Heavy metals can build up in the body over time and are known to cause varied health problems, which can include: cancer, reproductive and developmental disorders, neurological problems; memory loss; mood swings; nerve, joint and muscle disorders; cardiovascular, skeletal, blood, immune system, kidney and renal problems; headaches; vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea; lung damage; contact dermatitis; and brittle hair and hair loss. Many are suspected hormone disruptors and respiratory toxins, and for some like lead, there is no known safe blood level.
Seven of the eight metals of concern were found in 49 different face makeup items. On average, products contained two of the four metals of most concern and four of the eight metals of concern.
Only one product, Annabelle Mineral Pigment Dust (Solar), was found to not contain a single metal of most concern. All products contained at least two metals of concern.
Benefit Benetint Pocket Pal (Red Tint) contained the most metals of concern with seven of the eight metals detected.
The Benefit Benetint lip gloss also contained the highest level of lead at 110 ppm, over 10 times higher than the 10 ppm limit set out in the Health Canada Draft Guidance on Heavy Metal Impurities in Cosmetics.
Five products — one foundation, two mascaras, and two lipsticks/tints/glosses — contained the second-most metals of concern as six of the eight metals were found.
None of the heavy metals were listed on the product label.
Lead: Lead is a neurotoxin that is found in cosmetics, plastics, batteries, gasoline, insecticides, pottery glaze, soldered pipes, and paint. In October 2007, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics tested 33 popular brands of lipsticks at an independent lab for lead content. The results: 61 percent of lipsticks contained lead, with levels ranging up to 0,65 parts per million. FDA found the highest lead levels in lipsticks made by three manufacturers: Procter & Gamble (Cover Girl brand), L’Oreal (L’Oreal, Body Shop and Maybelline brands) and Revlon. Yet FDA has thus far failed to take action to protect consumers.
In the body, lead will either accumulate in tissues, especially bone, but also in the liver, kidneys, pancreas, and lungs. Pregnant women and young children are particularly vulnerable because lead can cross the placenta with ease and enter the fetal brain. Lead can also be transferred to infants via breastfeeding and lead stored in bone serves source of fetal lead exposure. After immediate exposure, humans are able to get rid of 50 per cent of the lead within two to six weeks, but it takes 25 to 30 years to get rid of 50 per cent of lead that has accumulated in the body over time.
No safe blood level of lead is known, with even the lowest levels having shown to affect the fetus and the central nervous system in children. Small amounts are recognized as being hazardous to human health. Infants, toddlers, children, fetuses, and pregnant women are most susceptible to its chronic low-dose effects. Chronic low-level exposure may affect the kidneys, cardiovascular system, blood, immune system, and especially the central and peripheral nervous systems. IQ deficits have been associated with high blood lead levels, including those of low-levels. Lead exposure has also been linked to miscarriage, hormonal changes, reduced fertility in men and women, menstrual irregularities, delays in puberty onset in girls, memory loss, mood swings, nerve, joint and muscle disorders, cardiovascular, skeletal, and kidney and renal problems. Lead and inorganic lead compounds have been classified as possibly and probably carcinogenic to humans, respectively. It was also one of the first substances to be considered “toxic” in Canada. High-level acute exposures can cause vomiting, diarrhea, convulsion, coma, and death.
Mercury: According to EWG’s Skin Deep database, it is a possible impurity in 1.9 per cent of products, including lip gloss, lip liner, eye liner, brow liner, moisturizer, mascara, baby lotion, lipstick, and eye shadow. Mercury has been found in skin lightening, anti-aging, antiseptic and anti-wrinkle products. Avoid all products containing mercurous chloride, calomel, mercuric, mercurio, or mercury.
The literature on the health effects of mercury is extensive. Most of the literature focusses on effects following inhalation exposure to metallic mercury vapours and oral exposure to inorganic and organic mercury compounds. There is limited information on adverse effects following dermal exposure to ointments and creams that contain inorganic mercury compounds.
Mercury is a neurotoxin. Various forms of mercury are toxic. The form of mercury plays a role in how much is absorbed via dermal or oral routes. Organic (methyl) mercury is of greater concern than inorganic mercury, however, all forms of mercury are absorbed through the skin and mucosa and dermal exposure can result in systemic toxicity. Exposure to mercury can have serious health consequences. It can cause damage to the kidneys and the nervous system, and can interfere with the development of the brain in unborn and young children. While the amounts of mercury in the cosmetics is typically low, mercury accumulates in the body. Mercury is also readily absorbable through skin. It can also cause symptoms such as irritability, tremors, changes in vision or hearing, memory problems, depression, and numbness and tingling in hands, feet or around mouth.
Cadmium: Canadians are mostly exposed via food, but also drinking water, air, consumer product releases, occupational exposures, and smoking. Cadmium from body and hair creams can also be absorbed into the human body through dermal contact. It is mostly used to make nickel-cadmium batteries, but is also used in pigments, including those for ceramic glazes, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics, and industrial coatings. Cadmium is absorbed into the body, accumulating in the kidney and the liver, although it can be found in almost all adult tissues. The total amount absorbed by humans has been estimated to be between 0.2 and 0.5 µg/day, with
absorption via skin estimated to be 0.5 per cent. Little absorbed cadmium is eliminated with humans getting rid of 50 per cent of cadmium from the body 10-12 years after exposure. Cadmium and cadmium compounds are considered to be “carcinogenic to humans” by the IARC and are considered “toxic” in Canada because their carcinogenicity and environmental effects. It and its compounds are also classified as known human carcinogens by the United States Department of Health and Human Services.
Arsenic: Humans are mostly exposed to arsenic via food, but other sources include drinking water, soil, ambient air, house dust, and cigarette smoking. Arsenic was found at a maximum of 2.3 ppm in a study on its presence in 88 different colours of eye shadow, and has also been found in skin bleaching creams.
Ingested arsenic compounds are readily absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract and distributed throughout the body, including to developing fetuses, and can mostly be found in the liver, kidneys, lungs, spleen, and skin within 24 hours. Humans are suggested to rid 50 per cent of arsenic from the body between two and 40 days later, although it will tend to accumulate in skin and hair over time. Arsenic may also be inhaled or absorbed via the skin, although an US FDA study has predicted that dermal exposure to arsenic may contribute less than 1 per cent of the exposure from ingestion.
Arsenic and its inorganic compounds are considered to be “carcinogenic to humans” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and are considered “toxic” in Canada because of their carcinogenicity. In humans, the lethal dose is estimated to be between 50 to 300 mg (or 0,8 to 5 mg/kg-bw) of arsenic trioxide.
The ingestion of drinking water with very high arsenic levels have been suggested to increase the risk of cancer in internal organs like the bladder, liver, and lungs. Long-term exposure via ingestion has also been associated with skin cancer, skin thickening or discolouration, decreased blood cell production, blood vessel damage, feet and hand numbness, nausea and diarrhea. According to a single study with a small number of participants, it may also impair the immune system. Long-term exposure through inhalation includes some of the skin effects, circulatory and peripheral nervous disorders, an increased risk of lung cancer, and a possible increase in the risk of gastrointestinal tract and the urinary system cancers. Long-term skin contact is not likely to lead to any serious internal effects.
Nickel: Nickel is naturally occurring and may be an essential element in humans. It is used in everything from metal coins and jewellery, to heat exchangers, batteries, and ceramic colouring, in addition to many other applications. Unsurprisingly given its abundance, everyone is exposed to small amounts, mostly through food, although also through air, drinking water, soil, household dust, and skin contact with products containing it, including cosmetics. Fetal exposures can also occur and it can also be passed to breast-fed infants. High levels of exposure can lead to health effects depending on route and the kind of nickel exposed to. While certain types of nickel were considered to be “toxic” because of concern to health due to carcinogenicity, and in some cases, effect on the environment in Canada, metallic nickel was not considered a concern for human health. However, metallic nickel and alloys have been classified as possibly carcinogenic to humans. Also, allergy to nickel is common and it can cause severe contact dermatitis, with it being one of the most common causes of such. Ten years ago, the first case of nickel allergy caused by eye shadow was reported and it has been reported that even 1 ppm may trigger a pre-existing allergy.