Ingredient Labelling of Cosmetics

Under the Cosmetic Regulations of the Food and Drugs Act, the outer label of cosmetic products sold in Canada must list all the ingredients in the product. This information allows people, especially those with skin sensitivities or allergies, to make more informed choices. It also reduces the health risks associated with the use of cosmetics.

Background A cosmetic is defined as a substance or mixture of substances manufactured, sold or represented for use in cleansing, improving or altering your complexion, skin, hair or teeth. Cosmetics include beauty preparations, such as make-up, perfume, skin cream and nail polish, and grooming aids, such as toothpaste, soap, shampoo, shaving cream and deodorant.

Canadians spend more than $5 billion on cosmetics each year. Most men, women and children in Canada use them regularly. Cosmetics, such as soap, are sometimes used over large areas of the body and for extended periods of time. There are over 10,000 different ingredients that may be found in the cosmetics that Canadians use.

In 2006, it became mandatory for the outer label of all cosmetics sold in Canada to contain a list of all ingredients. In addition, the list must use recognized names from the International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients (INCI) system, found in the International Cosmetic Ingredient Dictionary and Handbook.

The Health Risks of Cosmetics Most cosmetics do not pose a health risk when the directions on the label are followed and a product is used properly. However, some of the ingredients in cosmetics can cause adverse effects in certain individuals with sensitivities. These can range from mild irritations to severe allergic reactions.

An estimated 2% to 5% of adults may have mild reactions to cosmetic ingredients. The most common reaction is a skin rash. When this happens, most people simply stop using the product and the condition clears up on its own.

A smaller percentage of people have more serious reactions that may result in a reduced quality of life, loss of income or school-time, increased health risks and increased demands on the health system. Examples include painful eye irritations, facial swelling and hair loss. In rare instances, those with a severe allergy to an ingredient may develop breathing problems. Some cosmetics may also be toxic if swallowed by children, due to their lower body mass.

Health Canada receives over 50 reports per year about adverse reactions to cosmetics. Many more cases go unreported. Ingredient labelling can help you deal with these risks. A specific substance in a cosmetic will have the same name on every ingredient list.

This helps reduce risks in the following ways: If you know you are sensitive to a substance, you can make an informed choice to avoid any product with that ingredient.

If you develop a reaction to a product, the list of ingredients will help your health care provider determine the cause. You can then avoid products containing that ingredient in the future.

Medical professionals are able to refer to an ingredient by one common name for incident reporting and treatment. A product ingredient list can help in emergency situations. For example, if a child swallows a cosmetic product, the list will save time in determining the correct medical treatment.

Minimizing Your Risk The following steps will help you minimize any risk associated with the use of cosmetics.

Always read package directions and warning labels. Before using a new cosmetic product, try a patch test on a small area of skin. Wait 24 hours. If there is no reaction, it should be safe to use. With hair dye, it is important to do the test each time you use it, even if you have not had a problem before.

Do not share cosmetics, especially make-up. This could expose you to someone else's bacteria.

Keep cosmetic products and toiletries out of the reach of children. If a child swallows any of these products, contact the Poison Control Centre nearest you. It is listed on the first page of your telephone book.

If you have an adverse reaction to a cosmetic, stop using the product immediately. Call your doctor if the reaction is severe or prolonged, and report the reaction to a Product Safety Office. See the link in the Need More Info? Section.

Health Canada's Role Health Canada defines and communicates requirements concerning the manufacture, labelling, distribution and sale of cosmetic products in Canada. All cosmetics sold to consumers in Canada must meet the requirements of the Food and Drugs Act, the current Cosmetic Regulations, and all other applicable legislation to ensure that they are safe and do not pose health risks when used as directed.

Need More Info? For more information, please contact:

Cosmetics Program, Health Canada E-mail: Telephone: 613-946-6452 or visit Health Canada's Cosmetic and Personal Care Web section To report an adverse reaction to a cosmetic product, please contact your nearest Regional Product Safety Office.