Beauty may be skin deep but the harmful effects of cosmetics are not. They have the potential to destroy the very skin they are meant to beautify. About half of the 73 national and international brands of cosmetics available in India contain high levels of toxic heavy metals, according to a study by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).
Chromium and nickel, both carcinogens, were found in 50% and 43% of the 30 lipstick samples while mercury, which is banned for use in cosmetics (except mascara and other eye make-up products) under the Drugs and Cosmetics Acts and Rules of India, was found in 44% of 32 fairness creams.
Some of these are endorsed by leading Bollywood actors. The prolonged use of products containing mercury can damage the kidneys and may cause skin discolouration. Besides, when not disposed of properly, mercury can enter the food chain. It is appalling that heavy metals found in these over-the-counter cosmetic products are made by reputed companies. And those of you who are thanking their stars for using ‘herbal products’ have also cause to worry as some leading brands in this category have made it to the infamous list.
The fact that India has not set limits for Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) for mercury underlines the stark truth that regulations governing the cosmetic industry are weak and ineffective. The CSE compared the amount of mercury in fairness creams with the ADI set by the US Environmental Protection Agency. India has set limits only for a few heavy metals and there are no limits for finished products.
As India’s retail beauty and cosmetics industry, currently estimated at $950 million, is likely to almost treble by 2020, there’s an urgent need for the regulators to ensure that these cosmetics conform to international safety standards. It is the right of the consumers to make an informed choice.
That informed choice can only be made if the regulators ensure that cosmetic companies give extensive details of the raw materials they use and, if required, potential health risk warnings similar to the ones we have on cigarette packs and alcohol bottles. It’s time the regulators did something that amounts to more than just cosmetic changes.