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Adulterants In Cosmetic Products


Cosmetic products are women’s best friend and now are getting popular among men. Cosmetic products are not only important to make a person looks good but also to boost one’s self confidence.

Every day, we are introduced to new cosmetic products from various local and imported brands. On top of that, companies of famous cosmetic brands are constantly launching new products which claimed to be better and more effective than their previous products. Countless testimonies and research results are published to support the product’s efficacies which are then used in the advertisements to attract consumers to purchase. But, do you know how safe is the product? Will it give harmful effects to the consumers in long-term use? What makes the product effective, is it due to the highly effective ingredients in the product or the presence of adulterants?

What Is Adulterants?

A cosmetic product is said to be adulterated when it found to contain heavy metals such as mercury or substances listed as Scheduled Poison such as hydroquinone, tretinoin, antibiotics or steroids.

Adulterants are added to a cosmetic product to show that the product is effective for its intended purpose. For instance, hydroquinone is usually added to whitening products for fairer complexion or to treat pigmentation problems and tretinoin or antibiotics are commonly added to products intended for acne treatment. Consequently, consumers would get the desired effect faster and continue buying the products. The companies who are selling or manufacturing adulterated products are deemed irresponsible as such products may cause undesirable effects to the users.

The use of cosmetic products adulterated with mercury can cause damage to the kidneys and nervous system. It may also interfere with the brain development of unborn and very young children. Furthermore, exposure to mercury may also affect surrounding people especially children as mercury can get into their bodies by inhaling the mercury vapours. Infants and children can also accidently ingest mercury when they touch the cosmetic product containing mercury or their parents who have used these products. Using products containing mercury can also cause skin rashes, irritation and other undesirable changes to the skin.

Cosmetic products adulterated with hydroquinone can cause skin redness, discomfort, skin discoloration, hypersensitivity and gradual blue-black darkening of the skin. Hydroquinone inhibits the pigmentation process and this process reduces the ability of the skin to protect our body from harmful UV rays and excessive sunlight which can increase the risk of skin cancer. Excessive depigmentation is dangerous for those living in the tropical region.

Control of Cosmetic Products in Malaysia Market

In Malaysia, cosmetics products are controlled by National Pharmaceutical Control Bureau (NPCB), an agency under the Ministry of Health. Cosmetic products must first be notified with NPCB before it can be sold in the local market. NPCB monitors the safety and quality of cosmetic product in the market through active surveillance programme where cosmetic products are routinely tested to ensure the products are free from prohibited substances or adulterants.

Responsibility of Consumers

Although there is an agency such as NPCB who monitors the cosmetic products in the market, consumers should always be careful and choose a correct product wisely before purchasing and using a cosmetic product. Many irresponsible online sellers are taking advantage of the social media to sell unnotified products openly.

Before making any purchase, consumers are encouraged to verify the notification status of cosmetic product via NPCB’s website www.bpfk.gov.my. List of cosmetic product tested and found to contain adulterated substances are also available on the website. Consumers should not be easily deceived by advertisements and promotions made on the products in search of beauty and perfection. Instead, practicing healthy lifestyle and use of safe products should be the way forward.

Consumers are advised to report to NPCB for any experience of adverse events while using a cosmetic product or encounter any suspicious products. The report can be submitted to NPCB in several ways as shown below:


  1. American Pharmacists Association (2008). Drug Information Handbook with International Trade Names Index.
  2. Sahu, R., Saxena, P. & Johnson, S. (2014). Heavy Metals In Cosmetics (http://www.cseindia.org)
  3. R&R Law Group (2014). FDA Cosmetic Handbook. (http://www.mlmlaw.com/library/guides/fda/Coshdbok.htm)
Last Reviewed : 02 July 2015
Writer/Translator : Nadiah bt. Abd. Manan
Accreditor : Noor Hidayah bt. Mohd Nor