The aniline compound in Lash Lure was a paraphenylenediamine, which darkens as it oxidizes in the air. Although they were commonly used as hair dye in the 1920s and 1930s, Lash Lure contained up to 30 times the aniline used in hair dye, and used it for the sensitive eye area.
What's more, there were a myriad of products causing similar harm. Susan E. Wilson-Sanders outlines the case of "Anti-Mole, a remedy, [that] contained 50% nitric acid and 25% glacial acetic acid. It took off the moles along with the side of the victim’s face! Berry’s Freckle Ointment contained 12% mercury and produced mercury toxicity. Some unsuspecting people purchased Bleachodent to whiten their teeth and burned their gums and tongues because of the high content of hydrochloric and sulphuric acid. Carbon tetrachloride, which we know today is carcinogenic and produces hepatic toxicity, was a common ingredient of 'dry' shampoos. Is your scalp itching? Use Dr. Dennis’s Compound which 'prevents and stops the itch in one minute' because of its concentration of chloral hydrate, or Dewsberry Hair Tonic which stops an itching scalp with copper chloride and pyrogallic acid."
|Teddy Roosevelt is concerned about your safety.|
Although this was an important step forward, products like Lash Lure demonstrated how limited the FDA's powers truly were. In addition to Lash Lure, journalists highlighted radioactive beverages like Radithor (this radium-laced water claimed to boost virility; unsurprisingly to us, using it led to painful deaths), which were permitted under the Pure Food and Drug Act, and other potentially dangerous quackery. Additionally, new drugs were not required to be tested. In 1937, a sulfanilamide medicine called "Elixir sulfanilamide" resulted in the deaths of over 100 people. Due to lax legislation, the long legal trouble that the company faced was a small fine for calling a product without alcohol an "elixir".
When it comes to cosmetics, the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act prohibits the sale of makeup that contains substances or color additives known to be harmful, anything that's decomposing, or anything that has been exposed to unsanitary conditions (these are referred to collectively as "adulterated cosmetics"). Additionally, it requires honest labeling that contains certain required information. The FDA is also authorized to inspect cosmetics manufacturing, and to take and test samples during inspections or after receiving complaints. They monitor imports to assure that imported cosmetics are also up to snuff. And, of course, they can pursue legal action against companies who break the law by selling adulterated or otherwise unsafe cosmetics.