KUALA LUMPUR: AN uncontrolled “backyard” cosmetics industry, where little safeguards are in place, may cause the health of the county’s future generation to be compromised.
Health experts, in calling for the industry to be tightly regulated, said while cosmetics loaded with deadly chemicals are a major concern, their adverse affects on “involuntary” users, including children and unborn babies, must not be taken lightly.
A health expert, who has been studying the correlation between heavy metals and their effects on humans, said parents should refrain from applying make-up on their children at all costs because the damaging impact of harmful chemicals will be greater on them.
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia Medical Centre’s environmental health physician and toxicologist, Associate Professor Dr Mohd Hasni Ja’afar, said this is because children have a much higher metabolism rate and their bodies can absorb almost 100 per cent of the chemicals applied on them.
“Children have a 10 to 20 per cent higher absorption rate compared with adults due to their high metabolism. Unfortunately, their bodies cannot differentiate between good and bad chemicals.
“All they can do is to absorb whatever is being applied on their bodies... and more worryingly, the effects will become evident in the future,” he said.
Dr Hasni also has an issue with parents applying lipstick on their children, whose bodies were especially vulnerable to toxic metals found in those cosmetics.
“Your children may look adorable and beautiful with lipstick on, but the lips are considered mucous membranes and will absorb whatever chemicals put on it at an accelerated rate,” he said, adding that the relevant authorities should seriously consider a stricter monitoring mechanism for the industry.
He said mercury, now commonly found in skin-whitening products, is highly absorbent — even in topical applications — and its traces will not only accumulate in the body’s main organs, but will also be passed onto the foetus of a pregnant woman.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), transplacental exposure is the most dangerous stage as the developing fetal brain is sensitive to toxins and heavy metals.
Among the neurological effects are mental retardation, seizure, vision and hearing loss, delayed development, speech disorder and memory loss.
The doctor said with almost 80 per cent absorption rate, mercury will normally be deposited into the kidneys, brain and bones.
“Although mercury has about 80 per cent absorption rate, the level of absorption also depends on other factors, including age and amount of makeup applied.”
Small traces of the metal in the body will be eliminated through a process known as “bio-transformation”, whereas the rest will be stored.
Dr Hasni added that high levels of mercury in the brain can also cause Minamata disease, a neurological syndrome that can disrupt cognitive abilities and motor sensors.
“What makes mercury particularly dangerous as compared with other heavy metals is that it can be passed on from mother to child... and it can continue to the next generation.
“Mercury has a significant effect on babies as their blood-brain barrier — the dynamic interface that separates the brain from the circulatory system and protects the central nervous system from harmful chemicals — is not fully developed.
“Children exposed to mercury risk developing mental problems, including intellectual disability and autism. A thorough study, however, should be done on the correlation between the exposure of heavy metals with the number of chronic illnesses in the country,” he said.