What's angel dusting?

Beautiful Skin Image Gallery You got angel dusted! No you! Kiss me! See more pictures of ways to get beautiful skin.
Beautiful Skin Image Gallery You got angel dusted! No you! Kiss me! See more pictures of ways to get beautiful skin.
Andrea Chu/Getty Images

The name angel dusting might bring to mind a couple of things -- images of fairies sprinkling their magic pixie dust and a certain illicit and illegal drug. While it's plausible that Ponch and John may have busted some street punks angel dusting in the back alleys of Los Angeles on "CHiPs," the real practice has to do with cosmetics manufacturing.

When cosmetics companies formulate their products, they include all kinds of ingredients, and each has its own specific purpose. Some active ingredients may provide the cosmetic benefit, while the others are there to keep the product at the proper consistency, smelling good, or merely filler to make it more substantial. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not require that over-the-counter cosmetics makers register their products or file data on their ingredients with the regulatory body. These companies are encouraged to file a Cosmetic Product Ingredient Statement through the FDA's Voluntary Cosmetic Registration Program [source: FDA].


While the FDA does oversee certain aspects of cosmetics, it mainly sticks to assuring that the product isn't poisonous, filled with "putrid or decomposed substances" and that it's manufactured under sanitary conditions. It also oversees the "misbranding" of cosmetics to assure that they don't make any false claims with their labeling. They also make sure that the label contains all the ingredients in the product and that they're displayed in a way that's clear and readable for the consumer.

In the end, the FDA both oversees and tries to stay out of the way of cosmetics manufacturers. Unless there is a hazardous ingredient or an outrageous and false health benefit is printed on the label, cosmetics manufacturers can fly under the radar. This is one reason why the process of angel dusting remains unchecked and completely legal.

Read on to find out what angel dusting is on the following page.


Angel Dusting Trickery

Could your popular face cream be dusted by angels?
Could your popular face cream be dusted by angels?
Marili Forastieri/Getty Images

Cosmetics companies are required to list product ingredients in order of abundance, from the highest percentage to the lowest trace amounts, but not the actual amount of each. This loophole has created a way for manufacturers to creatively deceive the consumer by including trace amounts of a popular ingredient and then tout it on the label or in advertising campaigns. This is called angel dusting, also known as "fairy dusting" or "window dressing."

There are a couple of ways this typically goes down. A face cream may include trace amounts of something like shea butter, because the manufacturer knows that consumers respond well to that ingredient. While the company may not make any claims about what the shea butter will do for your face, it simply knows it's a popular or hot ingredient. The other scenario is a bit more nefarious. This is when a company will make direct (and true) claims about the cosmetic benefits of the ingredient, but only include miniscule amounts -- enough to get it listed on the label, and typically so that it isn't last on the list. This amount is also not enough to actually provide that cosmetic benefit, which is what makes it angel dusting.


So why would a company not just go ahead and include enough of the ingredient to provide the function it claims to? Because it's a financial matter. The ingredients being "dusted" on these products are expensive -- otherwise they would be in there in spades. When it's perfectly legal to add 1 percent of the ingredient at 1 percent of the cost, and still make claims about the benefits of that ingredient, it makes it an easy decision for the cosmetics company.

How to Avoid Angel-dusted Products

All-natural, indie skin care product lines are an alternative to big-name cosmetics.
All-natural, indie skin care product lines are an alternative to big-name cosmetics.
Photo courtesy www.loveyourmama.com

If you're wondering why you don't hear much about a practice that borders on false marketing, it may be because cosmetics companies spend a lot of money advertising their products in the marketplace. A newspaper or TV expose isn't going to win any advertising dollars for that publication or network. And since the practice is completely legal, it's not as much of a news story.

You can avoid buying products that have been angel dusted by carefully reading the ingredients list. If the popular ingredient that caught your eye is near the bottom of the list, chances are that it doesn't provide the therapeutic benefit it claims to. However, some clever companies even go so far as to claim the ingredient is part of a "proprietary blend." A blend that makes up 10 percent of the total product will be placed high on the list, even if the touted ingredient only exists in trace amounts within the blend. Unfortunately, there's really no way to verify this, as proprietary blends aren't required to be listed in full. 


Another possible way to avoid angel dusting is to check out indie lines of skin care products that are eco-friendly and use natural ingredients. It's a good way to avoid chemically-laden products that may be deceptively marketed by cosmetics giants.

Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


  • "Angel dusting versus therapeutic quantities." Dermaxime.com. 2009. http://www.dermaxime.com/angel-dusting.htm
  • "Angel dusting." Cremedevie.com. 2009.http://www.cremedevie.com/angel-dusting.htm
  • "Don't Be Tricked by Cosmetic Ingredient Lists." Thebeautybrains.com. Aug. 18, 2007.http://thebeautybrains.com/2007/08/18/dont-be-tricked-by-cosmetic-ingredient-lists/
  • "The Scandalous Secret Beauty Companies Don't Want You To Know." Thebeautybrains.com. Aug. 16, 2007. http://thebeautybrains.com/2007/08/16/the-scandalous-secret-beauty-companies-dont-want-you-to-know/
  • "FDA Authority Over Cosmetics." Food and Drug Administration. 2009. http://www.fda.gov/Cosmetics/GuidanceComplianceRegulatoryInformation/ucm074162.htm
  • "What is it: Angel Dusting." Truthinaging.com. March 26, 2009. http://www.truthinaging.com/body/what-is-it-angel-dusting/