Germany Lowers Limits for Heavy Metals in Cosmetics

The Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety in Germany (Bundesamt für Verbraucherschutz und Lebensmittelsicherheit: BVL) has reduced the permissible limits in cosmetics for lead, cadmium, mercury, arsenic, and antimony. The five heavy metals along with antimony and mercury compounds (except when used as a preservative) are forbidden in cosmetics for some time. Annex II of the Cosmetics Regulation (EC) No. 1223/2009 lists the prohibited substances.

Nevertheless, cosmetics can contain smaller amounts of the heavy metals. Traces of the metals can be found in powdered and cream products, decorative cosmetics, and toothpaste because these products proportionally contain more inorganic and mineral ingredients that have heavy metal components. Even good manufacturing processes cannot avoid traces of heavy metals in the final products. Such amounts are also tolerated according to Article 17 of the Regulation, if the safety of the product is guaranteed when used normally or reasonably.

The BVL has studied the heavy metal contents of more than 1,700 different products in the past years. Researchers have determined that the guideline values were frequently exceeded, so that they were no longer up to date. Accordingly, authorities use the results of the studies to set new limits.

The new limits are 2.0 mg/kg for lead (0.5 mg/kg in toothpaste), 0.1 mg/kg for cadmium and mercury, and 0.5 mg/kg for arsenic and antimony. For a detailed report on the new values, see the Journal of Consumer Protection and Food Safety.

Only at the end of the past year did BVL president Helmut Tschiersky issue a press release warning about high concentrations of lead and cadmium in cheap costume jewelry. “The manufacturers and importers of costume jewelry must clearly do more to avoid risks to human health,” states the release.

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