Are there poisons in your cosmetics?

Posted on March 18, 2012


Marigold Ruiz, 23, doesn’t leave the house without applying lipstick and then blush on her cheeks.

It’s been her habit for the past five years.

“It makes me feel good. It gives me the added boost I need,” said the 23-year-old sales attendant from barangay Mabolo.

In the mall where she works, the sales staff is required to wear makeup.

“I buy the cheaper brands,” she told Cebu Daily News.

She frequents stores in downtown Manalili Street where she said she buys a two-month’s supply for P25-P100 for lipstick, P50 for blush on and P15 for eyeliner.

But Dr. Ann Blake, a visiting expert in psychology and health sciences, warned that cheaper cosmetics products often contain more toxic chemicals.

“Constant chemical exposure is linked to key health outcomes. Exposures at critical windows of development can cause lifetime problems,” said Blake.

“In a pregnant woman, for example, exposure to toxic cosmetic chemicals will affect fetal development,” she said in a forum on “Women, Cosmetics and Toxic Chemicals” held on Friday at the Sinulog Hall of the Rizal Library.

The forum was organized as part of the Women’s Month celebration.


Blake said exposure to toxic cosmetic chemicals was a risk that can be avoided.

Choose natural products, she said.

“There is a growing number of natural products. I would encourage your industry to venture more into natural products,” she said.

Blake is an independent consultant working with governments, occupational health, public health and environmental advocates to find viable alternatives to toxic chemicals in manufacturing and consumer products.

Blake said it’s unfortunate that regulation of the cosmetics industry “failed to adequately protect human health and the environment.”

Blake said “women had higher chemical exposure to consumer products including cosmetics.”

Toxic Chemicals

Heavy metals like mercury and lead are commonly found in lipstick. The darker the lipstick color, the more toxic the content she said.

Watch out as well for phthalates (pronounced THAL-aytes) commonly found in fragrances.

Although there’s no scientific study to prove it, Blake said she suspected that the darkening of the lips was a result of constant use of lead containing lipsticks.

Blake said toxic chemicals in lipstick were often swallowed when lipstick users lick their lips.

Quoting US studies, Blake said constant exposure to lead and mercury would result in kidney failure, irritability, tremors, memory loss, depression, weight loss, fatigue, severe birth defects and even death of a developing fetus.

Women of child-bearing age risk having children with birth defects while men would suffer declining sperm counts.

Phthalates, on the other hand, are commonly used in hair products, deodorants, body lotions, fragrances and nail polishes.

When used in perfumes, the chemical makes the scent stay longer. In hairs pray, it prevents hair from turning stiff when it’s applied.

“All skin whiteners are harmful,” she warned.

The chemical content in skin whiteners causes rashes and a tingling sensation in the hands.

Formaldehyde, which is found in some baby products like shampoo, bubble bath and body wash, can also cause skin irritation in children.

Unfortunately, Blake said packages of cosmetic products carry no warnings to inform buyers of the effects of these chemicals.

She advised consumers to carefully read product labels and minimize the use of cosmetics.

A list of high toxic chemical containing cosmetics can be found in the website of the US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) and the Philippine FDA website.

She said consumers should take time to browse the FDA list to be guided in their purchases.

But since not all Cebu City residents have access to the Internet, a suggestion was raised for the city government to produce brochures explaining the dangers of chemicals in cosmetics.


Councilor Nida Cabrera, chairperson of the council’s environment committee, said she plans to propose an ordinance next month that would regulate the sale of cosmetic products.

She said the forum’s discussion would help in crafting the ordinance.

Councilor Alvin Dizon said the topic should be part of the Gender and Development (GAD) campaigns in the barangays.

Environment lawyer Gloria Estenzo-Ramos said there was no more need for a law to ensure a chemical-free society.

She said the 1986 Philippine Constitution, which makes it the State’s role to provide every Filipino with access to health services, was already enough.

“The Constitution encompasses all and the Local Government Units are mandated to ensure a safe community,” said Ramos.

The Consumer Code of the Philippines also requires full disclosure of the chemical contents of products.

“But the problem is its implementation,” said Ramos.

She said the city should organize a dialogue with cosmetic product manufacturers.

Catherine Algoso, head of the University of San Carlos women’s affairs office, said she would share what she learned with students.

Budget-conscious students are the ones who buy low-cost cosmetics, she said.


She promised to help campaign for safe alternatives to chemical-based cosmetic products.

Gugo, for example, is a good alternative to detergent-heavy commercial shampoos and conditioner, she said.

In the old days, Algoso said, people would dip the tree bark in water and mix it with calamansi juice.

Another forum participant recommended the use of “achuete” as an alternative to lipstick. /Doris C. Bongcac, Chief of Reporters

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