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New report exposes toxic chemicals and calls for changes to Canada’s cosmetic regulations

By Andrew McDougall , 20-Oct-2010
Last updated on 20-Oct-2010 at 17:16 GMT

The report, from The David Suzuki Foundation, calls for a regulation makeover in Canadian cosmetics, having released information on thousands of personal care products containing potentially dangerous chemicals.

The Canadian non-profit organization carried out an online survey on 6,243 participants to inspect ingredient lists of a range of personal care products for twelve sets of potentially harmful chemicals used as cosmetics ingredients.

Information was provided for 12,550 personal care products.

Ingredient lists studied for the ‘Dirty Dozen’

The list of harmful ingredients, entitled the ‘Dirty Dozen,’ includes BHA/BHT, P-phenylenediamine, DEA, dibutyl phthalate, formaldehyde-releasing preservatives, parabens, parfum, PEGs, petrolatum, siloxanes, sodium laureth sulfate, and triclosan.

According to the Canadian group these ingredients, which are used in a variety of personal care products, have been linked to environmental and health problems.

Of the products examined in the survey, 80 percent contained at least one ingredient on the list.

“Our survey results indicate the widespread presence of a 'dirty dozen' ingredients in products that we use on our bodies every day,” said Lisa Gue, environmental health policy analyst with the David Suzuki Foundation.

“Clearly, we need more effective regulatory action to keep these potentially harmful chemicals out of consumer products.”

Inconsistent and insufficient labeling claims

One of the major problems highlighted, according to the authors, is the paucity of cosmetic ingredient labeling in Canada, with the researchers reporting that they were unable to locate ingredient lists for over 1,000 of the surveyed products.

Health Canada is responsible for labeling products under the Food and Drug Act and the Cosmetic Regulations, listing prohibited and restricted ingredients on its ‘Cosmetic Ingredient Hotlist.’

The Canadian Environmental Protection Act 1999 (CEPA) provides Health Canada and Environment Canada additional authority to regulate chemical ingredients that meet the definition of ‘toxic’, as defined by CEPA.

According to the report whilst the hotlist itself has no legal authority and cannot be enforced directly, it serves as a guideline for interpreting more general prohibitions and provisions in the Food and Drug Act and Cosmetic Regulations.

The European Union’s Cosmetic Directive, in contrast, specifically restricts the presence of a wide range of carcinogens, mutagens and reproductive toxicants in cosmetics products.

The David Suzuki Foundation claims Canada’s legal framework lacks a clear priority basis for adding substances to the Hotlist.

Foundation calls for a regulation makeover

As a result of this study the Canadian Foundation called for a replacement of harmful chemical with safer alternatives, and strict labeling regulations to be put in place.

As an interim step, the authors suggest both implementing hazard labeling for ingredients linked to chronic health concerns, as recommended by the Canadian Cancer Society, and strengthening EcoLogo certification criteria for personal care products.

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