Samples of locally manufactured cosmetics collected from various parts of the city have been found contaminated with heavy metals by a recent study, warning of their serious adverse health effects.

Titled Heavy metal assessment in cosmetic products available in Karachi, the study was conducted at the Institute of Environmental Studies of Karachi University (IES, KU).

Under the study, supervised by senior KU teacher Dr Moazzam Ali Khan, samples of hair colour, eye-shadow, lipstick and kohl (five samples each) were collected at Sunday bazaars held in various localities with few branded cosmetics. They were analysed to check the presence of lead, nickel, chromium, iron, zinc and copper.

Sharing its findings, Dr Aamir Alamgir, an assistant professor at the IES, KU, said: “Though a preliminary study, the research findings carry a strong message for the masses to limit the use of cosmetics, if they can’t give it up completely. Repeated exposure to these heavy metals increases vulnerability to a range of diseases, including cancer. Pregnant women are especially at risk.”

Data source: 'Heavy metal assessment in cosmetic products available in Karachi' by IES, KU
Data source: 'Heavy metal assessment in cosmetic products available in Karachi' by IES, KU

According to him, there are no national or international standards on impurities like heavy metals in cosmetics except 20 for lead and 5lg/g for cadmium set by some countries.

The maximum limits set by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation for lead is 10ppm, arsenic 3ppm, cadmium 3ppm, mercury 3ppm and antimony 5ppm.

“All these are maximum limits. This means the relevant contaminants have been seen to produce a toxic effect, if they cross this level in the body, irrespective of their source,” he said, adding that heavy metals in cosmetics were known to cause severe health problems as they entered the skin and got accumulated in different organs through blood.

Ideally, all cosmetic products should be free of heavy metals, he said.

Some findings

The mean concentration of lead in hair colour samples ranged from 4.2ppm to 9.22ppm. None of the samples exceeded the Canadian safe limits for cosmetics but given the fact that there are no actual guidelines for heavy metals in cosmetics, one product with mean concentration of 9.22ppm might be reasonably toxic.

“This can prove to be highly lethal and may cause chronic cancerous disease if used repeatedly,” it says.

The mean concentration of lead in samples of eye-shadow ranged between 16.19ppm and 24.636ppm.

Lead in lipstick samples was below the mark of toxicity; the highest value of lead was seen in only one product with mean concentration 7.176ppm. The maximum and minimum values were 7.176ppm and 9.31ppm.

The highest mean concentration of lead in face-powder samples was 6.276ppm. The lead levels in kohl samples were high; they ranged between 15.328ppm and 22.786ppm.

The highest concentration of chromium found in lipstick and eye-shadow samples was 2.33ppm and 1.59ppm, respectively.

The highest concentration of nickel was 4.8ppm which was found in an eye-shadow sample.

Kohl samples exceeded the safe limits for cadmium whereas only one lipstick sample had indicated high mean concentration of cadmium.

Originally published in Dawn, January 8th, 2017