Toxic metals in a variety of beauty and personal care merchandise

The EcoWaste Coalition revealed the presence of toxic metals in a variety of beauty and personal care merchandise such as eyeshadow, face makeup, lipstick, mascara, nail polish and skin whitening cream.

The items were bought from sidewalk vendors, cosmetics stalls and drug stores in Binondo, Divisoria, Quiapo and Santa Cruz, Manila between December 1 to 4 and screened for heavy metals on December 5 using X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) spectrometer.

The heavy metals detected in 23 out of 44 samples (52 percent) include arsenic, cadmium, chromium, cobalt, lead, mercury and nickel.

Mengdu Paris No. 6, a lipstick that costs P30, contained five of these elements and registered with the highest levels of chromium and lead at 281 and 2,277 parts per million (ppm), respectively, while a Beauty Girl Ginseng and Green Cucumber skin lightening cream had 43,400 ppm of mercury as well as traces of arsenic, cadmium and cobalt.

“These toxic metals must not form part of the composition of cosmetic products under the ASEAN as well as the European Union cosmetics directives,” said Aileen Lucero, EcoWaste Coalition Safe Cosmetics campaigner.

Some of the metals found were way above the ASEAN’s reference values for post-market surveillance of 1 ppm for mercury, 5 ppm for arsenic and 20 ppm for lead, Lucero said.

Toxic metals, the group pointed out, are associated with a host of serious health ailments, including reproductive defects, developmental disorders, neurological and behavioral problems, and cancer.

These metals can readily pass into the body system through the highly permeable skin, and in the case of lipstick even swallowed, so normal use of such tainted products results in exposure.

“Samples with non-detectable levels of heavy metals are not necessarily safe as we were not able to test them for added chemicals of concern such phthalates and other endocrine disrupting chemicals,” said Lucero.

Out of the 10 skin whitening creams tested, eight had mercury, a neurotoxin, up to 43,400 ppm, which is astronomically beyond the ASEAN threshold of 1 ppm. On average, the eight samples had 10,479 ppm of mercury. Three of these samples were already banned by the Food and Drug Administration of the Philippines, but are still blatantly sold (Beauty Girl Ginseng and Green Cucumber 10 Double Whitening Speckles Removed, Berglotus Spot Removing Series and Jiaoli Miraculous Cream).

Mercury above 1 ppm was also detected in 15 other cosmetics such as in six samples of lipstick, five eyeshadow, three nail polish and one mascara.

Out of the 16 lipsticks tested, two had lead, a chemical that can damage the brain even at low concentrations. One had 113 ppm of lead and the other had 2,277 ppm, exceeding the ASEAN limit of 20 ppm, and the 0.1 ppm limit set by the US Food and Drug Administration for candy to protect children from directly ingesting lead.

Lead was also detected in three eyeshadow samples, and in one nail polish sample.

The highest values found for the other metals were 1,960 ppm of cobalt in a Qianyu eyeshadow; 417 ppm of arsenic in a Yaxi nail polish; 281 ppm of chromium in a Mengdu Paris lipstick; 190 ppm of cadmium in a Chinese Lipstick No. 217; and 94 ppm of nickel in an Ads Fashion blush-on.

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