You won’t find lead or arsenic on the ingredients list of your favorite lip gloss or eyeliner, but a Toronto-based environmental group has tested dozens of cosmetics products commonly used by Canadian women and found virtually all of them were contaminated with heavy metals.
Environmental Defence released a study Monday that shows Canadian consumers can’t assume their cosmetics products are safe, even if they read lists of ingredients carefully.
“Canadians deserve to know what is in their cosmetics,” said 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.”
Researchers asked six women from various parts of Canada to name five products they use daily. The researchers then purchased these products in Toronto, along with five other commonly used products, and sent them to an accredited laboratory to have them tested for the presence of arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury, beryllium, selenium, thallium and nickel.
All these heavy metals, except for nickel, are banned from being intentionally added to cosmetics in Canada because of negative health effects. But contaminants can show up in makeup for various reasons: they may have been present in raw ingredients, they can be by-products of the manufacturing process, or they can be formed by the breakdown of ingredients. In the case of heavy metals, they may be present in rocks, soil and water used in the manufacturing of pigments, for example.
Items tested included foundations, concealers, powders, blushes and bronzers, mascaras, eyeliners, eyeshadows, lipsticks and glosses. Some products had multiple parts – eyeshadows that include three different shades, for example – so 49 different items were tested in all.
The four metals of most concern for this testing were arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury, because Health Canada is considering limiting their presence as impurities in cosmetics and has designated them as “toxic” because of serious health concerns.
None of the products tested contained mercury, but lead was detected in 96 per cent of the products, arsenic in 20 per cent and cadmium in 51 per cent. Nickel was found in all the products tested, beryllium in 90 per cent, thallium in 61 per cent and selenium in 14 per cent.
“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,” Smith said.
Heavy metals can build up in the body over time, the study notes, and are linked to a variety of health problems, “including 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, brittle hair and hair loss. Many are suspected hormone disrupters and respiratory toxins, and for some like lead, there is no known safe blood level.”
The highest levels of arsenic (70 parts per million), cadmium (3 ppm), and lead (110 ppm) were all found in lip glosses, which are easily ingested because they are worn on the lips.
The highest lead concentration found (in Benefit Benetint Pocket Pal clear lip gloss) is more than 10 times the limit set out in Health Canada’s draft guidelines for contaminants (10 ppm). Even this limit is nearly 10 times higher than what the US FDA has proved to be technically avoidable, at 1.07 ppm.
Canadians spend an estimated $5.3 billion per year on cosmetics, according to Health Canada, and the average Canadian woman uses 12 products, containing a total of 168 unique ingredients, every day.
The researchers hope their report will prompt the federal government to strengthen its regulations on cosmetics, so that manufacturers are required to disclose all intentional ingredients (including fragrance ingredients, which are currently considered proprietary) and unintentional ingredients such as impurities on labels.