Toxic cosmetics

The findings of laboratory tests conducted by a non-profit organisation that many cosmetic products which are widely used in India contain high amounts of toxic materials are cause for concern.

The Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment, which has in the past exposed the adulteration or dangerous content in some other items of common consumption, has claimed that about half of the 73 national and international brands of cosmetics sold in India contain high levels of toxic heavy metals. It has said that some skin whitening creams and lipsticks contain mercury and chromium in amounts which pose a danger to health. The presence of mercury was found in 14 out of 32 fairness creams in varying levels. The use of mercury is completely banned in cosmetic products in India. It is known to cause damage to kidneys, depression and skin problems. Lipstick with the highest chromium content would expose a user to 15 times the daily safety limit. When the product is not handled or disposed of properly, mercury can enter the food chain also, which is even more dangerous. 

Chromium and nickel, two metals known to cause cancer, were found in about half of the lipstick samples which were tested. Some items which are advertised and marketed as herbal products free from toxic chemicals, were also found to contain harmful ingredients. The products of both big and small companies contained hazardous materials. The CSE has noted that many products did not show the presence of dangerous substances and that was proof that companies could do without them if they wanted. 

There is need for better enforcement of law and regulatory oversight in this important field which has a bearing on public health. The cosmetics industry is growing at 10 per cent annually. It is set to grow further with the increase in the size of the middle class.  The consumers of cosmetic products are mostly women and young persons and they need to be careful about their use. Many cosmetic companies have denied the findings and claimed that their products conform to the best practices, standards and legal requirements.  But it is alleged that regular testing of cosmetic products is not done in the country.  The Drugs Controller-General of India has said that the rules will be implemented better and that products which do not conform to the norms will not be in the market. This should not remain a promise.

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