Poison Cosmetics: Ugly Chemicals in 44 Out of 60 Beauty Products Bared

Quezon City.  With JS Proms and Valentine’s Day just around the corner, a green group promoting consumer and environmental health issued words of warning against ugly chemicals in beauty products amid their brisk sales.

The EcoWaste Coalition’s Task Force on Chemical Safety made the warning after analyzing 33 lipsticks, 22 eyeshadows, and 5 skin lightening creams purchased from retail stores in Guadalupe, Makati City, Divisoria and Quiapo, Manila City and Cubao, Quezon City.

Toxic metals such as lead and mercury were detected in 44 out of the 60 cosmetics, provoking suggestions for increased consumer vigilance, for wider product analysis and for tighter product regulation and surveillance.

The group initiated the investigation, with the aid of an X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) analyzer, as its contribution to the Department of Health’s efforts this February, a month of beauty and romance for many, to improve public awareness about cancer, heart and mental diseases.

“The results of our limited investigation provide an initial indicator of the prevalence of toxic chemicals in cosmetics and personal care products. It is hard to ascertain how bad and widespread the problem is as we may have just scratched the surface,” said Aileen Lucero of the EcoWaste Coalition’s Project Protect.

“We invite our cosmetics regulators to conduct a wider sampling to determine the safety of cosmetics in the market from nasty chemicals that pose significant risks to human health and the environment, including heavy metals, phthalates and other synthetic additives,” she suggested.

“In the meantime, we urge cosmetics consumers to press for their rights to product information and to product safety, as we appeal to cosmetics manufacturers here and abroad to only use non-carcinogenic, non-endocrine disrupting and non-toxic materials for consumer health and safety,” she added.

Lead and mercury, two of the World Health Organization’s “10 Chemicals of Major Public Health Concern,” were found above the limits set under the ASEAN Cosmetics Directive at 20 parts per million (ppm) and 1 ppm, respectively.

Exposure to lead, a brain-damaging chemical linked to learning, language and behavioral disorders, may cause delays in puberty onset in girls, menstrual abnormalities, reduced fertility, pregnancy problems and hormonal irregularities.

On the other hand, exposure to mercury in cosmetics may result to skin discoloration, rashes and scarring and decrease skin’s resistance to bacterial and fungal infections. WHO has warned that direct and prolonged exposure through the skin during repeated applications can harm the kidneys and nervous system, including the brain.

Major findings include:

A. Lipsticks
a. 5 of 33 lipsticks had lead up to 11,600 ppm (Mengdu Express 3 in 1, No. 5)
 b. 12 of 33 lipsticks had mercury up to 182 ppm (MAC No. A19)
 c. 16 of 33 lipsticks had low or non-detectable levels of lead, mercury and other heavy metals

 B. Eyeshadows
 a. 7 of 22 eyeshadows had lead up to 4,028 ppm (Kiss Beauty 20 Colors Eyeshadow and 2 Colors Blusher)
b. 19 of 22 eyeshadows had mercury up to 88 ppm (ADS Fashion Color)
 c. 4 of 22 eyeshadows had chromium up to 7,147 ppm (ADS Fashion Color)
 d. Only 2 eyeshadows had low or non-detectable levels of lead, mercury and other heavy metals

C. Skin Whitening Creams

a. 5 of the 5 skin whitening creams had mercury from 334 ppm to 16,000 ppm (Pretty Model Whitening and Freckle Removing Cream)
 b. 3 of the 5 mercury-laden skin whitening creams are already banned by the government (JJJ Magic Spots Removing Cream, Pretty Model Whitening and Freckle Removing Cream and S’zitang)
 c. 2 of the 5 mercury-laden skin whitening creams are not yet banned (Aichun Beauty Vitamin C Anti-Freckle Cream Suit and Yudantang Aloe Pearl Essence 10 Days Whitening Speckles Removed Cream)

 To prevent exposure to harmful substances, the EcoWaste Coalition advises cosmetics consumers to:
1. Critically read the product information and refrain from buying unlabelled/mislabelled and unregistered cosmetics. Check if the products have FDA registration, among others.
2. Avoid cosmetics with chemical ingredients that are hard to spell, pronounce and understand.
 3. Demand safe products and be conscious of the health costs of “beauty.”

For the cosmetics manufacturers, the EcoWaste Coalition recommends that they:
 1. Remove toxic metals and other chemicals of concern in cosmetics and replace these with non-hazardous substitutes.

2. Disclose all chemical ingredients, including additives and impurities, on the product labels and online.
3. Provide hazard labelling for products containing ingredients linked to cancer and other major health issues.

At a forum jointly organized by the EcoWaste Coalition and the Food and Drug Administration in March 2012, visiting American scientist Dr. Ann Blake drew attention to the health cost of beauty products and spoke about the adverse health effects of exposure to heavy metals, endocrine disrupting chemicals and persistent, bio-accumulative ingredients contained in cosmetics and personal care products.

Dr. Blake’s disclosure prompted the filing of a resolution by Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago calling for an inquiry on the need to introduce and implement toxic reduction strategies in cosmetics. In fact, there are other resolutions and bills pending at both houses of the 15th Congress that seek to regulate, restrict, phase out or ban such harmful chemical additives and contaminants in cosmetics.

The EcoWaste Coalition is a national network of more than 150 public interest groups pursuing sustainable and just solutions to waste, climate change and chemical issues towards the envisioned Zero Waste 2020 goal.