An environmental advocacy group is urging the government to impose stricter regulations on the cosmetics industry after publishing a report that suggests many makeup products contain a number of toxic heavy metals.
The report titled "Heavy Metal Hazards" by Environmental Defence calls on Health Canada to improve its cosmetics regulation and make companies list all metals on their product labels - moves which are being decried by representatives of the cosmetics industry.
The group tested 49 makeup products and found all of them contained varying amounts of heavy metals, including one lip gloss which contained levels of arsenic and lead exceeding limits recommended by Health Canada.
"The fact that virtually all the products were tested had some levels of these chemicals is a concern," said Rick Smith, executive director of Environmental Defence. "Heavy metals are linked to quite serious human disease."
While the report found products tested largely met draft guidelines prepared by Health Canada in 2009, Environmental Defence is urging the government to revise the rules to reflect that lower levels of certain metals are "technically avoidable" in the manufacturing process.
"A big part of our message to Health Canada is 'Can you please get a move on adopting them, and before you do, can you please improve them,"' said Smith. "The fact that at the moment the federal government isn't regulating these chemicals as it should, that should be a concern for Canadians."
Health Canada could not be reached for comment Sunday.
The report is being disputed by the Canadian Cosmetics, Toiletries and Fragrances Association, which argues the publication lacks context as the metals are not ingredients but impurities - unintentional contaminants from the manufacturing process - and are found in such minimal amounts that they pose no significant risk.
"For any of those amounts to be of concerns to consumers, you would probably have to eat pounds and pounds of makeup every day to get within the realm of risk," said organization president Darren Praznik. "They're distorting the science and they're distorting the risk for the purpose of causing very unnecessary public concern."
The report asked six women of various ages from across the country to identify five pieces of face makeup they used regularly to be tested. Environmental Defence chose five additional products and 49 different items which included powders, foundations, concealers, blushes, mascaras, eyeliners and lip glosses - were finally tested for the presence of heavy metals.
Tests found that all of the products tested contained trace amounts of nickel, lead and beryllium. On average, products contained four of eight "metals of concern." All but one of the products, however, contained metal amounts within Health Canada's draft guidelines.
Praznik pointed out that the guidelines for metals in makeup use the same standards that are applied for ingestible pharmaceuticals, all measured in parts per million. He added that even products with higher levels of trace metals than others would have to be used much more than normal to present a significant health risk.
"It was a report that really took no information and tried to make it into something of great importance when it just isn't there," he said. "These are naturally occurring trace amounts that occur in just about everything, and the reason they're there is because they occur in nature."
The cosmetics industry advocate also argues that mandatory labelling of the metal impurities would create unnecessary concern among consumers due to more lack of context, and would eventually lead to a desensitizing towards real hazards.
"If you don't put it in context, if it doesn't add value to the whole health equation, then it undermines the whole warning system," Praznik said.
Meanwhile, Environmental Defence argues that consumers should be able to make an educated choice when purchasing their products.
"We think consumers deserve that information and frankly, that will very much focus the attention of manufacturers on the problem," said Smith. "Canadian labelling standards are absolutely miserable when it comes to labelling standards elsewhere in the world."
The organization also said the fact that trace metal amounts vary in similar cosmetics means that some manufacturers work harder than others to produce safe products.
"Yes, in many cases these are low levels but scientists and doctors are clearly telling us that there is no safe level when it comes to things like lead," Smith said. "The only responsible response from cosmetics manufacturers is to commit to doing better."