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Fairness creams contain mercury: Study

Posted on Jan 15 2014 | IBNS

New Delhi, Jan 15 : A study conducted by the Centre for Science and Environment's (CSE's) Pollution Monitoring Lab (PML) recently reported that the fairness creams could contain mercury, an element which is universally recognized as extremely toxic.

The study emerged with a startling finding that the fairness creams - ones which are endorsed by some of our biggest Bollywood names - could contain mercury, an element which is universally recognized as extremely toxic.

While, lipsticks, which many can't do without, may come packed with chromium, which is carcinogenic.

CSE, which did the study on the presence of heavy metals in cosmetics, stated that the use of mercury in cosmetics is prohibited in India.

PML found mercury in 44 per cent of the fairness creams it tested. It also found chromium in 50 percent and nickel in 43 per cent of the lipstick samples it tested.

The lab also tested for lead and cadmium, but did not find any.

CSE director general Sunita Narain said, "Mercury is not supposed to be present in cosmetic products. Their mere presence in these products is completely illegal and unlawful."

"Additionally, the fact that our lab did not find mercury in 56 percent of the product tested suggests that the industry has the capacity and wherewithal to clean up their act. Many companies are following the law - what is stopping the others from doing so?" she asked.

Chandra Bhushan, CSE deputy director general and head of its lab said, "What is coming out very clearly is that this sector has extremely weak regulations and almost no enforcement of whatever laws that exist."

CSE reported that 73 cosmetic products of four different categories were tested for heavy metals: 32 fairness creams (26 for women and six for men) were tested for mercury. The report said 30 lipsticks, 8 lip balms and 3 anti-ageing creams were tested for lead, cadmium, chromium and nickel.

The samples included Indian and international cosmetic brands along with a few herbal products.

The results:

Mercury: Found in 14 fairness creams tested by CSE in the range of 0.10 parts per million (ppm) to 1.97 ppm. Under the Drugs and Cosmetics Acts and Rules of India, Mercury is banned for use in cosmetics. Their presence in these products indicates that they are not meeting the law.

Aroma Magic Fair Lotion, a product of Blossom Kochhar Beauty Products Pvt Ltd, had the highest mercury level at 1.97 ppm, followed by Olay Natural White (1.79 ppm), a product of Procter and Gamble, India, and Ponds White Beauty (1.36 ppm) of Hindustan Unilever Ltd.

Lipsticks: Chromium was found in 15 out of 30 lipsticks tested in the range of 0.45 ppm to 17.83 ppm. Hearts and Tarts (080V) shade of ColorBar had the highest concentration.

Nickel was found in 13 out of 30 products tested in the range of 0.57 to 9.18 ppm, with LancomeLabsolu Nu-204 of L'Oreal India Pvt. Ltd. containing the highest concentration.

CSE did not find any heavy metals in anti-aging creams and lip balms. It also didn't detect lead and cadmium in lipsticks.

To gauge the safety of cosmetic products it tested, CSE compared the levels of heavy metals found with their Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) limits. ADI is the maximum amount of a toxin that a person can be exposed to over a lifetime without any appreciable health risk.

Since India has not set limits for ADI of mercury, CSE compared the amount of mercury in fairness creams with the ADI set by the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA).

The results showed whitening creams may contribute up to 71 percent of the ADI for mercury, depending upon the product and the amount of the fairness cream used.

This is a very high level of exposure to mercury from just one product.

People are regularly exposed to the heavy metal from sources such as food, water and air. With some whitening cream accounting for over 50 percent of the ADI for mercury, chances are high that a person using these products may exceed the ADI limit for mercury.

Health risks associated with mercury would increase proportionally. Mercury is a neurotoxin. Inorganic mercury that is present in fairness creams can damage kidneys and may cause rashes, skin discoloration and scarring. It can also cause anxiety, depression, psychosis and peripheral neuropathy, the officials warned.

In case of chromium, the amounts found by CSE in lipsticks was very high compared to the ADI.

For a heavy user, 13 out of 30 lipsticks tested by CSE would cross the ADI.

Lipstick with highest level of chromium would expose a heavy user to over 15 times the safety limit. Hexavalent chromium (CrVI), one of the forms in which chromium is present, is known to cause cancer in humans.

CSE approached all companies with the test results of their products.

Seven out of 14 companies responded. No one disputed the CSE's findings.

However, most took refuge in the concept of 'trace' presence. Their defense is that the heavy metal found is small in quantity and it is unavoidable because it is part of the ingredients.

They also claimed that their product is safe for long term use.

CSE's study showed that it is certainly avoidable as mercury is not found in more than half of fairness creams and 40 percent of lipsticks do not have chromium or nickel.

On the other hand the levels at which CSE found chromium in some products is exposing the consumers to well above the ADI of chromium.

Chandra Bhushan said, "Manufacturers often get away on the pretext that toxic metals are present in trace levels. It is important that regulators set limits for final products and enforce them."

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