Toxic black henna dyes

Henna, a 9,000 year-old South Asian and Middle Eastern tradition of painting the body, has found its way to the  mainstream. Henna tattoos have been spotted on everyone from singing divas to movie stars to spring breakers. Henna is also used to dye hair.

Though the popularity of the body art rises, information surrounding it does not. Few realise that a form of henna, called "black henna," can poison us.

Henna, a paste made from the Arabic bush for which it is named, is a temporary ink used to decorate the body that fades after about 2 weeks. It's also used regularly to colour hair.

Henna should be brown, brick, or cinnamon in color. This is the natural color of henna, which experts and dermatologists say is safe for the skin.

However, many people want their body art black, and very often it's that colour that is unsafe.

Black henna is usually made by mixing the toxin p-phenylenediamine (PPD), commonly used as black hair dye, with henna to change the henna to black.

The allure of black henna is that it satisfies a demand for temporary tattoos to look real. It also decreases the drying time from up to 2 hours to just minutes. But it's the risks that come with black henna that caused the US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) to ban its use for body art.

The FDA has also posted an import alert on henna. The alert states that any temporary tattoos that include unsafe additives or do not list ingredients cannot enter the country.

Black henna can cause allergic reactions to the skin ranging from a poison-oak-like rash to blistering, oozing sores, intense itching and scarring to acute breathing problems, said Stefani R. Takahashi, a dermatologist in California who has seen first-hand the repercussions of black henna.

The reaction can happen up to 3 weeks after the henna tattoo was applied.

PPD can pass through the skin into the bloodstream and cause harm to internal organs such as the kidneys and liver. Even those administering black henna are at risk of health problems from inhaling PPD.


Red lipstick spreads the lead

lipstickSome of the red lipsticks manufactured in the United States and used daily by millions of women contain high levels of lead, according to new product tests commissioned by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a nonprofit coalition.

The tests for lead in lipstick were conducted by an independent laboratory over the month of September on red lipsticks bought in Boston, Hartford, Connecticut, San Francisco and Minneapolis.

20 of 33 brand-name lipsticks tested contained detectable levels of lead, with levels ranging from 0.03-0.65 parts per million (ppm). None of these lipsticks listed lead as an ingredient, according to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a coalition of women’s, public health, labour, environmental health and consumer rights groups.

“Lead builds up in the body over time and lead-containing lipstick applied several times a day, every day, can add up to significant exposure levels. The latest studies show there is no safe level of lead exposure,” said Mark Mitchell, MD, president of the Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice.

11 of the tested lipsticks exceeded the US Food and Drug Administration’s 0.1 ppm limit for lead in candy — a standard established to protect children from directly ingesting lead.

The Food and Drug Administration has not set a limit for lead in lipstick.

Among the top brands testing positive for lead were:

  • L’Oreal Colour Riche “True Red” — 0.65 ppm
  • L’Oreal Colour Riche “Classic Wine” — 0.58 ppm
  • Cover Girl Incredifull Lipcolor “Maximum Red” — 0.56 ppm
  • Dior Addict “Positive Red” — 0.21 ppm

Lead can affect almost every organ and system in your body, according to the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). The main target for lead toxicity is the nervous system, both in adults and children.

Long-term exposure of adults can result in decreased performance in some tests that measure functions of the nervous system, says the ATSDR. It may also cause weakness in fingers, wrists, or ankles. Lead exposure also causes small increases in blood pressure, particularly in middle-aged and older people, and can cause aneamia. Exposure to high lead levels can severely damage the brain and kidneys in adults or children and ultimately cause death.

In pregnant women, high levels of exposure to lead may cause miscarriage, says the ATSDR. High-level exposure in men can damage the organs responsible for sperm production.

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics says the tests show it is possible to make lipstick without lead — 39% of lipsticks tested had no detectable levels of lead — and cost does not seem to be a factor. Some less expensive brands such as Revlon ($7.49) had no detectable levels of lead, while the more expensive Dior Addict brand ($24.50) had higher levels than some other brands, said the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.

The US Food and Drug Administration will conduct its own tests to follow up on the group’s results, although the agency has not found dangerous levels of lead in previous tests, said FDA spokeswoman Stephanie Kwisnek.

Once added to most house paints, lead in paint has been outlawed in the United States since 1978. The Housing and Urban Development Agency says lead was originally used in paint “because it made colours more vibrant”.

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics is calling on the industry to reformulate products to remove lead, to require suppliers to guarantee that raw materials are free of lead and other contaminants, and to join the campaign in demanding that the FDA more strictly regulate personal care products.

The Campaign says it finds “disturbing” the “absence of FDA regulatory oversight and enforcement capacity for the $50 billion personal care products industry”.

“The cosmetics industry needs to clean up its act and remove lead and other toxic ingredients from their products,” said Stacy Malkan, author of the just-released book, Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry.

“Repeated, daily exposures to low levels of lead add up — and they add up on top of lead from paint and drinking water, which is especially a problem in low income communities. There’s no excuse for lead in lipstick or toys. Companies should act immediately to reformulate lead-containing products,” Malkan said.

The industry association says the FDA has set “strict limits for lead levels allowed in the colours used in lipsticks, and actually analyse most of these to ensure they are followed”. The products identified in the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics report meet these standards, the industry association says.

“Despite the negligible levels of lead found in some lipsticks,” the trade association said, “cosmetic companies are committed to reducing that level even further. For decades, cosmetic companies have worked to minimise all product contamination, including lead. They actively and continually review all raw materials to ensure that they contain the lowest levels of impurities possible.”
Source: ENS, 15 October 2007

The full report, “A Poison Kiss: The Problem of Lead in Lipstick,” including complete test results, is online at:

Nano particles in cosmetics

Nanotechnology can be risky, but no one is regulating its use. A study published in the 20 May 2008 issue of Nature Nanotechnology showed that nanotubes, tube-shaped nanoparticles, can lead to cancer.

Thanks to nanotechnology, that allows grinding particles to atomic levels, you now have face creams that spread so smoothly on your skin that only a transparent sheen is visible, no layers.

While that seamless makeup is desirable, cosmetics using such finely ground particles, called nanoparticles, might not be as harmless as they are believed to be.

Recent studies link them to cancer and cell death. Although nanotechnology is used in about 600 consumer products, including face creams and toothpastes, there have not been enough risk-assessment studies and regulation of their use in personal care products.

For the uninitiated, “nano” means a billionth, and particles measured in nanometres are nanoparticles. A study published in the 20 May 2008 issue of Nature Nanotechnology showed that nanotubes, tube-shaped nanoparticles, can lead to cancer. Not long ago nanotubes were considered promising vehicles for delivering anti-tumour agents into malignant cells. Studies had even shown them to be safe because they get out of the system through excretion.

Another study conducted on brain cells outside the body showed that particles of titanium dioxide, used in sunscreen lotions, could kill the cells by affecting their oxygen balance. The study was published in the November 2007 issue of Environmental Health Perspectives.

There are no studies to show that nanoparticles get absorbed through skin pores but even bigger particles can enter the body through broken skin. Some studies show that even unbroken skin when flexed, like in wrist movements, will make the outer layer of the skin permeable to nano-sized particles.

If cosmetics using nanoparticles harm health, it will not be easy to detect. Products using nanoparticles do not mention it on their packaging and their adverse effects are rarely reported. This is despite the fact that the global market for nanotechnology is likely to touch US$1 trillion by 2015.

In the US, cosmetic products are not subject to pre-market approval, nor are they subject to mandatory reporting of adverse events. “We are not aware of any reports of cosmetic products using nanotechnology in our database in which adverse events are reported,” says Stephanie Kwisnek of the US Food and Drug Administration. But several skin care and anti-ageing products use nanotechnology.

Manufacturers of skin care products defend the use of nanoparticles. “In sunscreen lotions, nano titanium dioxide is present in large dusters ranging in size from 300 nanometre to 600 nanometre.

“Studies conducted within the European Union guidelines have shown that nanopigments do not cross the skin barrier, even in cases of acne and psoriasis,” says the consumer affairs coordinator of the L’Oreal Group.

A consumer relations representative from Procter & Gamble even claims health benefits, saying that nanoparticles used in sunscreen lotions provide protection against harmful effects of the sun, including skin cancer. But there is no evidence of sunscreens reducing cancer risks.

“Debates without scientific data will only delay the technology from achieving its full potential. It’s important that the negative aspects of this technology be fully analysed, instead of drawing hypothetical conclusions,” says Rahul Patwardhan, vice-chairman and managing director, IndiaCo Ventures, a financial services company that has pioneered the nanotechnology initiative through the Nanotechnology Research Foundation.

In March 2008, an EU scientific committee concluded that risk assessment methods for nanomaterial used in cosmetics were not thorough enough. It pointed out that there was inadequate information on how nanoparticles are absorbed in the body through skin and how they could be transported to the foetus through the placenta. The com­mittee suggested better risk-assessment methods and strict regulation.

Source: Down To Earth, 1-15 July 2008