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The List: If Looks Could Kill

In today’s globalized world, ingredients in the products we use can come from anywhere. A recent rash of pet deaths in the United States highlighted this fact when the cause was found to be an industrial toxin in pet food linked to corner-cutting firms in China. But it’s not only pet food that can kill. In this week’s List, FP takes a look at the everyday beauty products that just aren’t worth the risk.

NYC Department of Health

Eye Makeup

Beware of: Indian and Pakistani kajal or kohl, Chinese eye shadow

Killer ingredients: Lead in kohl, microorganisms in eye shadow

Whats the problem? The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned in October 2006 that certain brands of kohl, a traditional cosmetic used to create black lines around the eyes, contain toxic levels of lead. Children are especially susceptible to lead poisoning, which can cause anemia, kidney problems, and brain damage. Cosmetics containing kohl are illegal in the United States, but those imported surreptitiously and sold in ethnic specialty stores usually do not disclose their lead content. Because people commonly import kohl in luggage for both personal and commercial use, imports of these products are particularly difficult to monitor, says Veronica Castro, an FDA spokeswoman. Eyes are an especially sensitive body part for regulators: In the past few years, the FDA began halting importation of eight brands of Chinese eye shadow due to microbiological contamination.

CHRISTOF KOEPSEL/Getty Images News

Toothpaste

Beware of: Chinese brands

Killer ingredient: diethylene glycol (DEG)

Whats the problem? Chinese toothpaste manufacturers garnered unwanted press when Panamanian customs officials found that several brands contained DEG, an ingredient in antifreeze that in this case was used as a substitute for more expensive glycerin, a thickening agent. A cold syrup that contained DEG made in China was behind the deaths of over 100 people in Panama in 2006, so authorities had been on heightened alert. Chinese brands of toothpaste containing DEG have made only small inroads in down-market areas of the United States, but the FDA has duly warned consumers to avoid toothpaste made in China altogether while its investigation is ongoing.

iStockphoto.com

Contact Lens Solution

Beware of: Chinese manufacturing plants

Killer ingredients: parasites, bacteria

Whats the problem? California-based Advanced Medical Optics voluntarily recalled one of its products, Complete Moisture Plus, when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the contact lens solution may have been responsible for infecting at least 21 consumers with a nasty eye condition called Acanthamoeba keratitis. In a previous voluntary recall in November that was caused by the presence of bacteria in the solution, the culprit was a careless factory in China. This more recent case is not thought to be manufacturing-related, however, and Advanced Medical Optics has not admitted a product contamination issue.

MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images

Whitening Cream

Beware of: cheap knockoffs

Killer ingredients: mercury, hydroquinone

Whats the problem? In places like Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East, fair skin is often seen as a ticket to beauty and success. But lighter skin often comes at a price, especially with cheaper creams that promise more dramatic results at a discount. The dangers of mercury poisoningneurological, kidney, and psychiatric damageare well known, and mercury is duly regulated in developed countries. Moreover, skin whitening creams are considered drugs under U.S. law, and regulated accordingly. But mercury remains a disturbingly common ingredient in whitening creams in parts of the developing world.

Then theres hydroquinone, a chemical used in photo processing that has become a common active ingredient in skin whiteners. Extended exposure to hydroquinone can backfire, leaving large dark patches of skin, or possibly worse: It has been shown to cause cancer in lab animals. In 2005, a pair of Dutch researchers referred to the widespread use of hydroquinone in skin whiteners as a potential time bomb. Accordingly, the chemical is banned for cosmetic use in the European Union, but is widely available elsewhere, especially in Asia. Hydroquinone is legal in concentrations of up to 2 percent in the United States, but the FDA is considering banning its use altogether in over-the-counter skin products.

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