Cosmetics and health



Cosmetics are not only "beauty tools" such as anti-wrinkle creams or lipsticks, but also soaps, bubble baths or toothpastes, products that are now part of our daily life and help us in maintaining proper personal hygiene. It is defined as a cosmetic product "any substance or mixture intended to be applied to the external surfaces of the human body (skin, hair and hair, nails, lips, external genital organs) or to the teeth and mucous membranes of the mouth for the sole or primary purpose of cleaning, perfuming, modifying their appearance, protgger them, keep them in good condition or correct body odors". The substances (or mixtures) intended to be ingested, inhaled, injected or implanted in the human body, are not cosmetic products; for this reason, being injected under the skin, tattoos are not considered cosmetics.

Cosmetic products are regulated by specific European legislation (Regulation (EC) No.1223/2009) which, which entered into force in Italy in July 2013, has among its main purposes that of guaranteeing the protection of health and consumer information; it also provides for the evaluation of product safety to be carried out, when are applied under normal conditions of use, imposing a total ban on animal experiments to demonstrate it.

The Regulations also indicate the rules concerning the composition of cosmetic products, with the inclusion of lists of coloring substances, preservatives and sunscreens that are not permitted or which, if allowed, cannot exceed a certain amount. The lists are continuously updated: there is in fact a European committee of experts (Scientific Committee for Consumer Safety - SCCS) which reviews the safety assessments and assesses whether a new substance can be used as an ingredient in a cosmetic product without causing damage to health. of the consumer. Substances not permitted as ingredients in cosmetic products include those which have been shown to have carcinogenic, mutagenic and toxic effects for reproduction.

Effects on Health

Cosmetic products must always be applied to healthy skin, never, therefore, in case of irritation or cuts, because they have no healing functions (Video). The daily and repeated use of cosmetics, even if used with all the precautions indicated on the label, can cause unwanted effects in some predisposed subjects.

Especially in the area of ​​skin that comes into direct contact with the product, there may be: spots, blackheads (comedones), redness (erythema), irritative and allergic contact dermatitis, allergic reactions and urticaria with the formation of swellings and photo-dermatitis in case of exposure to the sun's rays. If the cosmetic is not used correctly, as can happen, for example, by using unsuitable products on the mucous membranes or eyes or by ingesting them unintentionally, even serious damage can occur.

The ingestion of toothpastes, mouthwashes and lipsticks, however, does not cause problems, because in evaluating their safety of use, it is still considered that a certain amount may be inadvertently ingested.

If unwanted effects occur following the use of cosmetics, it is good practice that the individual citizen, or professional users (beauticians, hairdressers, doctors, dermatologists, pharmacists, hospitals), report them directly to the Ministry of Health. If the citizen directly carries out the report, it is advisable to attach a medical certificate showing the disturbance that has appeared.

The availability of these reports can, in fact, be of great help for a better control and evaluation of cosmetic products on the market.

Information on the label and how to read it

The ingredients present in each product must be declared on the label, which must contain all the information relating to: manufacturer, production batch number, date by which the closed product can be used while maintaining its characteristics of efficacy and safety (often indicated with the words'Use preferably within '). In some products, however, the period of time in which the product, once the package has been opened, can be used without harmful effects is indicated. Indicated with the wording PAO (from English Period After Opening, that means period after opening) or with the design of an open container, this information is particularly important for health: just think of the fact that sunscreen creams with protective action generally have a 12-month PAO.Therefore, using the residual cream from the previous summer season does not guarantee protection from the sun's rays; similarly, using a face cream for a period longer than the PAO, after the container has been opened, can cause undesirable effects on the skin due to the deterioration of some of its ingredients.

The presence of substances capable of producing allergies, such as nickel or particular fragrances, must be indicated in order to allow people who suffer from allergies to these ingredients to consciously choose products that are free of them.

The label must also contain (or refer to an information leaflet inside the package) the precautions for use, written in Italian, that the consumer must follow in order to use the product correctly and safely (Video). If indicated, for example, that the cosmetic cannot be used before direct exposure to sunlight, it means that, otherwise, there may be irritation and damage to the skin in the part exposed to the sun as happens, for example, in the presence of bergamot essence.

The use on the phrase label not tested on animals today it is completely useless because current legislation requires that, for the development and safety assessment of ingredients and finished products, no use is ever made of animal testing, but only alternative tests.

Advertising of cosmetics

In Italy, advertising messages relating to cosmetic products are governed by the Consumer Code (Legislative Decree 206 of 2005), which recognizes the right of buyers to have correct information through truthful advertising. If misleading, in fact, advertising could condition the choice of a consumer through words or images, which are not true, which attribute to the products properties other than cosmetic ones such as, for example, curative effects.To protect the health of consumers, even the names of cosmetics must not be misleading, recalling the names of drugs or other types of products.

In general, the information provided on the wrapping, packaging and advertising must be useful, understandable and reliable to allow the person purchasing a cosmetic to make an informed choice.

Supervisory activities

The Ministry of Health is responsible for supervising cosmetic products on the market (cosmetovigilance) by collecting and verifying any reports of undesirable effects resulting from the use of cosmetics (also verifying their regularity).

The surveillance activities carried out on the territory by the Ministry of Health and the Regions concern the control action to counter the sale and distribution of irregular cosmetic products (when, for example, they contain ingredients in greater quantities than permitted or have a label or packaging non-regulatory) or completely counterfeit. The fight against counterfeiting is particularly important because these are products manufactured illegally, and of unknown origin, which may contain prohibited and potentially dangerous ingredients for health and, therefore, the safety of which is not guaranteed.

In Europe there is an early warning system for the safety of non-food consumer products, the so-called "Safety Gate", formerly known as RAPEX, which also applies to cosmetics. When a member state identifies in its territory a product that may represent a health risk, it inserts it into the system, so that the information circulates in real time in all the countries of the European Union and they can act accordingly, even withdrawing the product from the market. The 2019 report can be found here.


Regulation (EC) n.1223/2009 of the European Parliament and of the Council on cosmetic products

Ministry of Health. Cosmetics

Consumer Code, pursuant to article 7 of the law 29 July 2003, n.299 (Legislative Decree 206/2005)

Ministry of Health. Counterfeiting of cosmetics

In-depth link

European Commission, Health and Food Safety. Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) (English)

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