That Neon Makeup Trend Might Be Dangerous – Here’s Why

August 01, 2019

Even if you’re oblivious to who’s walking the runway on any given day, the neon trend has been almost impossible to ignore. Rainbow-tinted lashes and bright-colored lids ignited the catwalks of Marc Jacobs, Rodarte, and Erdem (among others) in Spring 2019. Now that summer has hit, cosmetic lines are cashing in, but consumers are paying much more than just a hefty price tag.

In July, Estée Laundry – “an anonymous beauty collective” – noted that certain neon makeup palettes are unsafe to use around the eyes. The Instagram post includes an image gallery, flagging unlabeled products from LORAC, Huda Beauty, Juvia’s Place, and docolor, with a caption that reads: “What do you all think of companies not disclosing that their neon/vivid palettes are ‘not safe for use’ around the eyes?”

Here’s why you should be paying attention to that secondary “warning” label.

Neon pigments are not FDA-approved for use around the eyes.

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), many of the pigments used to create those trendy fluorescent hues are prohibited from being used in eye makeup – even if they’ve been green-lighted for other cosmetics, such as lipstick.

Pigments D&C Red No.6 and D&C Yellow No.7, for example, are a no go.

A FDA rep who spoke with Refinery29 noted the following:

“We want consumers to be aware that if color additives are not approved by the FDA for use in the area of the eyes, they should not be used for that purpose and cosmetics containing those color additives may not be marketed for that use. Since the eyelids are delicate, an allergic reaction, irritation, or other injury in the eye area can be particularly troublesome.”

As you can imagine, hundreds of followers added their two cents in the comments section.

While some users seemed genuinely worried, others found the post irrelevant.

One user wrote:

“It doesn’t bother me in the slightest, because as far as I’m aware, the regulations that state it’s not safe for eye use doesn’t apply in the UK and Europe. I think if it wasn’t really safe, surely we’d have the same rules as the US? It’s always something I’ve viewed as the FDA being very, very overprotective about, similar to the way they view SPF as a drug.”

Estée Laundry isn’t the only one pointing out unsafe fluorescents. 

In June, “Muse” – a self-proclaimed cosmetic junkie and owner of the beauty blog Musings of a Muse – wrote an in-depth review on Huda Beauty’s Neon Obsessions Palette.

“One thing to take note of with these palettes is the fact they are named Huda Beauty Neon Obsessions Palette and NOT Huda Beauty Neon Obsession Eye Palette or Eye-Shadow Palette,” Muse wrote. “That’s because [the palettes] contain pressed pigments that are not safe for eye use within the USA by the FDA.”

In the review, Muse reveals that the product contains a hidden “dual-label” that advised consumers no to use the product on or around their eyes.

The second label seems “a little deceptive,” don’t you think? 

“The first label shows the ingredients, and you have to actually lift up the sticker to see the ‘not intended for the eye area’ warning,” Muse wrote. “I think most people likely won’t lift that second label up to see that warning and that sort of sucks.”

Even though Huda Beauty doesn’t describe its Neon Obsessions Palette as an eye shadow, the ads visually market the product as such.

While the phrase “eye shadow” is nowhere to be found, there are plenty of photos boasting neon-eyed models.

On Monday, July 5, 2019, the brand shared specific instructions for how to use the product on its website. Once the neon cosmetic trend blew up, the site removed the instructions.

“Blend the shadows seamlessly together, using darker shades in the crease, and lighter hues along the brow bone and inner corners of the eye,” Huda Beauty’s website previously read. “Use a smudge or liner brush, to create bright liner looks either on the eyelid, or along lower lash line.”

Now, the site includes a quick tip from the brand’s founder, Huda Kattan.

“Huda’s tip: Apply Overachiever Concealer in shade Whipped Cream as a base to amplify [the] pigment and intensity [of] your looks.”

In hopes of clearing its name, Huda Beauty addressed the concerns in a statement to Teen Vogue:

“At Huda Beauty, it’s so important for us to listen to our community, and we appreciate all of your feedback and questions. We wanted to talk a little about the pigments in our Neon Obsessions Pigment Palettes and whether or not you can use them around the eye. Several brands, including Huda Beauty, have dealt with this U.S.-specific restriction and the confusion it can create. In this case, it’s only in the U.S. that some pigments used in these palettes are not yet FDA-approved for use around the eyes. That is why in the U.S. they are categorized as multi-use pigment palettes. Everywhere else in the world, these pigments are approved for use around the eye and are categorized as eye shadows.”

So, here’s the big question: Should we be worried? 

According to cosmetic chemist Jim Hammer, the answer is, “Yes.” 

“Neon eye shadows rely on fluorescent colorants, whereas regular eye shadows do not contain these colorants,” Hammer told Teen Vogue. “The U.S. FDA does not recognize neon, fluorescent or ‘Day-Glo’ colorants as safe for use in the eye area. These are the colorants that are being used in the neon eye shadows, some of which carry disclaimers that the product is not intended for use in the eye area.”

Unapproved colorings include those that have been created with D&C Red No. 21, No. 22, No. 27, and No. 28; D&C Orange No. 5, No. 10, and No. 11; and D&C Yellow No. 7, just to name a few. 

While regulations ARE different in the EU and Asia, Hammer says it’s not worth the risk.

“Regulations are different in the EU and in Asia, so it is possible that some of these are approved for eye-area usage in those countries, but they are currently not approved in the U.S.,” Hammer added. “The FDA is usually pretty open to most ingredients used in cosmetic products, allowing all but a handful of really dangerous ingredients, so when they disallow colorants for certain uses, it’s typically in the consumer’s best interest to listen to what they say.”

What’s a makeup-loving person to do now?

Here’s the complete list of color additives that are safe to use (in the eye area).

Before you start throwing your palettes out the window, take a look at the label. If your eye shadow contains one or more of the following additives (and these additives only!), it’s OK to use. To see a complete list of unapproved additives, check fda.gov. The site lists the exact color additive and its specific limitations, according to the FDA site page’s most recent update in May 2015. 

FD&C Blue No. 1

Also known as Brilliant Blue FCF. 

FD&C Blue No. 1, also known by Brilliant Blue FCF, is a synthetic organic compound that’s used as a blue colorant in medications, processed foods (Eek!), dietary supplements, and cosmetics. Brilliant Blue FCF is one of the oldest FDA-approved color additives. In fact, it was one of the very first of 15 straight colors to be approved for use in food. (21 CFR Section 74.2104)

D&C Green No. 5

Also known as Acid Green 25. 

D&C Green No. 5, also known as Acid Green 25, is a water-soluble powdered dye that’s often used in medications, personal care products (including soap and shampoo), or cosmetics. Although the name sounds a bit harsh, Acid Green 25 is safe for both eye and lip use. (21 CFR Section 74.2205)

FD&C Red No. 40

Also known as Allura Red AC. 

FD&C Red No. 40, also known as Allura Red AC, is one of the most commonly used artificial red food colorings used in the U.S. It’s also one of the newest colors to be added to the FD&C’s approved list. Red No. 40 may look pretty, but you might want to avoid eating it. According to Be Food Smart, Red No. 40 has been known to cause hyperactivity in children and may even cause cancer. (21 CFR Section 74.2340) 

FD&C Yellow No. 5

Also known as Acid Yellow 23. 

FD&C Yellow No. 5, also known as Acid Yellow 23 or tartrazine, is a common colorant used in drugs, food, cosmetics, and medical devices. It’s usually used to dye capsules, tablets, vitamins, and antacids. Unfortunately, tartrazine has been known to cause issues for people with asthma. So, again, we don’t recommend swallowing it.  (21 CFR Section 74.2705)