Photo: Unsplash/Ian Dooley

Last Night Health Canada released a warning regarding a popular skin care cream marketed for kids and babies with eczema. After a lab test, they found that PureCare Herbal Cream, a product labeled “all-natural”, actually contains a highly potent prescription steroid cream.

You can read more about it here.

This is a great opportunity to start a larger conversation where Health Canada is concerned.

Last year a federal audit by Canada commissioner of environment and sustainable development criticized the health ministry for not regularly testing cosmetics for harmful or prohibited substances and there’s no legal requirement to report adverse health and safety incidents — unlike other consumer products.

That means that millions of consumers lack the information needed to make informed choices about the makeup, creams and other beauty products they use. The reason? They are not screening anything before a product goes to market. Yes, you read that right; there is NO PRE- SCREENING at all!

If you are bringing a new cosmetic to the market, all you are required to do is to notify Health Canada of the product’s ingredients 10 days before it goes to market. Once products are on shelves, there is absolutely no way of knowing if they contain restricted or banned ingredients, microbeads or heavy metals.

There is also no follow up in place regarding the marketing of products either and here is where a major data gap lies. Companies can hide unlisted ingredients. Previous studies have found this happens in products like sunscreens, nail polishes, and fragrances.

And then there’s the issue of fragrance. The report states that “many chemicals commonly found in fragrance can trigger allergies and asthma and have been linked to cancer,” and since the industry isn’t legally required to reveal their scented ingredients, consumers have absolutely no way of knowing and neither does Health Canada. The report goes on to say “they cannot assure consumers that these products comply with the Food And Drugs Act and are safe.”

In 2003, the EU announced cosmetic regulation 1223/2009, which lists the 26 most-known allergenic substances. These substances must now appear on the label of a cosmetic product when present in the finished formula at certain thresholds (ratios).

Most of these ingredients fall under the terms “fragrance,” “parfum,” “aroma” or “flavour” and in Canada, companies do not have to list these on the label, they get away with this claiming that the “scent” is proprietary information. Health Canada has said they will at the very least test products that use the terms noted above. But until they make this mandatory, I don’t expect anything to change drastically.




What’s makes me so mad about all of this is that Health Canada can order recalls, allocate penalties, and hold companies and manufacturers responsible for false and misleading labels on consumer goods, but they don’t have the same power for cosmetics.

And to make matters worse, even if an item is found to contain toxic crap, there is no guarantee that it will be taken off shelves, so again the consumer has no way of protecting themselves.

So how do we protect ourselves? You need to get to know the companies who are making your products.

Like the slow food movement, think of it as the slow skin movement.

If you are not sure, ask questions, a company should have no issue with being upfront and transparent about their formulations. If they are, avoid them.

Educate yourself. This is probably the most important tip. Don’t rely on anyone for information, do your homework and be an educated consumer.

If you are shopping online, make sure you are shopping with a reputable company that vets all of their products. Because according to the same report, Health Canada “has few controls to address or prevent dangers associated with imported products shipped directly to consumers.”

Be on the lookout for knockoffs too. Cheap, knockoff makeup, for example, has been found to contain high levels of arsenic, mercury, and lead.

And write to your MP, tell them that you want more transparency on cosmetic labeling and ask them to put strict legislation in place to prevent companies and manufacturers from lying to us and putting false lists on their labels.

Candice Batista

Candice Batista is an award winning Environmental Journalist and one of Canada’s leading eco advocates. Her career spans national and international media outlets, where she has used her background in environmental studies and media & communications to produce and report on various environmental and climate issues for primarily television and digital audiences including Huffington Post, The Globe & Mail, The Weather Network, CityTV, Rogers Television, The Pet Network, iChannel, and CTV, where she is currently the National Eco Expert for the stations number 1 daytime talk show, The Marilyn Denis Show.
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