Don't buy them at face value

exercise caution

The Indian obsession with ‘fair skin’ is very well known! Not surprising then that we are one of the largest users of fairness creams today.

Triggering a debate some time back, this issue was also raised by the mainstream media. Even renowned Bollywood actress, the dusky Nandita Das launched the ‘Dark is Beautiful’ campaign to create awareness among young Indians, urging them to be proud of their skin colour. Unfortunately, the ‘obsession’ shows no signs of lessening any time soon. Whether it be a prospective bride or employee, in magazines, TV or films – being fair is synonymous with being beautiful. Photographs of ‘dark’ models are toned down with the help of photoshop and even designers hire foreign models to display their Indian wear.

But, does one know what chemicals go into making these fairness creams and the harm these chemicals cause to the skin? Giving a jolt to all the companies producing fairness creams, the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has come out with a report stating that out of 73 products they tested, 50 per cent of the fairness creams have mercury, a banned metal in India while 60 per cent lipsticks contain chromium and nickel.

According to the report, mercury is a neurotoxin and the prolonged use of products containing mercury can lead to inflammation of the liver, kidneys and urinary tract. The report also said that chromium is allergic to the skin and its adverse effects may include ulcerations, dermatitis and allergic skin reactions. Inhalation of chromium can result in perforation of the mucous membranes of the nasal septum, irritation of the pharynx and larynx, asthmatic bronchitis, bronchospasms and edema.

Respiratory symptoms may include coughing, short breath and nose itching. Nickel can also cause allergic reaction when it comes in contact with the skin. Studies on animals have shown that if consumed in high amounts, it too affects kidneys, stomach and liver.

Chandra Bhushan, CSE’s deputy director general, who was also Pollution Monitoring Lab (PML) head, which conducted the study, says use of mercury in cosmetics is prohibited in India. “What has emerged is quite clear and that is this sector has extremely weak regulations and almost no enforcement of whatever laws exist. No one abides by the Drug and Cosmetics Act and hence all these issues.

We have given letters to all the companies found guilty and all of them have said the same thing that they don’t directly use mercury but the ingredients carry these heavy metals and they are not at fault.”

Few of the names which have been found guilty in terms of using mercury in fairness creams are L’Oreal, Fair & Lovely, Vivel, Ponds, Lakme, Lotus, Olay, Revlon, Garnier, VLCC, etc. Among the lipsticks, Bodyshop, ColorBar, Lakme, MAC, etc were found containing chromium and nickel in them.

Makeover expert Aashmeen Munjaal, shares few steps on how to avoid harming skin while using such products, “Bright shocking coloured lipsticks have more chemicals as compared to matte-finished ones. Even the neon lip colours that are in fashion have a high amount of chemical in them. To avoid any kind of allergy, use a base before applying lipstick. Apply either vaseline or foundation because they kind of block the pores and hence the chemicals are not absorbed by the skin.

Also, one should keep in mind to eat food in small proportion so that you are not ‘eating’ the lipstick too.”

“Those who want pink lips should include beetroot and carrot regularly in their diet. These help to increase the red pigment in the body. One can also massage the lips with rose petals or water,” adds

Dr Sirisha Singh, consultant dermatologist at The Skin Centre, says, “Mercury can result in rashes, pigmentation, peeling skin and can create neurological problems like strange sensation in the skin. Chromium and nickel can cause burns, cracks and chapping of lips too.”

India’s retail beauty and cosmetics industry is a multi-million earner, but the CSE report underscores the urgent need for regulators to ensure that these cosmetic giants abide by the international safety standards.

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