The next time you use a tube of fairness cream or apply hair gel to look a bit more sleek, think again; the cosmetic product you use each day may not be as harmless as it looks.
A study that analyses beauty products commonly sold in shops of Bangladesh, surprisingly finds that each and every one of those products contained at least one toxic metal.
To carry out the study in 2015, the Environment and Social Development Organisation (ESDO) went to shops in different areas of the capital, including the Dhaka New Market, Chawk Bazar and Rapa Plaza, and purchased 33 popular and commonly used beauty products.
The products included face wash, herbal face pack, skin-whitening cream, hair gel for men, and baby lotion.
In its report titled “Toxic Chemicals in Beauty Products – A Potential Threat to Human Health & Environment,” the ESDO says almost all of the tested beauty products contain very high concentrations of at least three toxic chemicals.
Long time exposure of these metals can be carcinogenic that might lead to cancer, the report cautions.
Herbal face packs have been found to be containing the most number of toxic metals – with the highest number in a single sample product being an alarming 10 metal elements.
The ESDO tests revealed that arsenic was present in all samples of beauty products, with its average concentration of 4.79ppm (parts per million) being more than twice the maximum acceptable concentration of 2ppm.
Titanium dioxide, classified as a possible carcinogenic to humans by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, has been found in 80% of beauty products and 100% of skin-whitening creams.
The highest concentration of titanium – 10,139ppm – has been found in one of the fairness creams that was tested.
All the sample face washes have traces of nickel and zinc in them, while 86% of the samples contained high levels of calcium.
The use of more than 2.5 grams of calcium per day without a medical necessity can lead to the development of kidney stones and sceloris of kidneys and blood vessels, the report says.
According to the study, zinc – higher concentrations of which can be toxic – has been detected in all baby lotion samples.
One of the most popular baby lotions in the domestic market contained 241ppm of titanium, exposure to which may be harmful to the brain, the report reads.
However, the tests find no presence of bromine, chromium, cadmium, mercury or lead in the beauty products.
The report also quotes findings from an earlier ESDO study to observe that titanium dioxide has replaced mercury as a brightening agent in fairness creams.
Among the 33 products tested, 14 are manufactured in Bangladesh, 10 in India, four in Thailand, and one each in Canada, France, Indonesia, Pakistan and the UAE.
Heavy metal hazards
Heavy metal toxicity can result in damaged or reduced mental and central nervous function, lower energy levels and damage to blood composition, lungs, kidneys, liver and other vital organs.
Long-term exposure may result in slowly progressing physical, muscular and neurological degenerative processes that mimic Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, muscular dystrophy and multiple sclerosis.
Allergies are not uncommon and repeated long-term contact with some metals or their compounds may even cause cancer for some heavy metals.
Observations on cosmetic market
According to the report, the local cosmetics and toiletries industry currently dominates the domestic market. At the moment, local manufacturers hold around 60% market share compared to only 40% in the late 1990s.
The robust growth of the sector over the last 15 years has resulted in an annual turnover of approximately Tk15,000 crore.
High-end cosmetics, however, continue to be imported. According to the Bangladesh Cosmetics and Toiletries Importers Association, imported products worth Tk6,000 crore are sold each year in the country.
In its report, the ESDO urges the government to enact a regulation and limit the maximum heavy metal content in both imported and local beauty products to 100ppm.
The ESDO also calls for the Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institute (BSTI) to enact a specific standard for baby products and herbal products.
Regulations should also be introduced to stop the export and import of cosmetics that possess high concentrations of heavy metal, the report adds.
The report will be launched today.