Tag Archives: cosmetics

Mercury in Cosmetics

By Kim Smiley

The toxic metal mercury has been found in cosmetics in at least 7 states in the US. Some products contain hundreds or thousands of times the allowable level.  Even small amounts of mercury are a concern as it accumulates in the body.

The use of products containing mercury can result in risk of illness or even death due to mercury poisoning.  Mercury accumulates in the body, increasing the risk with each application.  Additionally, family members can also be exposed, even if they aren’t using the product.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not allow mercury in cosmetics, whether manufactured in or imported into the US.  These mercury containing products are generally manufactured outside the US and are brought in by non-regulated channels, such as personal mail or luggage.   The FDA is constantly adding products found to contain mercury to the seizure list.  If found, the products are taken and the importers or sellers can face legal action.

Mercury is added to cosmetic products in an attempt to aid in skin lightening, anti-aging or blemish control.  However, it seems unlikely that any effectiveness the product may have is worth the possible side effects of mercury poisoning, which include damage to the kidneys and nervous system, tremors, depression, memory problems, and even death.  It can also interfere with the development of the brain in the unborn and very young.  Because mercury is sometimes listed under different names on the ingredient list (or imported products contain no ingredient list or the ingredient list is in a different language), it’s likely that users of these products are unaware they contain mercury.

The FDA recommends that you check the labels of any products advertised as face-lightening, anti-aging or blemish treatments.  If the label contains mercury, mercurous chloride, calomel, mercuric or mercurio, stop use immediately.  Additionally, if there is no ingredient label or the label is not in English, stop use immediately.  Store in a sealed bag and contact Poison Control or your healthcare provider.

We can investigate the issue of mercury in cosmetics in a Cause Map, or visual root cause analysis, in order to show the cause-and-effect relationships that lead to the potential for health effects.  To view the Outline and Cause Map, please click “Download PDF” above.  Or click here to read more.

The Price of Beauty?

By Kim Smiley

In recent years, keratin-based hair products have become increasingly popular.  They smooth hair and many rave over their effective de-frizzing abilities.  These products are expensive, but are consumers paying an even higher price for beautiful hair?

Health concerns about the use of keratin-based hair products have been reported multiple times  over the past several years. The main issue is the formaldehyde contained in many of the products.  Formaldehyde can irritate the eyes and nose, cause skin rashes, and cause asthma-like breathing problems. Formaldehyde is also considered a carcinogen by many organizations.

These hair products contain formaldehyde because it makes the product more effective and longer lasting, but there may be a high health cost, especially to the stylists who perform the procedure.

This issue can be analyzed by building a visual root cause analysis called a Cause Map.  Click on “Download PDF” above to view a high level Cause Map for this issue.

During the root cause analysis, it became clear that one of the causes that contributed to this issue is that many people are unaware of the potential health risk.  This in turn is caused by mislabeling of the products and a lack of safety instructions on the packaging.  Testing by the Oregon OSHA found that many keratin-based hair products labeled as “formaldehyde free” in fact contained significant levels of formaldehyde.  Another cause to consider is that these hair products are considered cosmetics and cosmetics do not require pre-approval by the FDA prior to sale, resulting in minimal government oversight of the product.

OSHA and the FDA  are both investigating the products to determine their safety, but as of right now it is perfectly legal to sell and use keratin-based products containing formaldehyde in the US.  But if you’re interested in using these products, there are several facts you should know to help keep you as safe as possible.  When reading a package, it’s good to know that formaldehyde can be listed in multiple ways, including methylene glycol, formalin, methylene oxide, paraform, formic aldehyde, methanal, oxomethane, oxymethylene, or CAS Number 50-00-0.   It’s also safer to perform this procedure in a well-ventilated area or outside.  Additionally, wearing a mask will prevent inhaling the formaldehyde and some salons now provide them to consumers and stylists to use while the keratin hair products are applied.  You should also carefully wash your hands after handling any product that contains formaldehyde.