Toxic Metals Found In Cosmetics

As you put on your makeup, you may be spreading trace amounts of lead across your cheeks, cadmium on your eyelashes and arsenic on your lips.

In lab testing of 49 cosmetic products, Environmental Defence found varying levels of toxic heavy metals in all of them. One contained levels far exceeding Health Canada recommended limits, according to the report “Heavy Metal Hazard,” released Monday. None of the products listed the metals on the labels.

“Canadians are not being protected when it comes to contamination in cosmetics,” said Rick Smith, executive director of Environmental Defence. “We focused on heavy metals which are indisputably nasty chemicals that should never be in cosmetics. They are the no-brainers of toxic chemicals.”

The heavy metals detected were not added ingredients but unintentional product contaminants, impurities, and subject to less regulation and disclosure.

The Canadian Cosmetics, Toiletries and Fragrances Association contested the report, stressing that it fails to put its findings into context. “The risk in trace amounts below 10 parts per million is so infinitesimally small it’s irrelevant,” said president Darren Praznik.

“You would literally have to eat – not put on your skin, but eat – pounds and pounds of makeup to get into areas of health concern.”

Praznik pointed out that these are naturally occurring trace amounts that appear in nearly everything and that cosmetics’ guidelines are based on a pharmaceutical standard. “There is nothing extraordinary here or not accounted for by regulation.”

Environmental Defence asked six women to name makeup brands and products they regularily use and added a few of their own suggestions for testing. Products included foundations and blushes, eye makeup and lip tints and glosses.

On average, the products contained four of the eight metals of concern: mercury, arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, nickel, lead, selenium and thallium. Some had impurities from seven metals.

“We were surprised by how widespread the contamination was and that some products were so highly contaminated,” said Smith.

Health Canada has developed draft guidelines for some metal impurity levels that it believes are avoidable. The Environmental Defence report shows that those guidelines need to be tightened and adopted, said Smith. “They have been languishing on a shelf for the past two years.”

Although the guidelines are still being reviewed, said a Health Canada spokesperson in an email, the agency is applying the draft’s limits for impurities in its compliance and enforcement activities.

The products tested largely met these draft guidelines.

But Smith argued that these metals accumulate in the body over time. Heavy metal buildup can cause a wide range of health concerns, including cancer, reproductive and developmental disorders, and neurological problems.

The highest levels of arsenic, cadmium and lead were all found in lip glosses. “Many women are directly ingesting these products as they eat and drink and lick their lips,” Smith said.

For lead, there is no safe exposure level, he said. But 96 per cent of the tested cosmetics contained some level of that metal.

The highest amount of lead, 110 parts per million, was found in Benefit Benetint lip gloss, over 10 times higher than Health Canada’s draft guidelines allow.

Benefit, based in San Francisco, issued a statement Friday that its raw materials are checked for traces of heavy metals to comply with the most stringent regulations and to protect the consumer. It also said the company will “look very closely at the report and assess our own data to eliminate any doubts about the safety of this product.”

The testing found that levels of the metals varied even among similar products. “That’s a clear indication that if manufacturers pay attention, they can dramatically reduce levels easily,” said Smith.

Labelling requirements for cosmetics are full of loopholes, he added. The government could spur companies to rid products of heavy metal contaminants by requiring they list impurities on the labels. “What company wants to list arsenic on their label?” said Smith.

Praznik, the trade group president, said that mandatory labeling of the impurities would create needless consumer concern since the risks are so very small.

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