Dr Qadeer Ahsan

The cosmetic industry is one of the fastest growing in Pakistan. A famous professor of dermatology at Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences, Islamabad, says there has been a sharp increase in skin problems associated with cosmetics in the past few years. While skin problems are visible, cosmetics could have other hazardous impacts on health.

Several research studies have revealed that the skin may absorb up to 60 per cent of the chemicals in products it comes in contact with.Another study, conducted in USA, has also revealed that complaints made against beauty goods more than doubled from 2017 to 2018, with haircare products topping the list.

According to dermatologists, beauty products may not impart the projected results. On the contrary, substandard quality, grade, harmful compositions can result in allergies, discolouration, texture alteration or permanent damage to the skin or hair. Increased usage and unregulated production has led to steep rise in side effects suffered by the consumers. The number of cases double, especially in the younger to middle aged women patients.

The most common chemical found in beauty products is paraben, which is used as preservative in deodorants, moisturisers, shampoos, body wash and makeup, and increases the chances of breast cancer. Its chemical structure is similar to estrogen and it can be carcinogenic even in tiny amounts.

During 2019, California researchers tested lipsticks of 32 brands available in the US market and found high levels of heavy metals such as titanium, manganese, aluminium, cadmium and chromium. Lead was found in 75 per cent of the lipsticks tested. These heavy metals are known health hazards. While lead is a neurotoxin, long-term exposure to the others can harm body organs like the liver and kidneys and cause cancer.

It is estimated that nearly all of the applied lipstick is ingested by the user and the metals find their way into the body. On an average a woman applies lipstick about 2.5 times daily and uses 24 milligrams (mg) of it. Those who slather it on could be using as high as 87 mg of lipstick a day. The California researchers found that women who use lipsticks could be ingesting a significant amount of aluminium, cadmium, chromium and manganese. In case of average use, the estimated intakes of the metals were more than 20 per cent of their accepted daily intake (ADI) limits. ADI is the maximum amount of a toxin that a person can be exposed to without any appreciable health risk. Thirty-one per cent samples exceeded the ADI for chromium in case of average use (24 mg a day) and 68 per cent were above the ADI values when high use (87 mg a day) was considered.

Meanwhile, formaldehyde and formaldehyde releasers found in nail products, hair dye, hair straighteners, false eyelash adhesives, cosmetic glues and some shampoos, is also linked to causing cancer and can also damage the immune system.

There’s also ethanolamine, which contains impurities like nitrosamines and is usually not listed on product labels. It’s actually a respiratory, skin and organ cancercausing toxicants, and is usually found in soaps, shampoos, hair conditioners and dyes, shaving creams, eyeliners, mascara, fragrances and sunsblock creams.

Triclosan, found in most antibacterial soaps and deodorant, causes skin irritation and infection. Used as an antimicrobial agent in personal care products, it can act as endocrine disruptor and disturb thyroid, testosterone, and estrogen regulation, leading to issues like early puberty, poor sperm quality, infertility, obesity, and cancer. If children are exposed to this at an early age, they have an increased chance of developing allergies, asthma and eczema.

Hydroquinone, usually found in skin-lightening products, certain cleansers and moisturisers, is another harmful drug which can cause ochronosis and hence leave ‘disfiguring and irreversible’ blue-black lesions on exposed skin.

Many fairness creams also contain steroids which cause skin damage, thinning, redness, colour alteration and acne, apart from hydroquinone or mercury, which have been associated with cancers.

Coal tar, ethoxylated surfactants and 1,4-dioxane (by-product obtained from adding carcinogenic ethylene oxide to make other chemicals less harsh, usually used in baby washes), lead (used in lipstick and hair dye, but never listed because it’s a contaminant, not an ingredient), mercury (can impair brain development) and mineral oil (which creates a film that impairs the skin’s ability to release toxins) are some of the other harmful ingredients used in manufacturing cosmetics.

Even basic products like hand sanitisers and hair straighteners can cause more damage than expected.Hand sanitisers are effective in killing germs but excessive use can also kill the good bacteria, exposing your skin to the allergic elements. So, use it in a limited amount.

Most deodorants contain aluminium chloride hexahydrate and parabens which cause of cancer, Alzheimer’s Disease, etc. Toothpaste is a major source of fluoride and if the quantity of intake is high, it can become a major cause of disfiguring dental fluorosis.

While hair straighteners contain formaldehyde and hair dye ammonia, 80 per cent of currently marketed hair dyes and colours consist of colourless dye intermediates’ (aromatic amines) and dye ‘couplers’. Darker colours are formed by using higher concentrations of intermediates. Semipermanent and temporary hair dyes are non-oxidative and include coloured compounds that stain hair directly. These compounds cause skin allergies.

When it comes to beauty products, less is better! You are likely to damage your skin more by using all these products. Always opt for a routine body check-up and use good alternatives to beauty products like an organic face wash instead of a chemical one, pomegranate seeds instead of lip gloss, aloe vera gels as great moisturising agent and coconut oil instead of harmful body lotions.

Always choose products that are labelled noncomedogenic as that ensures the product doesn’t cause skin irritation. Also opt for products with fatty alcohols like cetyl, cetearyl, lanolin or stearyl alcohol which works as good moisturisers.

Antioxidants are a must for beauty products, so rosemary, red tea, coenzyme Q10, Lycopene and parsley. Vitamin A and Vitamin C, are beneficial ingredients. Vitamin A is has ingredients like Retinyl Palmitate, Retinyl Acetate.

The products shouldn’t contain parabens, formaldehyde, fragrance, petroleum, and phthalates. Use products which contain natural ingredients like rose petal, sandalwood and aloe vera. Avocado is an ultra-moisturising fatty fruit and contains vitamins A, D and E that are able to penetrate the skin. It helps soothe sunburn, can boost collagen production and treat age spots.Use coconut oil on both your skin and hair to help cleanse, moisturise, remove makeup, heal wounds or scars quicker, and prevent razor burns.

Coconut oil used internally is also beneficial. It contains antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, plus a lot of healthy fats that help nourish your gut and increase immune function. Honey makes a great homemade natural skincare product as a cure for acne because it can be used in facial cleansers even on sensitive or mixed skin types.

Pakistan is one of several countries that needs to revolutionizing its drugs and cosmetic products in this climate of global change. Currently, there do not seem to be effective checks and balances in place, and specific regulations on standards for chemicals (like mercury) in consumer products, including cosmetics and skin-whitening creams. Many official government-institute reports and scientific papers have appealed to the government of Pakistan to take the necessary steps toward regulation of cosmetic products in the country.

As a signatory to the Minamata Convention on Mercury and with a growing network of unauthorized, illegally marketed cosmetic products, the government of Pakistan is working hard to achieve objectives to streamline authorization of a pure-cosmetic supply chain in the market. Pakistan is trying to strengthen relevant institutes like the Pakistan National Accreditation Council, Pakistan Standards and Quality Control Authority (PSQCA), Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan to implement a quality-management system for regulation of the manufacture, import, sale, and distribution of all cosmetic products. The Ministry of Science and Technology has issued a law to regulate skin creams all over Pakistan through the PSQCA. Authorities have started the cancellation of licenses and sealing manufacturing unit whose products do not meet the standards of the PSQCA. The Punjab government has approved a Drug and Cosmetics Amendment Act by which all cosmetic-sale points will need to be licensed for the provision of genuine products through the original supply chain.

Makeup Artist applies Eye Shadow. Beautiful Woman Face. Perfect Makeup. Make-up detail. Beauty Girl with Perfect Skin. Nails and Manicure. Eye Shadow Palette

With some amendments as necessary to take account of regulations as per the requirements of the country, Pakistan is in dire need of adopting the most reliable model on regulation — that of Cosmetics Europe. This represents the European cosmetic industry and has developed new requirements and guidelines to promote consistent procedures for the management of reporting serious undesirable effects from the use of personal-care cosmetic products to competent authorities. At present, these guidelines are an evolution of earlier industry guidelines on the management of cosmetic-industry products to become free of harmful ingredients.

There is an effective and broad role to be played by the burgeoning media industry, including social media platforms, changing misleading and outdated concepts of appeal, and beauty.All consumer products need to have propermandatory labels, clearly indicating the amount of chemicals added to the products, with updated contact information for the manufacturers. Consumer products containing excessive amounts of chemicals need to be banned for use/sale/manufacturing, and strict rules plus actions should be there to discourage manufacturers from playing with lives.

People should avoid purchasing foreign brands, especially if the ingredients are not printed in English. To improve the appearance of aged skin, products of good brands recommended by dermatologists should be used, and dermatologists must analyze anatomical variants and hormonal and genetic factors related to aging. There must be rules for advertising approved cosmetic products. The consumers have a right to be aware of the consequences of buying unauthorized, toxic cosmetics, and the government should ensure a standard supply chain into markets with safety data for all local and imported items.

-The writer is a senior public health scientist.


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