Consumers must ensure that the cosmetics and medicines sold in the market are safe to use.
Dr Mazlina Mohd Said

KUALA LUMPUR: Experts have found an easy and effective way for authorities to check for hazardous compounds in cosmetics sold to the public, including in the fast-expanding “home-grown” beauty industry.

It will not only allow enforcers on the ground immediate results of products they pick up from the market in their “post-market surveillance” monitoring mechanism, but also detect counterfeit ones. 

The  Near Infrared Analyser (NIR) can also come in handy for health enforcers checking on medicines in the market to see if they are adulterated or fake.

This two-tier handheld screening tool involves a spectral database and chemometric applications that will allow enforcers handling the gadget to fall back on for vital information, including the fingerprint of each product that would have been recorded with the ministry.

With the device, products that are sold illegally would automatically be red-flagged, allowing authorities to immediately remove them.

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia pharmaceutical analyst Dr Mazlina Mohd Said said apart from detecting fake and contaminated cosmetics and medicines, the device’s screening method would also allow for product identification, drug quality study and herbal analysis. 

  “Research on the device was initiated as part of the efforts to safeguard public health that is at risk with the flooding of counterfeit, substandard and poor quality medicines and herbal products in the market. 

 “The simple, quick and cost-effective drug screening procedure uses an incremental near infrared and spectral database of common medicines to facilitate drug analysis without depending on standard compounds or reference products from manufacturers for comparison. The same system is applicable for cosmetics in the market,” she told the New Straits Times.

The screening mechanism, she added, would eliminate the need for exhaustive preparations for product analysis and, most importantly, it reduced the time needed for testing.

“Each product will have its own DNA and chemical fingerprint. What we need is a database with a compilation of these fingerprints. 

“The spectral data- base will store data in a cloud system that connects to NIR, so enforcers will only need to scan the products using NIR. Based on the data that is stored in the database, we can identify if the product is fake or contains adulterated substances,” Mazlina said, adding that it was cost-effective. 

NIR is equipped with a rapid content analyzer mechanism. To test the chemicals in the products, the content is placed centrally on the “sample stage”, over the light beam in the NIR instrument for the chemometric analysis to be carried out by statistical software.

Mazlina said she was confident that with further research, the public could use the technology on their smartphones to verify the authenticity of the products they bought.

The fast-growing beauty industry is governed by a “notification system” that puts the onus on sellers to ensure their products are safe before being marketed. It has proven to be a huge problem for the authorities, which have found many to be cheating the system.

Before 2008, cosmetics sellers would be compelled to send their products for pre-market tests, but Asean Harmonised Cosmetic Regulatory Scheme that Malaysia had adopted since then did  away with the system.

Mazlina said, for a start, the National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency could work with universities to establish and maintain a spectral database.

“We may require time and manpower to establish the spectral database and it has to be updated regularly as there is a large volume of  products being notified for sale.

“But the trouble will be worth it and what is most important is that we can at least ensure some level of safety in the cosmetics industry,” she said.

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