Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Friday, June 03, 2016

Buyer Beware of Non-Safe Cosmetic Compounds

"It's really important for consumers to be aware that [cosmetics] products are not tested by Health Canada prior to being put on the shelves."
"Health Canada has to provide that information [substances contained in cosmetics] to you and it's frequently not available."
"For the most part, I'm personally not worried about walking through the department store [fragrance section] and I've got makeup on and I'm using shampoo."
"If I have a health and safety incident -- which I have had in the past with a makeup product -- I would now know that I should call Health Canada, because there is not mandatory reporting. Nobody else will tell Health Canada except, potentially the consumer [to report issues]."
Julie Gelfand, federal environment commissioner, Ottawa
Julie Gelfand, Canada's commissioner of the environment and sustainable development, addresses a news conference in Ottawa, Tuesday, Oct.7, 2014.
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld    Julie Gelfand, Canada's commissioner of the environment and sustainable development, addresses a news conference in Ottawa
"Health Canada should inform consumers that it does not regularly test cosmetic products for prohibited and restricted substances, microbial contamination, and heavy metals." report – Chemicals in Consumer Products and Cosmetics
set of  decorative cosmetic
Ms. Gelfand issued her report in the wake of a new audit conducted by her environment commission, concluding that millions of Canadian consumers have no basic information on which to rely should they wish to make personal choices about the safety of cosmetic products and the ingredients contained in those commonly-used beauty products, toothpaste, creams and other items used regularly in most households.

Health Canada does list restricted and prohibited chemicals, setting rules for their use by manufacturers. That being said, the federal agency leaves it up to the cosmetics industry to exercise the requisite responsibility to honour those rules.

The health of Canadians, then, is reliant on the expectation by Health Canada that industries whose business it is to make hefty profits using production methods and substances that will enable them to do so, and as cheaply as possible, will still police themselves to favour public health.

Environment commissioner Gelfand recommends that the government work out a method whereby manufacturers will be encouraged to present to consumers complete lists of the ingredients in fragrances, flavours and aromas which are not at the present time divulged to that very public that purchases their products. There is an acknowledged and vital need for consumers to have such information to enable them to make educated choices.

Consumers have a right, as far as she is concerned, to know that what they are buying is hypo-allergenic, preservative-free, fragrance-free or unscented, in the name of health and safety. At the present time, cosmetics labelled as being free of fragrance and unscented may in actual fact be neither, but may contain in fact chemicals used for the very purpose of masking odour.

Under the Food and Drugs Act, Health Canada has no authority to order the recall of cosmetic products. However, if made aware of safety incidents through reports from the public made directly to Health Canada, it will conduct risk assessments. Where other consumer product health and safety incidents must be reported to Health Canada, cosmetic products are exempted.

The audit examined 50 cosmetic notifications discovered to contain prohibited substances during a two-year period, to find that it took about nine months for Health Canada to act. Even when it did little evidence existed of followup.

It is equally if not even more troubling that many counterfeit products on the market are not included on new product notifications. As for ordering cosmetics online, people do so at their own risk. Even legitimately reported products may not have been removed or stopped from entering the Canadian market in 48 percent of cases that were examined by the audit.

The audit, moreover, verified that Health Canada doesn't regularly test cosmetic products to ensure the accuracy of product labels or to investigate whether any of them contain heavy metals or contaminants. Furthermore, under the current law, product ingredients labelled "parfum", "aroma", "fragrance" or "flavour" may contain chemicals concerning to human health — but under current regulations, companies aren't required to inform consumers or advise Health Canada of their presence.

"Those catch-all terms can conceal a range of potentially hazardous chemicals and this information is not readily available to consumers", Ms. Gelfand stated, adding that these substances are capable of  triggering allergies and asthma, and have also been linked to cancer. Health Canada, according to her report, does not regularly test for prohibited or restricted ingredients in cosmetics, and "cannot assure consumers that these products comply with the Food and Drugs Act and are safe."

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