Indian fairness creams, lipsticks high on lethal heavy metals: study

Mercury is present in 44 per cent of the fairness creams and other cosmetics sold in India, although the use of the toxic metal in such products has been banned in India and across the world, a study by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has found.

It also found chromium and nickel in around 50 per cent of the lipsticks it tested. Both metals are poisonous if ingested.

The CSE's Pollution Monitoring Lab (PML), which did the study, says it found chromium in 50 per cent and nickel in 43 per cent of the lipstick samples which were tested. The Drugs and Cosmetics Act of India prohibits the use of mercury in cosmetics, since it is proven to cause skin and kidney damage; while chromium is linked to cancer.

Chandra Bhushan, CSE's deputy director general, said on Thursday that the permissible limit for chromium is 0.1 part per billion. "However, some samples surveyed are way about this limit," he says citing the example of Colorbar Cosmetics' Velvet Matt Hearts & Tarts Lipstick , which has chromium concentration that is almost 50 per cent higher than the permissible limit.

Cosmetics manufacturers, including multinationals like Hindustan Unilever and LÓreal as well as local companies like Emami and Colorbar Cosmetics, were quick to contest the CSE claims

Hindustan Unilever said in a statement, "We wish to categorically clarify that we do not add mercury in our cosmetic products. Like all Unilever cosmetic products, all Pond's products (including Ponds White Beauty) are safe - with no added mercury and manufactured in accordance with good manufacturing practices and in line with BIS and US FDA limits on trace metals. 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).

A spokesperson for Lancome, owned by French cosmetics giant LÓreal, said, "Lancôme's highest priority is the safety of its consumers. We do not use heavy metals as ingredients in our products and comply fully with Indian and International cosmetic regulations.

An Emami spokesperson said, "Emami develops its Personal Care Products in compliance with BIS and FDA requirements and does not add mercury in its cosmetic products. These products are manufactured in accordance with good manufacturing practices and are approved by the FDA complying fully with the guidelines in India on all aspects."

The KK Modi Group's promoted Colorbar gave a similar rebuttal.

According to the CSE, the Indian cosmetic industry is one of the fastest growing. In 2011, the industry registered impressive sales worth Rs 26,410 crore, according to the latest study by RNCOS, a business consultancy service in the US.

With rising purchasing power and growing fashion consciousness, RNCOS estimates that the industry would expand at about 17 per cent a year between 2013 and 2015. Cosmetic giants are leaving no stone unturned to cash in on this opportunity and are roping in Bollywood superstars as advocates of their products.