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Imagine having dinner of your favourite dishes at a restaurant, it’s a dish that you’ve been craving for a long time. Picture finding a strand of hair (that is clearly not yours) on your plate, mangled inside. We think this would ruin your whole mood and appetite now. How unfortunate is that?

Now, guess what else is really uncool? Finding unwanted items in your favourite items and especially if it can cause harm to your health. That is uncool.

You’d never actually know what’s in your favourite off-the-shelve products until you actually look into it. Back in 2007, an advocacy group called ‘The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics’ has claimed that a third of the 33 red lipsticks examined by an independent lab contained a level of lead exceeding 0.1 parts per million and this has caused Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to look into the raised issues more seriously.

We all know lead is a naturally occurring element from Earth. It is found in rocks, sediments, water, and soils. We are exposed to lead on a daily basis for example through air pollution, consumption of contaminated water and food, or by inadvertently ingesting contaminated soil, dust, and lead-based paint.

Back in the day, lead is used in corrosion-resistant metal for pipes, pewter, jewellery, and paint. To this day, it is still widely used for car batteries, pigments, cable sheathing, radiation protection and etc. Apart from that, it can be found in insecticides, as an anti-knocking additive for petrol and hair dyes.

Now, all these sounds like lead are used mostly in the automotive industries and colour dye industries. But shockingly some traditional cosmetic products particularly coming from Africa, the Middle East, Pakistan, and India contain kohl, kajal, al-kahal, surma, tiro, tozali or kwalli, all these ingredients contain a HIGH level of lead compounds.

For example, half of the weight of kohl eyeliners is contributed by lead sulfide. Whereas in some hair dyes, lead acetate is added as a key ingredient in what is called progressive hair dyes, which often targeted at men for a gradual colouring effect over time.

The usage of lead acetate as a colouring agent was approved back in 1980 due to the ‘deficiencies’ study. Although this heavy metal was never intended to be used as the main ingredient or as an additive, but its compounds are often found in some cosmetics products.

Which leads to a question (oops excuse the pun!) on how did a metal that can be found deep in the earth’s crust can end up being in our cosmetic products?

Since it can be found naturally in the environment, it is known to present as a trace contaminant in some of the raw natural ingredients that are used to formulate these products.

The recommended maximum concentration of lead in finished cosmetic products is set to be 10 parts-per-million (ppm) or 10 mg/kg. This concentration is determined to cause no harm in terms of health risk based on the available scientific data and research. When lead is used as colour additives the safe level is set between 10 to 20 ppm.

Over a period of time a long-repeated exposure to the lead-contaminated products, it may bring some health issues to consumers. A high level of lead in the blood can cause lead poisoning. (Beethoven actually died of lead poisoning in the 1800s). When exposed to high levels of lead, it would cause a few symptoms, which include abdominal pains and cramps, constipation, headaches, fatigue, anaemia, kidney dysfunction, memory loss, aggressive behaviour, irritability. Using the case of Beethoven as an example, he felt terrible towards the end of his life, that he wrote a letter to his friend, permitting his body to be exhumed when he passed away because he didn’t want others to suffer as much as he did. That is how bad lead poisoning is, the excruciating pain and suffering that no men should ever go through.

Not only adults are exposed to the dangers of lead poisoning, but children and infants can also be exposed too, through daily exposure as mentioned above, or even when new moms are highly exposed to lead. Due to the bio-accumulative nature of lead, pregnant ladies and breastfeeding moms may pass on the lead compound to their little ones.

Children and infants that are exposed to high levels of lead, may cause an intellectual disability since their brains are still developing. Therefore, it is highly advisable for new moms or moms to be, to refrain from using products that contain ingredients of heavy metals, such as lead, aluminium, etc.

Nevertheless, lead poisoning is now treatable through a procedure known as chelation therapy. Which binds the accumulated lead in the body and allows it to be excreted through urine. However, it would cause common therapy side effects such as nausea, fever, headache, etc.

Knowing to minimize the exposure of lead is important for everyone. A good and easy step is to stop lead-based products and contaminated water. Some ingredients to avoid, are kohl, kajal, al-kahal, surma, tiro, tozali, and kwalli.

Proper hygiene should be practicing all the time and always be cautious of the things you apply to your body by knowing the ingredients. Making an informed decision on choosing what to apply to our body is the empowerment that we can treat ourselves better.

References:

https://cosmeticsinfo.org/lead-cosmetics-products

https://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/potential-contaminants-cosmetics/lead-cosmetics

https://www.rsc.org/periodic-table/element/82/lead

https://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/cosmetic-products/kohl-kajal-al-kahal-surma-tiro-tozali-or-kwalli-any-name-beware-lead-poisoning

https://www.consumerreports.org/lead/removing-lead-acetate-from-hair-dye/

https://www.healthline.com/health/lead-poisoning#symptoms

https://learningenglish.voanews.com/a/a-23-2006-01-03-voa3-83127552/125325.html

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