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What Are Cosmetic Products?

Cosmetic products cover a wide range of items that we use as part of our grooming (and for the ladies, “beauty”) routine everyday.

In Singapore, the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) oversees the safety issues linked to cosmetic products.  We define cosmetic products as substances and mixtures manufactured and sold for the purpose of cleansing, protecting, and improving the appearance of one's complexion, skin, hair or teeth. 

These include:

  • 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) are also classified as cosmetics.


What is HSA's Role in Cosmetic Products Regulation?

As they are considered to be generally of lower risk than other health products, cosmetic products are currently not subjected to 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. 

HSA plays its role by setting the guidelines for cosmetic products according to the ASEAN Cosmetic Directive (ACD).  The 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 these safety measures, HSA requires all cosmetic firms to:

  • notify HSA of the products they intend to sell before making them available for sale.  This practice is similar to that found in the regulatory systems of countries such as the European Union countries, Thailand and Malaysia.  

  • ensure that the products sold are manufactured, prepared, packed and stored under conditions which meet international standards.

  • 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. The label must reflect key information such as the product's name, ingredients, country of manufacture and expiry date (if the product has a durability of less than 30 months). Precautionary health warnings must also be included.

  • keep a Product Information File (PIF) on the each cosmetic item they place on the market.  This record contains important information such as the product's ingredients as well as data on the product's safety and side effects. The PIF must be presented when audits on the products are conducted by the HSA.   This information is also useful in facilitating the recall of the product should health issues arise.

Other checks that we have in our system 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. 


What Are Some Common Risks Linked to Cosmetic Products?

Most of us have been using cosmetic products without having experienced any serious side effects.  However, as these products have become so much a part of our everyday lives, it is important for us to be mindful of some of the unexpected problems they can cause.

The most common issue linked with the use of cosmetic products is a 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” 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.  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 generally not meant to completely 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.


What Can I Do as Smart Consumer?

Because no product is 100% safe, HSA would like to share some advice on how consumers can protect themselves and their loved ones from the risks associated with using cosmetics:


Do's:

  • Always read the instructions and warning information on the label/insert before using a product.  You might just spot an ingredient that you are allergic to and save yourself from an uncomfortable skin irritation. It is also important that you use the right amounts of the product, as using it excessively may lead to problems.

  • Test the waters before jumping in.  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.

  • Keep your eyes and nose peeled 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, as it may break down the preservatives used to keep the cosmetics bacteria-free and safe for usage.

  • Store cosmetics away from children.  Some products contain ingredients which may be toxic to children if swallowed.


Don'ts:

  • Do not buy cosmetics from unfamiliar sources, e.g. unknown Internet sites and be wary of products with exaggerated claims.  Only buy from reputable companies committed to safe products.

  • 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 or saliva 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 an eyeliner.  The lip pencil could contain ingredients that may irritate your eyes.


What Should I Do When Problems Arise?

If you develop an allergic reaction or skin irritation, stop using the product immediately.  You should consult your doctor if the condition does not go away or worsens.

You can also contact HSA at Tel: 1800 2130 800 or Email: hsa_info@hsa.gov.sg for any enquiries on the regulation or safety concerns of cosmetic products.


Last updated on 14 Jun 2011 10:13:38
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