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Testing for Heavy Metals and other contaminants in Cosmetics, Personal Care and Hygiene products in Australia

Heavy metals can sometimes be found as contaminants in cosmetic products due to impurities in raw materials or the manufacturing process. Regulatory agencies in Europe and the FDA in America make some efforts (albeit very small) to set limits on the levels of heavy metals in cosmetics. However even the very dangerous heavy metals like Cadmium, Lead and Arsenic are often not specifically regulated or banned completely.

In Australia, the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNAS), which is now replaced by the Australian Industrial Chemicals Introduction Scheme (AICIS), does not have specific regulations or limits for many heavy metal concentrations in cosmetics. Sometimes they follow international guidelines and recommendations for cosmetic safety.

Instead, the notion is that impurities should be minimized according to “good manufacturing practices” (GMP). The ownness however, is on the members of the Australian cosmetics industry (see link below) themselves to follow good manufacturing practices to ensure the quality and safety of their products.

Off course not all cosmetics or personal care products will contain heavy metals. Consumers are however advised to be cautious and choose products from reputable manufacturers that adhere to strict safety and quality standards.

Here is a list of heavy metals and cosmetic product groups that are known to have had contamination with trace amounts of heavy metals at some time. This is not an exhaustive list of either the heavy metals nor the cosmetic groups potentially effected.

  • Lead (Pb): Lipsticks, lip glosses, eyeliners, and hair dyes
  • Mercury (Hg): Skin-lightening creams, antiseptic creams, and some mascaras
  • Cadmium (Cd): Eyeshadow, blush, and face powders
  • Arsenic (As): Eyeshadow, blush, and face powders
  • Chromium (Cr): Eyeshadow, lipsticks, and face powders
  • Nickel (Ni): Eyeshadow, foundations, and mascaras
  • Aluminium (Al): Eyeshadow, foundations, and mascaras
  • Antimony (Sb): Eyeshadow, blush, and mascara
  • Copper (Cu): Eyeshadow, blush, and some lipsticks
  • Zinc (Zn): Sunscreens, foundations, and face powders
  • Beryllium (Be): Eyeshadow and face powders
  • Thallium (Tl): Hair dyes and some face powders
  • Barium (Ba): Eyeshadow, blush, and face powders
  • Cobalt (Co): Hair dyes and some eyeshadows
  • Manganese (Mn): Eyeshadow, blush, and some lipsticks
  • Selenium : Hair dyes and some face powders
  • Further Information

  • Heavy Metals in Cosmetics: The Notorious Daredevils and Burning Health Issues
  • Hazardous Ingredients in Cosmetics and Personal Care Products and Health Concern: A Review "Heavy metals can appear as impurities in finishing products. It is a byproduct during the cosmetics manufacturing process either formed by the breakdown of ingredients, or an environmental contaminant of raw ingredients. It is acknowledged that heavy metal impurities in cosmetic products are unavoidable due to the ubiquitous nature of these elements, but should be removed wherever technically feasible.
  • Evaluation of heavy metals in cosmetic products and their health risk assessment
  • Sample Preparation of Cosmetic Products for the Determination of Heavy Metals
  • Cosmetic Labelling Australia
  • Trade Practices- Consumer Product Information Standards - Cosmetics Regulations. NOTE - No longer in force.
  • Mercury-Added Skin-Lightening Creams Campaign. Zero Mercury Working Group tested 271 products from 15 countries and found nearly half to be contaminated at levels of Mercury above 1ppm. Testing in autumn 2022, once again indicates that continues to allow the toxic trade of Skin-Lightening Products laced with mercury. Mercury contamination is widespread among skin lightening and anti-ageing creams sold on online platforms like eBay, Alibaba and Amazon. And 19 of 21 purchased creams were found to have mercury levels over 1 ppm, the legal limit set by the Minamata Convention and followed by countries around the world. The levels of mercury detected by the lab in those 19 Skin-Lightening Products ranged from a stagering 1.5 ppm to 8,500 ppm.
  • Heavy Metals in Cosmetics.
  • Toxtest will test for the presence of all these metals plus more within your product in our upcoming Cosmetics 32 metal and mineral analysis.

    Cosmetic and Personal Care product
    Testing - Toxtest Australia

    Other contaminants and an example of Sunscreen

    At Toxtest, the option to test for the potential presence of additional contaminants in your product will include extra metals like Titanium and other Rare Earth Elements, PFAS chemicals, pesticides including glyphosate and petroleum chemicals. We are currently working to expand our analyses even further to other toxic substances.

    As an example, some sunscreen products can contain potential contaminants and ingredients that have raised concerns. Some of these include –

  • Oxybenzone : A chemical sunscreen ingredient that has been linked to hormone disruption and potential damage to coral reefs. In recent years, some countries and regions have banned or restricted the use of oxybenzone in sunscreens.
  • Octinoxate : Another chemical sunscreen ingredient that has been linked to hormone disruption and potential damage to coral reefs. Like oxybenzone, octinoxate has also been banned or restricted in some areas.
  • Homosalate : A chemical sunscreen ingredient that has raised concerns about hormone disruption and potential environmental impacts.
  • Octocrylene : A chemical sunscreen ingredient that may cause skin allergies and has raised concerns about potential harm to aquatic life.
  • Avobenzone : While generally considered safe, this chemical sunscreen ingredient may cause skin irritation for some individuals and can degrade when exposed to sunlight, reducing its effectiveness over time.
  • Nanoparticles : Some sunscreens contain nanoparticles of zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which are used to create a transparent finish on the skin. There are concerns about the potential for these nanoparticles to penetrate the skin or have environmental impacts, although current research suggests that the risk is low.
  • Fragrances : Sunscreens often contain synthetic fragrances, which can cause skin irritation or allergic reactions in some individuals.
  • Preservatives : Sunscreen products may contain preservatives like parabens or methylisothiazolinone, which have raised concerns about potential hormone disruption or allergic reactions.
  • Contaminants from manufacturing : Trace amounts of impurities or contaminants from the manufacturing process can sometimes end up in the final product, such as 1,4-dioxane, which is a potential carcinogen.
  • And check out - Benzophenone & Related Compounds - "Benzophenone is used in personal care products such as lip balm and nail polish to protect the products from UV light. Derivatives of benzophenone, such as benzophenone-2 (BP2) and oxybenzone (benzophenone-3 or BP3) are common ingredients in sunscreen. Benzophenone is persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic. These chemicals are linked to cancer, endocrine disruption, and organ system toxicity." From Campaign for Safe Cosmetics

    And even Benzene (highly carcinogenic) is found in some spray on sunscreen products. The Video below is from CEO of the the Lab we subscribe to for up-to-date testing results of many consumer products - called ConsumerLab

    Also see Grooming and Personal Care products on our Toxno Site and the chemicals they can potentially contain.

    To minimize the risks associated with these contaminants, consumers can opt for sunscreens that use physical filters like non-nano zinc oxide, which are considered safer and more environmentally friendly. Additionally, choosing fragrance-free and paraben-free sunscreens can help reduce potential skin irritation or allergic reactions.

    Personal care products and Parabens

    Personal care products such as skin moisturizers, perfumes, lipsticks, nail polishes, eye and facial makeup preparations, shampoos, toothpastes, and deodorants are used in our daily life for personal hygiene and beautification. To apparently enhance performance of these products, many chemical ingredients such as phthalates, parabens and triclosan are incorporated. Phthalates are used as humectants, emollients, or skin penetration enhancers while parabens and triclosan are used as antibacterial and/or antimicrobial preservatives.

    As preservatives, parabens give products a longer shelf-life and prevent harmful bacteria and mold from growing in the products. These manmade chemicals possess weak estrogenic properties, and are collectively referred to as Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (or EDCs). People are exposed to EDCs on a daily basis and the use of Personal care products is an important source of human exposure to these chemicals. Biomonitoring studies have reported that >97% of the population had measurable levels of parabens in urine and urinary paraben concentrations were significantly associated with self-reported use of Personal care products.

    Stretch mark creams are widely used by pregnant and lactating women to prevent or remove the appearance of striae gravidarum (skin stretch marks). Pregnancy and lactation are critical and vulnerable periods during which exposure to environmental EDCs can have an effect on both pregnant/lactating women and fetuses/newborns. Maternal paraben exposure, for example, has been associated with childhood obesity. However little was known on the occurrence of endocrine disrupting chemicals such as Parabens in stretch mark creams. In the recent study below, total concentrations of parabens and their metabolites ranged from 0.007 to 1630 μg/g (also called PPM or parts per million), with average values of 453 μg/g in 31 popular stretch mark creams.

    From - Parabens in stretch mark creams: A source of exposure in pregnant and lactating women

    Cosmetic and Personal Care product
    Testing - Toxtest Australia

    Your individual human risk

    Please note that the presence of a contaminant doesn't necessarily indicate that you will suffer adverse health effects. And as mentioned earlier, not all cosmetics or personal care products will contain heavy metals. However, many of the potential contaminates outlined previously have been toxicologically tested to establish known safety concerns and health risks for humans, animals and/or the environment.

    Skin is our first line of defence, a barrier to protect us. Your individual human risk from exposure to potential contaminants in cosmetics is dependent on many variables. Skin absorption and the actual condition of the skin along with the metal form and its amount will influence greatly the risk of exposure and any long term harm. As an example, the absorption of mercury through the skin depends on its chemical form. Methylmercury, a highly toxic form of mercury, is poorly absorbed through the skin, while inorganic mercury and ethyl mercury can be absorbed more readily, especially if the skin is damaged or irritated.

    And finally, here are some more details on how skin condition and the specific chemical form of a heavy metal can influence its absorption through the skin.

    Skin condition

    Skin condition can significantly impact the absorption of substances, including heavy metals. Various factors can affect skin condition, such as:

    Integrity: Damaged or compromised skin (e.g., cuts, abrasions, burns, or skin diseases like eczema) can allow substances to penetrate more easily and potentially lead to higher absorption rates.

    Hydration: Hydration of the skin can influence absorption. Dehydrated skin may be less permeable to substances, while increased hydration can improve penetration.

    Thickness: Skin thickness varies across different body parts. Thinner skin, such as that found on the face, eyelids, or genital area, is generally more permeable than thicker skin, like the palms or soles.

    Age: The skin of infants and young children is thinner and more permeable than adult skin, which could lead to higher absorption rates of substances. As people age, the skin loses some of its natural barrier function, potentially increasing the absorption of certain substances.

    Individual variation: Skin properties can vary significantly among individuals due to factors like genetics, ethnicity, and lifestyle. These differences can result in varying absorption rates of substances.

    Specific chemical form

    The specific chemical form of a heavy metal can also impact its absorption through the skin. Different forms of a heavy metal can have different physicochemical properties, such as solubility, stability, and molecular size, which influence their ability to penetrate the skin. Some examples include:

    Solubility: The solubility of a heavy metal compound in water or lipids can affect its absorption. Water-soluble compounds may struggle to penetrate the skin's lipid-rich outer layer (stratum corneum), while lipid-soluble compounds may more easily permeate the skin.

    Ionic state: Heavy metals can exist in different ionic states or as part of different compounds. Some ionic forms of a heavy metal might be more easily absorbed than others due to differences in size, charge, or stability.

    Complexation: Heavy metals can form complexes with other molecules, which might alter their ability to be absorbed through the skin. For example, a heavy metal complexed with a larger molecule may have reduced skin permeability compared to the uncomplexed metal.

    Particle size: If a heavy metal is present as nanoparticles, it could potentially have increased skin penetration compared to larger particles or ionic forms.

    Both skin condition and the specific chemical form of a heavy metal play important roles in determining its absorption through the skin. These factors, combined with the concentration of the heavy metal in the product and the duration and frequency of exposure, contribute to the overall risk associated with the heavy metal's presence in a cosmetic or personal care product.

    Cosmetic and Personal Care product
    Testing - Toxtest Australia

    cosmetics testing toxtest

    From Global Heavy Metal Limits for Cosmetics - An Overview As we can see Germany in the EU has the highest standards and Australia at this time does not get a mention.

    Additional Resources

  • Heavy Metals in Cosmetics: The Notorious Daredevils and Burning Health Issues
  • Hair Dye Ingredients and Potential Health Risks from Exposure to Hair Dyeing This article looks more deeply at the safety of the various chemicals in oxidative and nonoxidative hair dyes, toxicities associated with hair dyeing, and the carcinogenic risks related to hair dyeing. While many compounds are considered safe for users at the concentrations in hair dyes, there are conflicting data about a large number of hair dye formulations.
  • Octinoxate in Cosmetics: What You Should Know
  • Consumer product Information Database - Health effects of consumer products
  • PubChem
  • Also see Grooming and Personal Care products on our Toxno Site
  • Australia’s Industrial Chemicals Inventory – lists some cosmetic chemicals manufactured or imported into Australia
  • How can I avoid PFAS in dental floss
  • The trouble with ingredients in sunscreens
  • Safety of Homosalate in Sunscreen

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