Heavy metals are prohibited in any cosmetic product in the EU. Oxford Biosciences can accurately test the levels of aluminium (Al), arsenic (As), cadmium (Cd), chromium (Cr), cobalt (Co), chlorine (Cl), copper (Cu), iron (Fe), lead (Pb), mercury (Hg), manganese (Mn), molybdenum (Mo), silver (Ag), tin (Sn), and zinc (Zn) in cosmetic products.
The official statement of the commission is “The unintended presence of a small quantity of a prohibited substance, stemming from impurities in natural or synthetic ingredients, the manufacturing process, storage or migration from packaging, which is technically unavoidable in good manufacturing practice, is only permitted provided that such presence is safe for human health under normal and reasonably foreseeable conditions of use.”
Heavy metals in cosmetics in Europe were the subject of a parliamentary question in October 2012:
A study carried out in Canada by the influential organisation Environmental Defence has revealed the presence of various toxic heavy metals such as lead, arsenic and cadmium in a range of widely used cosmetics. The study tested some of the leading cosmetics available on the market and found that nickel was present in all of the products, that 96 % contained lead, that 90 % contained beryllium and that 51 % contained cadmium. The study also highlighted that none of the metals mentioned above were listed on the label of the cosmetics tested. According to the manufacturers, these heavy metals should be regarded as ‘unintentional contaminants’ and it should therefore not be compulsory to indicate their presence on labels.
It should be noted that some heavy metals are involved in processes that are harmful to health such as bio-accumulation, namely their absorption into the human body, or bio-magnification, i.e. the increase in metallic substance levels in the body in the event of weight gain.
1. Is the Commission aware of this study?
2. Does it intend to carry out a study on cosmetics on sale in the EU in order to verify the results produced by the Canadian study, to ensure that EU citizens are fully aware of the facts and that there is transparency in the cosmetics market?
3. Does EU legislation classify heavy metals as ‘unintentional contaminants’?
4. Does the Commission believe that EU citizens should be informed about the presence of such metals in cosmetics that they use on a daily basis?
Answer given by Mr Šefčovič on behalf of the Commission
The Commission is aware of the study referred to by the Honourable Member.
The metals covered in the study are prohibited by the Cosmetics Directive 76/768/EC, which will be replaced by Regulation (EC) No 1223/2009 on 11 July 2013. However, the unintended presence of a small quantity of a prohibited substance (‘unintentional contaminants’), stemming from impurities of natural or synthetic ingredients, the manufacturing process, storage or migration from packaging, which is technically unavoidable in good manufacturing practice, is permitted provided that such presence is safe for human health under normal and reasonably foreseeable conditions of use.
Market surveillance actions are regularly carried out by the Member States to check compliance with the rules stated above. In the cases where non-compliances are detected, action is taken and notified in RAPEX. Since 2005, 0.9% of all RAPEX notification in case of serious risk was about cosmetic products containing too high quantities of heavy metals. This figure is confirmed by a recent European survey on lead in lipsticks carried out by the Commission’s Joint Research Centre, which showed that the samples analysed contained only very small quantities of lead, compatible with the rules on unintended traces of prohibited substances.
The US FDA is currently reviewing heavy metals in cosmetic products. Cosmetic ingredients are tested and cannot contain more than the FDA allowable level of following heavy metals:
Lead 10 ppm
Arsenic 2 ppm
Mercury 1 ppm
The Canadian government has guidelines in place which state that heavy metal impurity concentrations are technically avoidable when they exceed the following limits:
Lead 10 ppm
Antimony 5 ppm
Arsenic 3 ppm
Cadmium 3 ppm
Mercury 3 ppm
Further information can be found here.