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Dangerous Illegal Cosmetic Products Pose Serious Health Risks for Consumers

Posted 25/04/24

Trading Standards warn public over harmful illegal cosmetic products for sale online.

The Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) is issuing a stark warning to the public about dangerous illegal cosmetic products sold online, including skin lightening creams that are found to contain harmful ingredients that can cause pregnancy complications, skin infections and osteoporosis.

CTSI has today launched their ‘#CostofBeauty’ campaign which raises awareness about the safety issues associated with three key cosmetic areas:
• Skin lightening creams containing illegal ingredients
• Illegal teeth whitening kits
• Professional use gel nail and L&P nail systems being used by consumers at home

Skin lightening products are used for various complex social and personal reasons. However, some of these products contain dangerous banned ingredients including hydroquinone, mercury and licensed medicines like corticosteroids. Creams containing these substances are illegal to be sold in the UK and Europe, because of the damaging and unpleasant side effects that can occur from prolonged use.

Illegal teeth whitening kits for home use can cause burns and damage to gums. It is illegal for these teeth whitening kits to contain more than 0.1% hydrogen peroxide or other bleaching agents that release hydrogen peroxide. Teeth whiteners bought from online marketplaces have been found
to contain illegal and dangerous levels of hydrogen peroxide, in as much as 300 times the safe, legal limit.

UV Gel nail treatments and L&P (liquid monomer and polymer powder) nail systems use chemicals known as acrylates, including HEMA (2-hydroxyethyl methacrylate) and Di-HEMA (trimethylhexyl dicarbamate). In some people these chemicals can cause allergies to develop, which could result in skin damage and lifelong side-effects. To reduce the risk of developing an allergy, UV Gel nail treatments shouldn’t come into contact with the skin so they should only be administered by trained salon professionals using proper lamps.

The illegal skin lightening creams were purchased from a third-party seller on the website OnBuy, which is an online marketplace. The banned ingredients are not included on the website listing, but the product packaging lists the banned ingredient, hydroquinone. The teeth whitening and UV Gel nail kits are readily available across multiple websites, including online marketplaces.

Trading Standards officers have been working hard to intercept these dangerous products at UK ports and borders. Suffolk Trading Standards Imports Team alone has found that 88% of the cosmetic products checked in the last year were found to be unsafe or non-compliant.

Christine Heemskerk, Lead Officer for Product Safety at CTSI, said: “Cosmetic products should attract compliments, not complications. These dangerous goods can leave the public with serious life-long side effects.

“Trading Standards will remove these products from sale and take action where needed, but online sellers need to take responsibility for the goods available for sale on their websites. Turning a blind eye is not an option when dealing with people’s health. Online marketplaces can and must do better.”

Dr Emma Meredith, Director-General of the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association (CTPA), the trade association representing manufacturers of cosmetics and personal care products in the UK, said: “The safety of our customers is the number one priority of the cosmetics industry and the UK has strict laws dedicated to the safety of cosmetic products and their ingredients. All cosmetic products legally placed on the UK market, even via online, must abide by these robust rules. CTPA would advise purchasing your cosmetic products from a reputable retail source and ensure they are correctly labelled with a full ingredients list. If a product is labelled ‘for professional use only’, please only trust a professional to apply it for you, so you can get the results you want, safely.”

The chair of British Dental Association’s health and science committee, Mick Armstrong, said:
“At best, people may be wasting their money buying over-the-counter and online products to whiten teeth. Home whitening kits are likely to take longer and be less effective than treatment from the dentist.

“While hydrogen peroxide, as used in dental practices, is the gold standard for whitening teeth, the lack of clarity over chemicals used in over-the counter and online products means you could be gambling with your teeth.

“Some online products have been found to contain dangerous chemicals, including toxic or banned substances that can severely burn gums, or irreparably damage teeth.

“Dentists are trained to consider a patient’s wider health and detect problems, such as gum disease, that impact on the suitability of an individual to have their teeth whitened. They also know what whitening products are effective to use, and safe for teeth and gums.”

Richard Knight, Specialist Trading Standards Officer at Essex County Council, said: “We urge consumers in England and Wales to report any suspicious cosmetic products or if they have experienced any adverse reactions after using a product to Trading Standards immediately by calling the free Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline on 0808 223 1133. In Scotland, contact Consumer Advice Scotland on 0808 164 6000, or if in Northern Ireland, call Consumerline on 0300 123 6262.”


Notes to editors:
• Attached are photos of the products purchased online.
• The skin lightening factsheet is available in multiple languages, which can be downloaded on the CTSI website.

Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI)
The Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) is a national not for profit established in 1881 which supports the UK’s trading standards profession, and works to protect consumers and honest businesses. CTSI's members are engaged in delivering frontline trading standards services at local authorities and in businesses. www.tradingstandards.uk

Please contact CTSI Press Office: [email protected] for any queries.

© 2024 Chartered Trading Standards Institute. All rights reserved.

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