Occasionally we hear of consumers complaining about side effects after using cosmetics. Some of these complaints are about skin rashes, headaches and nausea, all the way through to mood swings. Recent studies have been conducted on many different cosmetic products in the search for metal impurities. These impurities include traces of elements such as arsenic, nickel, cadmium, chromium, cobalt, lead, and even mercury. Some of these elements are contact allergens while others are toxic to the human body. They typically enter the body through skin absorption. In Canada, many of these heavy metals are restricted in cosmetics, such as lead at 10 parts per million (ppm), antimony at 5 ppm, and arsenic, cadmium, and mercury at 3 ppm.
The United States Food and Drug Administration had a study conducted on a total of 150 different skin products of varying types (eye shadows, blushes, lipsticks, lotions, mascaras, foundations, body powders, compact powders, shaving creams, and face paints). The purpose of the study was to determine the concentration of heavy metal impurities found in the products. The elements being tested for were arsenic, cadmium, chromium, cobalt, lead, mercury, and nickel. According to the results, the concentration levels for some metals ranged from really low to really high. For example, the concentration of chromium in eye shadows ranged from 1.1 mg/kg to 22000 mg/kg. Cobalt and nickel allergen content was also found in the extremes for some eye shadows. Colorants used in products, such as chromium oxide green and chromium hydroxide green, were also determined as legitimate sources of the metals. In the end, the study concluded that some of the fillers used in cosmetics contain high levels of heavy metals. In the United States, there are no specific limits on heavy metals in cosmetic ingredients, with the exception of colorants. Perhaps this study will create a pathway to new regulations surrounding these allergens and possibly toxic contaminants. Although it may not be possible to eliminate the metal contaminants, new innovations in ingredient research could lead to the reduction of contaminants in cosmetics.