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How to Import Cosmetic Products Into the U.S.

How to Import Cosmetics to the U.S.
American consumers crave a wide variety of cosmetics. To meet this demand, many businesses import cosmetics from outside the U.S. Before embarking on this journey, it's important to be aware of the regulations surrounding imported cosmetics.
USA Customs Clearance
May 4, 2021
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Last Modified: September 27, 2023

If you’re not sure how to import cosmetic products into the U.S., an expert can help you understand the process and get your imports over the border safely. When it comes to importing, knowing what to expect could make the difference between getting your shipment on-time, and waiting months to get it released from customs. 

To import cosmetics to the U.S. importers need to be compliant with regulations in the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act (FPLA) and the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C). These federal laws outline labeling, packaging, and ingredient rules relating to cosmetics. Companies that violate these regulations when importing cosmetics are subject to financial penalties, import restrictions, and product refusal.

Our comprehensive guide below provides you with everything you need to know to safely and legally import cosmetics to the U.S.

Cosmetics Import Regulations

Cosmetics Import Regulations

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is the federal agency in charge of regulating the movement of goods into and out of the U.S. Any time you are importing goods into the U.S., you will need to abide by the CBP rules and regulations, and that includes a lot of paperwork. 

To import into the U.S., you will need to provide several documents regarding your shipment. If you don’t fill out these documents completely or correctly, you risk having your shipment seized by customs. Although your shipment likely won’t be destroyed or refused entry just on the basis of incorrect paperwork, that does mean you could end up waiting months for your shipment to be released again—even if you submit revised versions of the paperwork.

Here are the basic documents you’ll need to import anything into the U.S., not just cosmetics:

  • A commercial invoice
  • A packing list
  • A Bill of Lading (BOL)
  • An arrival notice
  • A customs bond

This paperwork can be complex to fill in on your own, which is why many importers choose to enlist the help of a Customs Broker. Even a tiny mistake in the paperwork can result in serious delays. A Licensed Customs Broker can help by working with you to ensure you don’t make any mistakes along the way. 

In addition to the standard import requirements, your shipment will also need to comply with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations.

Need help importing cosmetics to the U.S.?

Our Licensed Customs Brokers are available to help you

Do Cosmetics Require FDA Approval?

Cosmetic products do not generally require approval from the FDA before they can be imported, but there are some exceptions to this rule. 

The most notable exception to this rule is in regards to color additives. All color additives used in cosmetics must be approved by the FDA prior to importing, and they must be on the list of permitted color additives. In addition to that, all color additives must be used for their intended purpose. You cannot use the same additives in lipsticks that you could use in eye shadow, so consult that list to see if the additives in your product are used appropriately for that type of product. 

Perfumes are also considered cosmetics but do not require FDA pre-approval for import.

In addition to that, many cosmetic products are also considered drugs. If a product is marketed to be able to cure, treat, or prevent any kind of disease or condition, then it is also considered to be a drug. That includes toothpaste that contains fluoride to prevent cavities, shampoo that also treats dandruff, or lip balms and lotions that protect against the sun’s rays. Drugs and cosmetics are both regulated by the FDA, but they are not subject to the same levels of scrutiny. If your product is both a drug and a cosmetic, then it will need to be approved by the FDA prior to being imported. 

Cosmetics that contain prohibited ingredients, or those that are known to cause health problems, will never receive approval and cannot enter the U.S. legally. 

U.S. Import Duty on Cosmetics

U.S. Import Duty on Cosmetics

When you are filling out paperwork for your import, you will need to know what the Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS) code is for that product. This allows CBP to calculate the import duty on your shipment, and you can end up in serious trouble if you use the wrong code. Incorrect HTS codes can look suspicious to CBP, and your shipment will not be allowed through customs until the mistake is fixed. 

Cosmetics generally fall under the HTS heading 3307. You will need to use the appropriate subheading to classify your specific product. For example, personal deodorants and antiperspirants are classified as 3307.20.00.00. 

Duty rates are subject to change over time, so it is always best for you to consult the HTS yourself to ensure you get the most accurate, up-to-date information regarding your product. 

Working with a customs broker is also a good way of making sure you use the correct code and pay the right amount in duties and taxes. After all, customs brokers are experts at classifying shipments, and they deal with importing a variety of different types of products from all over the world. 

Need help importing cosmetics to the U.S.?

Our Licensed Customs Brokers are available to help you

Cosmetic Labeling Requirements

Cosmetic Labeling Requirements

It is extremely important that you do not overlook product labels when importing cosmetics into the U.S. You can end up in a lot of trouble if something is amiss with your labels, and unlike with faulty paperwork, it is not easy to get this mistake fixed after the shipment ends up in customs custody

The most important thing to keep in mind when labeling cosmetics is the correctness of the information itself. The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938 prohibits deceptive information on labels to ensure the safety of the public. If statements anywhere on the label can be deemed as misleading, false, unclear, or confusing, then your shipment likely won’t be allowed through customs as-is. Be sure to verify all statements made on the label to ensure they are clear, correct, and straightforward to prevent any snags in the importing process. 

When creating a label for a product, you will also need to include:

  • The intended use of the product, located on the principal display
  • Directions for safe usage of the product
  • A list of the ingredients organized by weight
  • The net quantity of the contents in the container, in terms of weight, measure, or number
  • The name and address of the manufacturer, packer, or distributor
  • The brand

If your product contains an ingredient that has not yet been adequately tested for safety, then you will need to include a warning as per the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) section 740.10. This warning must state “Warning - The safety of this product has not been determined.” Otherwise, the FDA will treat your product as if it has been misbranded. 

It is also important to keep in mind that if your product claims to treat or cure disease or mitigate symptoms of a disease, then the FDA will need to verify those statements before you can import. Otherwise, your product will be deemed misleading. 

Organic Cosmetics Rules

When it comes to marketing your product as organic, there are several guidelines you will need to follow. The FDA is not the administration in charge of regulating organic products; instead, that responsibility falls to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). 

In order for you to include the USDA organic seal on the cosmetics label, the ingredients must meet the USDA’s standards for organic ingredients, and the finished product must be certified by a USDA agent. That agent’s name and business address must also be included on the label alongside the organic seal. 

In order for cosmetic products and ingredients to be considered organic by the USDA, they must be produced, handled, and packaged only by USDA-certified facilities. However, even if your product doesn’t contain 100% organic ingredients, you might still be able to market your product as organic. 

Here are the four organic labeling categories that your product could fit into: 

  • If your product is entirely composed of organic ingredients, then you can state on the label “100 percent organic,” and you can display the USDA organic seal.  
  • If your product contains at least 95% organic ingredients, you can simply state on the label that it is “organic.” You can still use the USDA organic seal.
  • If your product contains at least 70% organic ingredients, then you can state “made with organic ingredients,” and you cannot display the USDA organic seal. 
  • If the product contains less than 70% organic ingredients, then it cannot use the word “organic” anywhere on the label nor display the USDA organic seal.

There is an exception to these rules, however. If your product is certified by some other private standard, then the USDA will not scrutinize the label. That means your cosmetics could be certified organic by a foreign government standard, or it could be labeled as “earth-friendly” or “eco-friendly.” As long as your label and marketing strategy does not imply that the USDA certified your product as organic, then the USDA will not regulate your imported products. 

Importing Cosmetics From China

Importing Cosmetics From China

Importing goods from China has been getting increasingly complicated over the years, so if you haven’t gotten started already, you may be feeling pretty intimidated. Importing cosmetics and beauty products might just complicate the issue further, since you’ll be dealing with health and safety concerns. Thankfully, however, importing Cosmetics from China can still be a lucrative business endeavor, as long as you take the right steps. 

The first obstacle you’re going to encounter when importing from China is the potential language barrier. When you’re trying to import anything, you need to be positive that you are communicating with your supplier accurately. The details matter tremendously, especially since the CBP inspects imports from China with more scrutiny than those from other places. If you need to, reach out to a professional translator to make sure communication goes smoothly. 

Also, it is your responsibility to make sure the goods you are importing are compliant with FDA rules and regulations. Always make sure you have the correct information for the product, and you verify that none of the ingredients are prohibited in the U.S. 

Next, you’re going to have to face something called Section 301 Tariffs. In retaliation for China’s unfair trade practices, the U.S. imposed significantly higher tariff rates on imports coming from China. These taxes originally applied to all goods, though the U.S. has since released lists of products that have been excluded from those tariffs. 

If you aren’t sure whether the Section 301 Tariffs apply to your import or not, schedule a consulting session with one of our customs brokers so we can help you work out the details. 

Transportation Options

You have quite a few options when it comes to shipping your import from its place of origin to the U.S. 

Ocean shipping is a popular choice for importers—especially those who import many times a year. It is the cheapest option for shipping freight long distances, and if you plan your shipments accordingly, you can keep shipments coming in consistently and save a lot of money in the process. However, you need to be prepared to wait. Shipping by sea is one of the slowest methods for shipping, and it can take weeks or months for the ocean carrier to reach the U.S. Point of Entry. 

Shipping by air is a much more expensive choice, but with good reason. Air shipments can reach their destination in mere hours, meaning you can quickly restock sold-out items. If you’ve got customers waiting for your cosmetics to be restocked, it may be worthwhile to ship your import via air. The extra cost wouldn’t compare to the threat of countless lost customers and loss of revenue. 

However, if your import is shipping from Canada or Mexico, then you can choose to have it shipped in a freight truck. Freight trucks are a good compromise since they offer reasonably quick delivery at a reasonable price. You’ll have to wait several days longer than a flight covering the same distance, but nowhere near the time it takes an ocean carrier to ship. 

As always, you should expect your shipment to be delayed a few days while it gets through the border. Likewise, there is always the possibility that your shipment could get held for a customs examination, in which case it could be delayed weeks or months. You need to be prepared for anything.

Working With a Customs Broker to Import Cosmetics

Importing cosmetics into the U.S. is far from simple. Not only do you need to complete and provide comprehensive documentation on your shipment to CBP, but you also need to abide by laws set in place by the regulatory agencies FDA and USDA. On top of that, there are tariffs, free trade agreements, and changing political climates that could complicate the importing process. There’s so much to keep track of, it wouldn’t be surprising if you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed. 

Thankfully, there is a better way. You don’t have to weather that storm by yourself. Licensed customs brokers are highly experienced importing professionals who can help you with every step of the process. Even if you’ve imported before, a customs broker can still save you time and effort that could be spent on another aspect of your business. 

Customs brokers can assist you with:

  • Classifying your shipment correctly
  • Submitting paperwork to CBP
  • Determining which regulations apply to your shipment
  • Making sure your shipment is compliant with regulations from Partner Government Agencies, such as FDA, USDA, and more
  • Getting your shipment cleared through customs quickly
  • Advocating for the release of your import if it gets stuck in customs
  • Answering any of your importing-related questions
  • Recovering section 301 duties, if that applies to your shipment
  • Preventing you from making costly mistakes
  • And much, much more

If you want your import to get through customs quickly and without complications, working with a customs broker is the best way to ensure that. Customs brokers at USA Customs Clearance have decades of experience with importing countless different kinds of products, and we approach every new shipment with care and dedication. You could rest easy knowing your shipment is in good hands with us. 

Need help importing cosmetics to the U.S.?

Our Licensed Customs Brokers are available to help you

Get Help Importing Cosmetic Products to the U.S.

USA Customs Clearance, powered by AFC International, has the knowledge and experience to make importing cosmetic products easy. Our team of expert consultants has worked with thousands of different products, including many different kinds of cosmetics. We’ve seen it all, and you can take advantage of this knowledge with a 30-minute consulting session with one of our experts. 

Our customs brokers can take up full responsibility for your shipment, communicating with customs and handling paperwork on your behalf. Even if you’re an expert importer already, a customs broker can lighten your workload and remove a lot of the stress associated with importing cosmetic products into the U.S.

If you aren’t ready to commit, give us a call at (855) 912-0406 and one of our team members will be happy to discuss our services with you in more detail. 

Need help importing cosmetics to the U.S.?

Our Licensed Customs Brokers are available to help you
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4 comments on “How to Import Cosmetic Products Into the U.S.”

  1. Thank you for this very informative article!

    Are labels in English needed when shipping B2C internationally to the US? For example, one bottle of shampoo to a customer in Boston.

    Thank you!

  2. Good day,
    We are an American cosmetic startup, which is looking for an agent or a firm which helps us legally ship to the USA from Turkey and the UAE: ready organic health supplements and cosmetics in a bulk.
    Please let us know about what are first steps required and your services fees from A to Z.


    1. Hi Yvette,

      One of our customs experts will reach out to you shortly to assist you. We look forward to helping you!

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