The dark side of fairness industry

Our Bureau New Delhi | Updated on January 17, 2014

Shah Rukh Khan, Priyanka Chopra, John Abraham, Deepika Padukone and many stars of the glamour industry have been criticised, one time or the other, for endorsing fairness creams. More than the ethics of such endorsements, it is the health risk of the products that is worrying.

According to a study conducted by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), at least 44 per cent of the fairness creams marketed in the country contain high levels of mercury — a toxic heavy metal that can over time affect the nervous, digestive and immune systems as well as lungs, kidneys, skin and eyes.

Ironically, the presence of mercury in these skin products could lead to rashes, skin discolouration and scarring, instead of the intended benefits of skin lightening and removal of pigmentation.

CSE Director General Sunita Narain, said, “Mercury is not supposed to be present in cosmetic products. Their mere presence in these products is completely illegal.”

Under the Drugs and Cosmetics Acts and Rules, the use of mercury is banned in cosmetic products in India.

According to the study, Aroma Magic Fair Lotion, a product of Blossom Kochhar Beauty Products, had the highest mercury level at 1.97 ppm (parts per million), followed by Procter and Gamble’s Olay Natural White (1.79 ppm), and HUL’s Ponds White Beauty (1.36 ppm). While India does not allow the use of mercury in cosmetic products, in the US the maximum permissible level of mercury in cosmetics is 1 ppm.

A spokesperson for Blossom Kochhar Beauty Products said that the company had placed their own products under test in July 2013 and found that “the levels of mercury and other heavy metals are well within the permissible limits.”

The spokesperson added that the fairness cream mentioned in the CSE report has been discontinued since 2011.

Also, a spokesperson for HUL said the company uses “only those ingredients approved by local regulations and global bodies like the PCPC for formulation of our cosmetics.”

The spokesperson said that no mercury is added in their products and they are manufactured in accordance to international standards are prescribed under BIS and US FDA.

“All our products are approved by the FDA for manufacture and sale as safe cosmetics and they comply fully to the guidelines in India and to the US FDA guidelines on all aspects including contaminants and heavy metals (which includes mercury),” the spokesperson said.

According to Nitin Walia, Senior Consultant (Dermatology), Max Super Speciality Hospital, fairness creams and other tropical creams contain heavy metals and sometimes even steroids which can cause, acne, stretch marks, itching and thinning of the skin.

“Heavy metals such as mercury, chromium, nickel can affect the liver also. High deposition of mercury in one’s body in time can have adverse effects on the kidneys as well,” Walia said.

Further, about 50 per cent of the lipsticks tested by the Centre’s Pollution Monitoring Lab were found to have chromium, a carcinogen (cancer causing agent) and 43 per cent of the samples had nickel.

“Lipstick with highest level of chromium would expose a heavy user to over 15 times the safety limit,” CSE said.


Published on January 17, 2014

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