Read your labels, Choose Wisely

By Mary Meela

Cosmetics are substances which are intended to cleanse, beautify and generally to impart a sense of well being. They may be used to hide facial blemishes, to disguise the graying of hair or merely for decorative purposes. Cosmetics such as deodorants and talcum powders can be used to aid personal hygiene.

Standardization is an activity of establishing with regards to actual or potential problems, provision for common and repeated use aimed at the achievement of the optimum degree of order in a given context. The activity consists of the process of formulating, issuing and implementing standards.

Most types of cosmetics and creameries, which are in the market, are imported. Some contain ingredients, which are Generally Not Regarded As Safe (GNRAS). These are ingredients, which in one way or another have been used in cosmetics preparations but with continued research have proved to be harmful.

A label is defined as a display of written, printed or graphic matter upon the immediate container or the outside container or wrapper of a product package, while labeling is defined as all labels and other written, printed, or graphic matter accompanying the product for proper identification or marketing purposes.

It is a good habit to read labels in order to know which ingredients are included in the formulation and all important information of products for correct understanding.

Standards are tools for quality assurance. Tanzania Bureau of Standards (TBS) is a custodian of standards. It has made several standards, has foreign and international standards. 

Tanzania Bureau of Standards has since 1998 started seriously controlling importation of all products, cosmetic products included.  This was after finalization of some standards for cosmetics and the regulation made under Section 3 of the Standards Act No. 3 of 1975: The Standards (Compulsory Batch Certification of Imports) Regulations of 1998.  This empowered TBS to control imports of all products, cosmetic products included.  The intent of the regulation makes sure that no product that affect health and safety will be imported, manufactured, stored for the purpose of being sold or given unless it conforms to the available national or international standard.

TZS 638 (Part 2): 2006 lists substances that must not form part of cosmetic products, Generally Not Recognized As Safe (GNRAS). This part of Tanzania Standard lists substances which are Generally Not Recognized As Safe (GNRAS) in use in cosmetic preparations. These are ingredients, which in one way or another, have been used in cosmetics preparations but with continued research have proved to be harmful. 

The standard augments the Government’s efforts on ensuring that only safe products are marketed in the country, knowing that the majority of people are unaware of harmful effects which result from the use of unsafe cosmetics.

Cosmetics which contain such ingredients as, say dibutyl phthalate (DBP), are used. Dibutyl phthalate (DBP) is a synthetic compound used to help the nail polish adhere to the nails and make it fluid and easy spread. This ingredient is a solvent that evaporates to form hard coating and research proves that pthalic acid and pthalates have been linked with testicular cancer and cell mutation.

DBP is a particularly insipid ingredient, as it releases through the vapours and not only when one is painting the nails but also every time one washes one’s hands or wets own hands, the chemical is released again.

DBP also can be included in antiperspirants and deodorants. For your health and safety, there are other ingredients that are worthwhile avoiding in antiperspirants and that one should not breathe antiperspirants sprays as they can increase susceptibility to respiratory problems over a long term.

Our piece of advice is: Read your labels, choose wisely. When looking for nail polish for example one needs to look for nail polish that does not contain DBP. It is advisable to check and see if the polish is toluene and formaldehyde free.

Dibutyl phthalate (DBP) is just one item from the list of substances, which cosmetic products must not contain; the list goes on up to four hundred ingredients.

Tanzania Bureau of Standards will from time to time issue educative articles regarding these harmful ingredients.

Mary Meela is a Principal Standards Officer in the Chemical Standards Section.