Cosmetics not tested for harmful substances: environment commissioner
Published Tuesday, May 31, 2016 10:55AM EDT Last Updated Tuesday, May 31, 2016 8:26PM EDT
A new report from the federal environment commissioner says Health Canada is not doing enough to protect Canadians from dangerous substances that may be found in some cosmetic products.
“What is important for Canadian consumers to be aware of is that cosmetics are not tested prior to being put on the market,” Environment and Sustainable Development Commissioner Julie Gelfand told CTV’s Power Play on Tuesday. “You need to know that.”
Since 2006, Health Canada has been part of the federal government’s Chemicals Management Plan, which aims to test about 4,300 chemicals found in consumer products for potential health risks by 2020.
The plan is also meant to identify dangerous ingredients that can be added to the Cosmetic Ingredient Hotlist -- a list of prohibited substances that helps makeup manufacturers meet the legal requirements for selling their products in Canada.
But Gelfand’s report found that the government doesn’t test cosmetic products for heavy metals and other prohibited and dangerous substances. Health Canada, she said, does not even ensure that the labels on the products match what’s inside.
The commissioner looked at 50 cosmetic products that were found to contain prohibited substances between April 2013 and July 2015. According to the report, Health Canada took an average of nine months to ensure products containing dangerous substances had been taken off the shelves.
In nearly half those cases, Gelfand found “insufficient evidence” to suggest the products had been stopped from entering the country after the health risk was identified.
“This finding matters because delays in responding to cosmetic notifications that include a prohibited substance mean that consumers may be exposed to dangerous products for prolonged period,” the report said.
Exposure to dangerous chemicals can lead to everything from minor allergic reactions to reproductive, developmental and cognitive disorders -- depending on the level and duration of exposure.
According to the report, chemicals considered endocrine disruptors are the most dangerous because they can cause a variety of neurological and immune disorders even at low doses.
The commissioner is recommending that the government set up a confidential system for cosmetics manufacturers to disclose the secret ingredients, aromas and fragrances in their products so that Health Canada can check them for potential safety concerns.
“Consumers are expected to make informed choices and use products appropriately,” the report said. “In this context, reliable and specific information on product attributes and ingredients is critical to protect consumers.”
But for now, Gelfand said it is up to consumers to report any allergies or other health problems caused by cosmetic products.
“If you have an allergic reaction or any kind of reaction to your mascara, your lipstick (or) your foundation, it’s really important for you to call Health Canada because (the agency) has a product safety program for cosmetics and depends on hearing about safety incidents,” she said.
Manufacturers and retailers are not legally required to inform Health Canada of any health-related incidents involving their products.
Canada’s Food and Drug Act does not give the department the power to recall a cosmetic product.
“It’s really up to consumers to advise Health Canada that they’ve had a reaction and then Health Canada’s safety system clicks into gear and they start looking at the risks.”
In 2012, the Harper government decided not to make the reporting of health-related incidents mandatory for cosmetic products.
Health and safety incidents involving other consumer products must be reported to Health Canada within two days.