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How to import cosmetics into the US

The beauty industry in the US is huge. It seems that we are surrounded by it, whether we like or not. Print ads, television product placement, Instagram and Youtube beauty bloggers – these things are everywhere, so it should come as no surprise that beauty is a good business to get into. Like much of our goods, beauty products come from all corners of the world in order to brighten our complexion and add pops of color to our faces. Cosmetics importing can be complicated, so here is a small introduction to this type of trade.

Like many consumable products, it is important to follow US regulations when importing cosmetics. The FDA is the agency that regulates cosmetics, and does so under the power of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. The FD&C Act states that cosmetics cannot be changed or branded as something other than what they are. This means that cosmetics are well regulated, as the act makes sure there are no unsafe additives, prohibited ingredients, or known contaminants.

Cosmetic Vs. Drug

One of the first steps to take when beginning to import beauty products is to determine whether your item is indeed a cosmetic product or if it is a drug. If the product is something used to change your appearance or clean a body part, it’s probably cosmetic. This includes make up such as lipstick or blush, and skin products like toner and makeup wipes. A drug is product that affects the body at an internal level to treat a condition, for example medicated acne cream. A drug has stricter requirements under the FD&C Act. There are some products that claim to be both, which can be confusing, so take a look at the guidelines here.

Cosmetic Ingredients

Ingredients in makeup do not have to be approved by the FDA, except for some color additives. Color additives do need to be approved for the way they are being used, and in some cases the FDA will even make their own batches of color additives that are allowed. Because the FDA does not have enumerated lists of tests that a cosmetic product must pass, it is the responsibility of the importer to make sure that the cosmetic is safe when used as directed.

Packaging and Labeling

When it comes to cosmetics, there’s already a lot of implied promises. But when it comes to packaging and labels on your product, the importer is responsible for truthful packaging that doesn’t mislead or deceive. It’s not just good etiquette, it is a legal responsibility. The directions on the label should tell consumers how it is intended to be used, and the product should be safe when used in that manner. The label must also meet standards under the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act.

Is It Organic?

Because the FDA doesn’t actually have a definition for organic cosmetics, all claims of a makeup product being organic will fall under the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP). Agricultural products that are used in the cosmetic will need to meet the NOP regulations’ standards in order to receive a certificate that the product is “organic.” There are many layers of organic, and it depends on how much of the product is made up of organic ingredients. This is another point that can be a bit confusing, so it is best to refer to the NOP guidelines for Cosmetics, Body Care Products, and Personal Care Products.

Any shipment of imported cosmetics is subject to FDA approval, and should be cleared by the FDA before they are shipped. Otherwise, if the FDA does not approve of the product, Customs will not release the shipment. There are many details to become familiar with before dabbling in cosmetics imports. Here’s a great resource and FAQ to help clarify some of the confusion.

Learn HTS Codes

HTS stands for Harmonized Tariff Schedule. This will determine how much you will have to pay in duties when you import your footwear product into the States. The HTS code will also tell the importer what trade agreements are in play and any other regulations you may need to know about your product. The classification for shoes will depend on how the shoe is made - specifically what it is made from and where the shoe began its journey.


Harmonized Tariff codes and duty rates for cosmetics can be found in chapter 33 and 34.

Find your category on the left, click on it, and you’ll be able to see the duty rates for the countries of origin in the first column on the right, if that country has “Normal Trade Relations (NTR)” with the US. Be careful to look for special sub-columns, as many countries will have special duty rates if they have trade agreements with the US. If the country does not have Normal Trade Relations with the United States, you’ll find it in the second column – some industry people refer to these countries as “Column Two” countries. Reading the HTS columns can be confusing, so the US government has written a helpful guide here.

Your product’s HTS code, which is a ten-digit code, will be included on forms for CBP (Customs and Border Patrol) such as the customs clearance invoice. The freight forwarder you choose will use it to fill out paperwork destined for both the import and export country. They will also arrange all the travel for your product, so your cosmetics will end up safely in the US.

Expect Fees

Besides the tax and duties as identified from the HTS code, for goods that is shipped as ocean freight, you must pay Harbor Maintenance Fees (HMF) for the destination port. This fee is .125% of the product’s value. And if you are shipping via air or ocean freight, you’ll be responsible for Merchandise Processing Fees (MPF), which is nearly .35% of the product’s value before you are charged for duty, freight fees, and insurance. The MPF will never be less than $25, and can only go up to $485.










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