What Are Cosmetic Products?
Cosmetic products are defined as any substances or preparations that are intended to be placed in contact with the various external parts of the human body (epidermis, hair system, nails, lips, eyes and external genital organs) or with the teeth and the mucous membranes of the oral cavity with a view exclusively or mainly to cleaning them, perfuming them, changing their appearance, correcting body odours, protecting them or keeping them in good condition.
In Singapore, the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) oversees the safety issues linked to cosmetic products.
- Items we find in our bathroom cabinets such as toothpastes, bath products, shower gels, shampoos, conditioners and shaving creams;
- Products on our dressers such as make-up items, skin whitening, anti-wrinkle creams and perfumes/fragrances.
- Sunbathing lotions and hair dressing products (e.g. tints and lotions for perms and straightening).
How are cosmetic products regulated in Singapore?
As they are considered to be generally of lower risk than other health products, cosmetic products do not require HSA's approval before they are placed on the market. They are also not assessed or approved by HSA for their effectiveness before being sold. Companies who manufacture, import and sell cosmetic products are directly responsible for the safety of their products.
Cosmetic products in Singapore are regulated under the Health Products (Cosmetic Products - ASEAN Cosmetic Directive) Regulations, which is a Subsidiary Legislation of the Health Products Act. The ASEAN Cosmetic Directive (ACD) is part of an ASEAN-wide initiative that aims to harmonise standards and requirements for cosmetic products across ASEAN in line with international guidelines.
As part of the regulations, HSA requires all cosmetic firms to:
- Inform HSA of the products they intend to sell before making them available for sale by submitting cosmetic product notification. This is to facilitate prompt action by HSA if there are any product safety concerns and should not be deemed as being “approved for use” by HSA.
- Ensure that their products do not contain any prohibited substances which cause health risks, and that only permitted colourants, preservatives and UV filters are used.
- Label their products clearly with key information in English such as the, ingredients, country of manufacture, batch number, expiry date (if the product has a durability of less than 30 months) as well as name and address in Singapore of company responsible for placing the product in the market. Precautionary health warnings must also be included, if any.
Other checks that we have in our system after the products are in the market include:
- Making it compulsory for cosmetic companies to report all serious adverse events associated with the use of any product to HSA.
- Conducting routine sampling of cosmetic products after they have been placed on the market, and directing companies to stop selling a product or withdrawing it from the market if it is suspected to pose a health risk.
- Taking action against persons and companies who violate the legislation on cosmetic products.
- An adverse reaction monitoring programme, which draws on HSA’s network of local healthcare professionals and international regulatory partners to pick up signals of any cosmetic products that may be causing adverse reactions. This system of checks and controls has enabled HSA to initiate timely recalls of unsafe cosmetic products.
What Are Some Common Risks Linked to Cosmetic Products?
The most common issue linked with the use of cosmetic products is skin sensitivity or allergy to their ingredients. An allergy to a product's ingredient can cause your skin to itch, redden, swell, and even blister.
Understanding some of the terms commonly used to describe cosmetics can help us better prevent problems when we use these products. For example:
- A “hypoallergenic” product means that the product is less (‘hypo') likely to cause allergic reactions. It does not mean that it will completely prevent allergies.
- A “natural”, “organic”, “contains no preservative” or “100% herb” cosmetic may not necessarily be “better” or “safer”. Some plants and herbs are poisonous and others may cause allergies in some people. Natural products also generally have shorter shelf lives. This is because they contain plant ingredients, which are conducive for bacterial growth. As they are usually preservative free, natural products generally have to be discarded sooner as well.
Some people have a misconception that it is “safer” to use cosmetics to treat or prevent health conditions in the long term as these products typically do not contain potent medicinal ingredients and that they are used externally. For example, some consumers may opt to use beauty creams as a substitute to treat serious skin problems such as acne or eczema.
HSA would like to advise consumers against doing so because cosmetic products are not intended to treat or prevent health conditions. Using these products on infected skin may worsen its condition. Consumers should always seek their doctors' advice for medical conditions.
Consumers should also be wary of cosmetic products sold online purporting to provide miraculous results such as skin whitening within a short period. HSA issued several alerts on cosmetic products sold online which were tested to contain undeclared potent ingredients prohibited in skincare products such as mercury or hydroquinone. In August 2015, HSA found three ‘Shantique Bellaza’ cosmetic products to contain these prohibited ingredients. Mercury is a toxic substance and may cause rashes, skin irritation and blotchiness, and can be absorbed through the skin to cause numbness, dizziness, headaches and depression. Chronic exposure to high levels of mercury in cosmetic products may also affect the kidneys. Hydroquinone can cause allergic reactions when used inappropriately without medical supervision.
What Can I Do as Smart Consumer?
No health product is 100% safe. Consumers should exercise care and discretion in the choice of cosmetic products as ingredients used in cosmetic products may not be suitable for everyone and may cause undesirable reactions in some individuals.
- Be aware that claims such as “Endorsed by or Approved by HSA” are misleading as cosmetic products do not require approval from the authority before marketing them in Singapore.
- Buy products from reputable and reliable sources and with adequate label information and always read the instructions and warning information on the label/insert before using a product. Check for ingredients you may be allergic to and use the product according to the instructions on the label as incorrect use may lead to problems.
- Try the product on a small area of skin, usually behind your ear or on the inside of your forearm, before use. If there is no reaction after 24 hours, it should generally be safe to use.
- Look out for changes in a product's colour, odour and texture. Stop using the product immediately if you notice any changes in the product or if you develop an adverse reaction to it. See a doctor if the irritation is severe and does not go away.
- Wash your hands before using cosmetic products so as not to transfer the bacteria from your hands to your face. Especially for make-up, keep your brushes and sponges clean. These tend to trap bacteria and dirt which can contaminate your make-up and cause skin irritation.
- Store cosmetics away from high temperature and sunlight or according to instructions on the label as improper storage may cause the product to deteriorate and may break down the preservatives used to prevent microbial growth.
- Store cosmetics away from children. Some products contain ingredients which may be toxic to children if swallowed.
- Do not be too quick to believe what you read in advertisements or labels, even if the claims are made by “scientific experts” or “backed by scientific research”. Sometimes, only partial findings from a research or study are profiled, and this information may be too brief for you to make an informed decision. If a product's claims sound too good to be true, it is most likely to be so.
- Do not apply cosmetics to irritated or damaged skin.
- Do not share make-up as this could expose you to someone else's bacteria. Each person has different skin bacteria and another person's bacteria may cause a reaction in you.
- Do not dilute cosmetics with water when they dry up. The moisture will encourage bacteria growth and contaminate your cosmetics.
- Do not use cosmetics for other uses apart from its intended one. For example, do not use a lip pencil as eyeliner. The lip pencil could contain ingredients that may irritate your eyes.
As a general rule, members of the public should exercise caution when purchasing cosmetic products online or from unfamiliar sources, even if they are recommended by well-meaning friends or relatives. You cannot be certain what these products contain, and where and how they were made. They could contain potent ingredients, or could be counterfeit or substandard.
What Should I Do When Problems Arise?
If you develop an allergic reaction or skin irritation, stop using the product immediately. Consult your doctor if the condition does not go away or worsens.
You can also contact HSA at Tel: 1800 2130 800 or Email: email@example.com for any enquiries on the regulation or safety concerns of cosmetic products.