Companies put up pretty face as CSE cries toxic makeup

Activist body found high levels of mercury in products such as fairness creams and chromium and nickel in lipsticks

BS Reporters Mumbai/ New Delhi
Multinationals such as Hindustan Unilever (HUL) and L’Oreal and local companies such as Colorbar Cosmetics and Emami have contested the claims by activist group Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) on the levels of metals like mercury, chromium and nickel in their products.

New Delhi-based CSE, in a study released on Wednesday, said it had found high levels of mercury in fairness creams and large traces of metals such as chromium and nickel in lipsticks. The Drugs and Cosmetics Act prohibits the use of mercury in cosmetics as it causes skin and kidney ailments. Chromium may cause cancer.

Deputy Director-General Chandra Bhushan said the permissible limit for chromium is 0.1 parts a billion. “However, some samples are way above this,” he said  citing the example of Colorbar Cosmetics’ Velvette Matte – Hearts & Tarts Lipstick, with a chromium level 50 per cent higher than the limit.

“Standards in India remain weak, which is why companies flout rules. Also, there is no enforcement of the standards.”

Overall, the study said 44 per cent of the 32 fairness creams tested had high levels of mercury. It found chromium in 50 per cent of the 30 lipstick samples and nickel in 43 per cent. Seventy-three products across 14 companies including HUL, Procter & Gamble (P&G), L’Oreal, VLCC, Emami, Colorbar and Shahnaz Husain were a part of the study. The products were tested at CSE’s pollution monitoring lab in New Delhi.

Among fairness creams, Aroma Magic Fairy Lotion, a product of Blossom Kochhar Beauty Products, P&G’s Olay Natural White and Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL)’s Pond’s White Beauty had high traces of mercury.

HUL said, “We wish to categorically clarify we do not add mercury in our cosmetic products. Like all Unilever cosmetic products, all Pond’s products (including Ponds White Beauty) are safe — with no added mercury and are manufactured in accordance with good manufacturing practices in line with the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) and the US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) limits on trace metals. All our products are approved by the FDA for manufacture and sale as safe cosmetics, and they comply fully with the guidelines in India and to the USFDA guidelines on all aspects, including contaminants and heavy metals (which includes mercury).”

The KK Modi Group-promoted Colorbar said there was no trace of chromium in its products.

“CSE had approached us with the results of their test results of the quoted product ‘Velvette Matte – Hearts & Tarts lipstick’. We responded to them indicating that chromium/nickel or their derivatives were not added to any of our lipsticks as well as other cosmetic products. Plus, we also monitor heavy metals for lipstick in line with BIS 9875:1990 which is a qualitative test. Moreover, to substantiate our statement, as required by them (CSE), we immediately had the same product of the same batch tested at an external independent government-approved lab. The products complied with the BIS 9875:1990 standards,” a spokesman said.

A spokesperson for Lancôme, owned by French company L’Oreal, said, “Lancôme’s highest priority is the safety of its consumers. We do not use heavy metals as ingredients in our products and comply fully with Indian and international cosmetic regulations.”

CSE had said Lancôme L’Absolu Nu-204 lipstick had high chromium and nickel content. Estee Lauder’s MAC So Chaud-A82 was also high in chromium and nickel content, while Emami’s Malai Kesar Cream had a high concentration of mercury, the study said. An Emami spokesperson, in an email, denied addition of mercury to its cosmetics range. P&G and VLCC did not respond to the emails sent. Executives from Blossom Kocchar were not immediately available for comments.

First Published: Jan 17 2014 | 12:20 PM IST

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