Canadian cosmetics found to contain heavy metals, such as lead, arsenic and cadmium, Environmental Defence study of 49 cosmetic products finds

TORONTO , May 19, 2011 (press release) – Cosmetic products that Canadians put on their faces every day have been found to contain toxic heavy metals, such as lead, arsenic, and cadmium, according to a report released today by Environmental Defence. In a lab test of the products in six Canadian women's makeup bags, each of the 49 products was found to be contaminated with heavy metals and some products contained levels of arsenic and lead that far exceeded the limits recommended by Health Canada. None of the products listed the metals on the labels.

"Canadians deserve to know what is in their cosmetics," said Dr. Rick Smith, executive director of Environmental Defence. "Given the choice, we think most consumers would not put arsenic or lead on their lips and faces."

*The tests, done by SGS Canada, found that 100% of products tested contained nickel, 96% contained lead, and 90% contained beryllium
*At least one of the products tested contained seven of the eight metals of concern (arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury, beryllium, nickel, selenium, and thallium)
*On average, products contained four of the eight metals of concern
*The highest levels of arsenic (70 ppm), cadmium (3 ppm), and lead (110 ppm) were all found in lip glosses, something which could be ingested
*The product containing the highest level of lead was Benefit Benetint lip gloss, at 110ppm, over 10 times higher than the 10ppm limit set out in the Health Canada Draft Guidance on Heavy Metal Impurities in Cosmetics. This same product contained 70ppm of Arsenic, which is over 20 times higher than Health Canada's recommended limit of 3ppm.

The heavy metals are "impurities" - unintentional contaminants in products - and therefore subject to less regulation and disclosure than intentional ingredients. Health Canada has developed draft guidelines for some metals impurity levels it believes are "technically avoidable" by manufacturers. However, a study of 20 lipsticks conducted by the United States Food and Drug Administration in 2009 showed lead impurity levels averaged 1.07 ppm, where Canada's current draft guideline for lead impurities is 10 ppm, which is considerably high by comparison.
The products tested largely met Canada's draft guidelines; however, the guidelines should reflect that lower levels of lead are clearly "technically avoidable". Moreover, the current draft guidelines only set limits for 5 heavy metals, where our testing found high levels of other heavy metal impurities that do not yet have a draft limit.

"Canada should improve the guidelines on impurities in cosmetics so they better reflect what is truly feasible, then adopt them without delay," said Smith. "These have been in the draft stage since March 2009."

"It makes me sick to realize that these chemicals and metals are in the products that I apply to my body," said Meggin Dueckman, makeup testing volunteer. "I feel that I am a careful consumer, and prefer to do research on personal care products before buying them. I normally read product labels as well. Despite this, the makeup that I have chosen to use all contains ingredients that I would avoid."

As a group, heavy metals can build up in the body over time and are known to cause varied health problems, which can include: cancer, reproductive and developmental disorders, neurological problems; memory loss; mood swings; nerve, joint and muscle disorders; cardiovascular, skeletal, blood, immune system, kidney and renal problems; headaches; vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea; lung damage; contact dermatitis; and brittle hair and hair loss. Many are suspected hormone disruptors and respiratory toxins, and for some like lead, there is no known safe blood level.

"The concern is not just that heavy metals are in our makeup, but exposure to these toxins through the products we apply to our skin, in the air we breathe, and in our water and food supply can all add up and accumulate in your body," added Dr. Smith. "What this means is that we should be striving to achieve the lowest impurity limits possible."

Some cosmetic companies are moving towards plant-based colorants and away from petroleum or coal tar-based colorants, to avoid product contamination with heavy metals. Others are asking their suppliers to screen for contaminants and source the least contaminated ingredients possible.

About Environmental Defence ( Environmental Defence is Canada's most effective environmental action organization. We challenge, and inspire change in government, business and people to ensure a greener, healthier and prosperous life for all.

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