Toxic Beauty

The beauty industry is a billion pound industry, boasting thousands of body care products. Many are conventional cosmetics and personal-care products but others contain hidden hazardous chemicals.

The FDA is the agency that regulates cosmetics sold in the United States. They are responsible for protecting and promoting public health via the regulation and supervision of food and drug administration. This doesn’t give them the authority to command companies to conduct safety tests on cosmetic products before releasing them in the marketplace. This has allowed traces of heavy metals to be included in cosmetics with no health effect responsibilities.

The FDA isn’t authorised to require recalls of cosmetics (voluntary actions taken by manufacturers or distributors to removes their products that are deemed hazardous) but does monitor companies that conduct a product recall and may request a product recall if the company refuses to remove dangerous products for the market without FDA’s written request.

Mercury in skin creams

Mercury has been used for years in creams that are intended primarily for ‘skin lightening’ and anti-aging purposes. ”Teens may also use these types of products as acne treatments.” Gasy Coody, National health fraud coordinator in the Food and Drug administrator’s Office of Regulatory Affairs.

During an FDA investigation traces of mercury and other heavy metals were found imported in skin creams. Any exposure to mercury can lead to serious health consequences, such as memory issues, irritability and alterations in vision or hearing.

“It can damage the kidneys and the nervous system, and interfere with the development of the brain in unborn children and very young children.” says Charles Lee, M.D., a senior medical advisor at FDA.

If you have purchased a skin lightening, anti-aging cream check the label. If you see ingredients listed as  “mercurous chloride,” “calomel,” “mercuric,” or “mercurio.”  on the container stop using the product immediately and throughly wash your hands and any other parts of your body that may have come in contact with the product.

Lead in Lipstick

Lead is known to brighten colour, this is why it has been used in paint for many years. Lead poisoning can effect nearly every part of the human body, from nervous system, muscular and reproductive systems and even reduced IQ level in children. Lipstick is applied to the lips and generally reapplied several times throughout the day and can result in significant lead exposure levels.

“Lead builds up in the body over time and lead-containing lipstick applied several times a day, every day, can add up to significant exposure levels,” Dr. Mark Mitchell, co-chair of the environmental health task force for the National Medical Association

FDA has received numerous inquiries from consumers concerned about the amount of lead present in lipstick. FDA’s studies have found no lead levels that would pose safety concerns when lipstick is used as intended.

Lead is a contaminant not listed on lipstick ingredient labels it is impossible for consumers to avoid. So deciding to continue to use lipstick is a decision that each individual has to make for themselves.

Aluminium in underarm antiperspirants

Deodorants are applied to the body to treat excessive sweating and to eliminate unpleasant odour caused by odour-producing bacteria. A subgroup of deodorants called antiperspirants prevent odour and reduce sweat produced by parts of the body. Antiperspirants are generally applied to the underarms, whereas deodorants may be applied to the feet ot other areas in the form of body sprays.

The use of aluminum in personal care products is the subject of controversy. Aluminium is a metal and has been found present in some antiperspirants. The effects of widespread, long term use of aluminum compounds are unknown.

Bacteria in Mascara

Items in your bathroom, such as shampoo or conditioners might not necessarily have an expiry date. There is no law enforced for cosmetics to have expiry dates but would you still use your tube of mascara if it was five years old? Although certain preservatives are used in cosmetics to keep bacteria under check for a while they will expire over time. Typically, mascara is considered safe for three months, the amount of time the preservatives are designed to last for.

Here are a few tips:

1. Never add water to mascara as it encourages bacterial growth

2. Never pump mascara as it pushes air and bacteria into the tube

3. Toss mascara after a few months and replace

4. Be sure to keep all containers tightly closed

5. Never use mascara if the smell or texture has changed


Written by Elizabeth Boyes




Antiperspirant/Deodorant Stick; Available at: (Last accessed 12 April 2013)

Aluminum Rich Antiperspirants: A Potential Hazard; Available at: (Last accessed 12 April 2013)

Bank, M (2012). Mercury in the Environment: Pattern and Process. California: University of California Press. p18-19.

Chemicals in Cosmetics; Available at: (Last accessed 12 April 2013)

How to avoid dangerous beauty -hi- shine group; Available at: (Last accessed 12 April 2013)

How to test for lead in lipstick; Available at: (Last accessed 12 April 2013)

Lead In Lipstick; Available at: (Last accessed 12 April 2013)

New FDA analysis finds lead in all 400 lipstick products tested; Available at: accessed 12 April 2013)

US food and drug administration; Available at : (Last accessed 12 April 2013)

12 Skin Care Products that Can Give You Mercury Poisoning; Available at: (Last accessed 12 April 2013)

Willis, J (1994). Beautiful Again: Restoring Your Image & Enhancing Body Changes. Santa Fe: Health Press. 152.

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