I subscribe to the FDA’s mailing list where they detail problems with products – products across the board that is, not just personal care ones. There is usually something going wrong somewhere so alerts come through most days, and getting several on the same day is not unusual. It is actually pretty rare for cosmetics to trigger off the alarm bells. I am sure that people in the cosmetic business are just as error prone as those in any other walk of life, but it just happens that by the standards of consumer products, cosmetics are pretty safe. Nobody knowingly uses hazardous ingredients in cosmetics – there is simply no reason to do so. And the skin is a pretty good barrier anyway so you would be unlikely to come to any harm in the unlikely event of anything accidentally ending up in a cosmetic anyway.
But even so there are a few ways things can go wrong, and one of them is using a raw material that is safe in itself but has a hazardous impurity. This is not really a problem with synthetic ingredients which are pretty well controlled and understood. But a lot of cosmetic ingredients are actually rather more natural than their scientific names might suggest. And while natural ingredients are pretty safe too, there is always a greater risk of something unexpected happening. I wouldn’t suggest for a moment anyone go out of their way to avoid natural products, but the plain fact is that they are riskier than man made ones.
And here is an example that arrived in my inbox from the FDA today. A face mask with the brilliant name Bentonite Me Baby has just been picked up as having an abnormally high lead content. Bentonite is a clay, and like all clays it is dug out of the ground. This is usually no problem, but it turns out that some of the bentonite they have been using has an unusually high lead content.
The report doesn’t give any actual levels. I have a suspicion that if the lead is tied up in the structure of the bentonite it probably wouldn’t be able to get out and so you could use it without harmful effect – but why take the risk? If you have actually already used the product I think it is too early to panic. Get your blood level of lead tested before you assume you have come to any harm. The skin is very good at protecting the body from nasties in comes into contact with.
I’d be interested to know just how this all happened. Clays are used a lot in cosmetics and there are pretty good systems in place to make sure that they are safe to use. But clays also get used in a lot of other industries that have no need to be so conscientious. I wonder if somebody bought in a cheap grade? We’ll probably never know. But I don’t think I’ll be buying anything from this company in the future.
If you are interested in clay masks in general, you might find this blog post from a few years back interesting.