautifier contained a chemical
known to cause extreme allergic reactions in some people. The offending molecule, paraphenylenediamine,
also known as PPD, a hexagon shaped ring with a nitrogen and two hydrogens attached to opposite
ends. Why was a product like this on the market? Because in the 1930s, existing regulations
like the 1906 Food and Drug Act provided little protection to consumers. Sure, the law prohibited contaminated and
misbranded products, but it offered no specifics on how to enforce the law and harmful cosmetics
weren’t even included. Worse yet, the FDA had to prove the sellers
of these harmful products were being knowingly deceptive. Motivated by earlier cases similar to the
Lash Lure tragedy, the FDR administration worked to reform the 1906 Food and Drug Act
in hopes of providing better consumer protection. It seems so obvious to us now that being injured
by your makeup is a problem but in 1933, the administration had to communicate to the public
and Congress why these new protections were necessary. They assembled an exhibit of potentially dangerous
products that was displayed at the 1933 Chicago World Fair. It included products like Koremlu, a permanent
hair removal cream that used thallium acetate, an ingredient in rat poison and Gouraud’s
Oriental Cream, which caused bluish black gums and loss of teeth thanks to mercury compounds,
and of course Lash Lure. The display was shocking enough that one journalist
dubbed it “the American chamber of horrors.” The display awoke the public consciousness
and had the support of many women’s groups including the first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt
herself. Unfortunately the first legislative attempts
to strengthen consumer protections were a disaster. They were viciously opposed by industry, trade
groups and advertisers in a five year legislative battle that didn’t end until 1938 when 100
people, mostly children, died after taking a drug called sulfanilamide. They were poisoned by diethylene glycol, a
toxic liquid with a sweet taste. Only then did the Federal Drug and Cosmetic
Act of 1938 pass into a law. It tightened the regulations on food and drugs
and cosmetics were regulated for the first time. Lash Lure was the first product confiscated
once the act was passed and the FDA issued a statement saying PPD in eyelash tints was
considered contamination, a rule the FDA still adheres to to this day. So, happy ending or all safe, right? Maybe. Maybe not. Watch my next video to find out more.

9 thoughts on “How going blind changed cosmetic law

  1. It’s disgusting that a hundred children had to die to get legislation through that protects consumers. It makes the people who opposed it look very, very greedy.

  2. Great video. I read about this story when I was researching the beginning of cosmetic animal testing. It kind of seemed like, "why did we ever test makeup on animals?!?" THIS is why. Thankfully research has improved and now we no longer need to sacrifice animal lives. We've made a lot of progress, even if it wasn't the best process.

    Anyway, remember that whenever someone goes off on "the good old days!"

  3. Geesh, we have it so good now with certain regulations that we really take them for granted, sad it had to come at the cost of peoples vision like that tho. Good to have reminders like this of why some regulation isn't a bad thing.

  4. It was 107 people. 34 children. Not "mostly."

    NEVER EVER be the guinea pig. Use the old drugs. There's a long list of pills that doctors pushed that were and are dangerous. Phen-fen. Thalidimide. Oxycontin. And on and on…

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