About half of the 73 national and international brands of popular cosmetics contain high levels of toxic heavy metals, a Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) report said.
The CSE’s Pollution Monitoring Lab had tested popular fairness creams, lipsticks, anti-ageing creams and lip balms for mercury, lead, cadmium, chromium and nickel.
The tests found mercury in 44% of the fairness creams, chromium and nickel, both carcinogens, in 50% and 43% of the lipstick samples respectively.
Fairness creams Aroma Magic Fairy Lotion, Olay Natural White and Pond’s White Beauty were the top three with high mercury content.
Hearts & Tarts-080V, Lancome L’Absolu Nu-204 and MAC So Chaud-A82 had high chromium content.
The top three lipstick brands with high nickel content were Lancome L’Absolu Nu-204, Hearts & Tarts-080V and MAC So Chaud-A82.
The lab also tested products for metals such as lead and cadmium, but did not find any. Also, it did not find any metals in anti-ageing cream and lip balm samples that were tested.
Under the Drugs and Cosmetics Acts and Rules of India, use of mercury in cosmetics is banned.
“Mercury is not supposed to be present in cosmetic products. Its mere presence in these products is completely illegal and unlawful,” said Sunita Narain, director general CSE.
Mercury is poisonous in any form and the chemical readily absorbs through the skin into the bloodstream.
Some manufacturers don't seem to have bothered to read the rules.
A statement from Blossom Kochhar, whose company used to manufacture Aroma Magic Fair Lotion, read: "We had, on our own initiative, placed our products for extensive testing for presence of heavy metals in July 2013.”
“We confirm all our tests have shown the levels of mercury and other heavy metals are well within the permissible limits. Further, the fairness cream mentioned in the CSE report is not being manufactured since 2011,” the statement said.
A Lancome spokesman said, “Lancôme’s highest priority is the safety of its consumers. We do not use heavy metals as ingredients in our products and comply fully with Indian and international cosmetic regulations.”
Some of the other brands mentioned in the study— HUL, P&G and L'Oreal---whom HT contacted for reaction, sought a day to respond.
“What is coming out very clearly is that this sector has extremely weak regulations and almost no enforcement of whatever laws that exist,” said Chandra Bhushan, deputy director general CSE.