Healthy living

Purchasing cosmetics online

  • Understand the risks of buying cosmetics online.
  • Know what ingredients are in your cosmetics.
  • Cosmetics such as eye liners, eye shadows, mascaras, foundations and lipsticks purchased outside Australia may contain unsafe levels of heavy metals.

If you are planning to purchase cosmetic products for personal use (not commercial use) from online suppliers you should be confident about what is in the product.

Know the potential health risks associated with cosmetics from countries outside of Australia where manufacturing may be unregulated.

Purchasing cosmetics online made from outside Australia

The regulation of cosmetic ingredients in products available for purchase online but originating outside of Australia is the responsibility of the country of origin. Many countries have regulations in place to protect consumers, but there is potential for cosmetic product lines or their ingredients to go unregulated in some countries.

Without regulation, there is no certainty that a cosmetic product is safe to use. Numerous cosmetic products originating from overseas have been found to contain unsafe levels of heavy metals.

Products to look out for in particular include eye liners, eye shadows, mascaras, foundations, face powders and lipsticks. Products that are most likely to be contaminated are products made with methods handed down through generations or that promote a particular concept of health care. Some products have been reported as having been used traditionally for hundreds of years in some countries.

Kohl (also known as al-kahal, or kajal or surma)

Kohl is an additive that is used in many countries to traditionally darken the appearance of the eyes. In most countries, Kohl is made using safe ingredients. However, the use of lead based ingredients has been reported. When lead based Kohl is applied to the skin, the lead can be adsorbed through the skin leading to increased levels of lead in the body and the potential for serious long term health problems.

Henna (otherwise known as Mehdi)

Henna is derived from a reddish brown plant-based dye and is used in many places around the world to decorate the skin. In Australia, Henna is only permitted as a hair dye and prohibited in products applied directly on the skin because it can cause skin irritation.

Black henna

Black henna, also used as a skin decoration around the world, is sometimes promoted instead of henna because it is darker and lasts longer. Some 'Black Henna' is known to be mixed with paraphenylenediamine (PPD) to give it the black colour. PPD is a toxic chemical and illegal for use on skin in Australia.

Natural/naturally derived or organic cosmetics

Cosmetics labelled as natural or organic can include unsafe ingredients (chemicals) that are derived from natural sources. In such instances, the source may be safe however, the method of extracting the chemical can alter the chemical composition of the product making it unsafe to use in a cosmetic.

Examples include heavy metals such as lead, mercury and arsenic which occur naturally in the environment. Because they occur naturally in substances being used in the manufacturing process, it is not uncommon for unregulated cosmetics such as lipsticks, foundations and face powders to contain unsafe levels of heavy metals.

These metals may also occur unintentionally at trace levels because they are naturally occurring. In Australia, regulations require manufacturers to ensure that any such contamination does not exceed risk-based guidelines.

Ayurvedic cosmetics

Ayurveda originated in India and promotes the use of herbs, minerals or metals in health care. In Australia and many other countries, ayurvedic cosmetics have become synonymous with good health. However; many traditionally prepared skin preparations contain extracts of herbs and metals like arsenic and mercury. These products have the potential to cause skin irritation and more serious systemic toxic health effects when used improperly or when prepared by inexperienced Ayurvedic practitioners.
Purchasing cosmetics made in or imported to Australia

Almost all ingredients in cosmetic products are regulated as industrial chemicals under the Industrial Chemicals (Notification and Assessment) Act 1989 (ICNA Act) by the Australian Industrial Chemicals Introduction Scheme (AICIS) (external site). Anyone importing or manufacturing cosmetic ingredients or products must be registered with NICNAS.

Cosmetic products sold in Australia must be labelled with ingredients so consumers can check for allergens or other ingredients they may react to. The labelling must either appear on product packaging or on display near the point of sale. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) (external site) also play a role in ensuring compliance with point of sale requirements and certain other requirements.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) (external site) regulates cosmetics with a medicinal purpose. It is illegal for a manufacturer to make medicinal claims about a product without approval from the TGA.

What to do before you purchase cosmetic products online
  1. Be informed.
  2. Check the reputation of the online supplier.
  3. Be confident that you know what is in the product you are purchasing, and do not assume that the product label necessarily includes an accurate description of product ingredients or their percentage composition.
  4. Consider contacting the manufacturer if possible and ask questions about the product and what they do to ensure the product is safe to use.
  5. Don't assume that a product labelled 'natural' or 'organic' will not contain potentially harmful ingredients.
  6. Don't assume a product will not contain potentially harmful ingredients when claims are made that it has been used for hundreds of years or by native indigenous cultures.
What to do if you suspect a cosmetic product contains unsafe ingredients
  • Stop using a cosmetic product if you suspect it contains unsafe ingredients.
  • If you have any reason to believe you may be suffering ill health effects from the product, make an appointment with your doctor.  Remember to bring the product and any purchase information with you.
  • Visit Product Safety Australia (external site) to report an unsafe product or keep informed about all product recalls.

Any potential toxicity and subsequent health effects will depend on the type of chemical or metal in the cosmetic, how it was used, the frequency and duration of use, as well as the amount of chemical in the cosmetic product.

More information

Environmental Health Directorate

Phone: 9222 2000
Email: DOH.Chemicalhazards@health.wa.gov.au


Last reviewed: 17-03-2021
Acknowledgements

Environmental Health


This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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