Toxic metal mercury, which is not allowed to be used in cosmetics in India, is found in 44 per cent of the fairness creams in India, a study by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has found. It also found chromium and nickel in around fifty per cent of the lipstick samples it tested.
The CSE’s Pollution Monitoring Lab (PML), which did the study, says use of mercury in cosmetics is prohibited in India. But PML found mercury in 44 per cent of the fairness creams it tested. It also found chromium in 50 per cent and nickel in 43 per cent of the lipstick samples which were tested.
The CSE had also tested for lead and cadmium but they were not found in any of the products.
The study also tested samples of anti-ageing creams and lip balms. But it did not find any heavy metal in anti-aging creams and lip balms.
“Mercury is not supposed to be present in cosmetic products. Their mere presence in these products is completely illegal and unlawful,” said CSE’s director general Sunita Narain.
“Additionally, the fact that our lab did not find mercury in 56 per cent of the products 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.
Under the Drugs and Cosmetics Acts and Rules of India, mercury, a neurotoxin, is banned for use in cosmetics. Inorganic mercury present in fairness creams can damage kidneys and may cause rashes, skin discolouration and scarring. It can also cause anxiety, depression, psychosis and peripheral neuropathy.
The CSE’s deputy director general Chandra Bhushan, who is also PML’s head, said, “What is coming out very clearly is that this sector has extremely weak regulations and almost no enforcement of whatever laws that exist.”
In an attempt to gauge the safety of the cosmetic products it tested, the 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.
However, since India has not set any limits for ADI of mercury, the CSE compared the amount of mercury in fairness creams with the ADI set by the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA). The study showed that the whitening creams may contribute up to 71 per cent of the ADI for mercury, depending upon the product and the amount of the fairness cream used.
For the study, the CSE tested 73 cosmetic products of four different categories for heavy metals. Thirty two fairness creams (26 for women and six for men) were tested for mercury. Thirty lipsticks, eight lip balms and three anti-ageing creams were tested for lead, cadmium, chromium and nickel. The samples included both Indian and the international cosmetic brands along with a few herbal products as well.