We need to be clear and avoid unnecessary alarm because we are talking about elements that are very common in the environment around us, present in many products (including cosmetics) and which do not appear to be harmful in traces.

Heavy metals are everywhere and are used by man in various sectors ranging from the technological to the medical. Minimal quantities of heavy metals can migrate by contact: in this case, we speak of the presence of impurities.

A classic example is a nickel, which due to its ubiquitous nature, can be released from mixer pipes or packaging systems when preparing / packaging cosmetic products or from raw materials of mineral origin such as clay or synthesis like dyes.

It is necessary to specify that the European Regulation on cosmetic products (Reg. 1223/2009 EU art. 17) confirms the fundamental concept of safety, for which only minimal quantities of heavy metals (expressed in ppm, ie parts per million) are allowed do not jeopardize the health of the consumer, while voluntary use in the formulations is expressly prohibited.

In this regard, heavy metals are listed in Annex II of the aforementioned Regulation, which contains the list of all substances that cannot be used in the cosmetic sector.

In drafting the legislation, in fact, the dangerous toxicological profile of these substances was taken into account, which has been shown to cause sensitizing reactions that induce allergic phenomena in the event of exposure to prolonged skin contact if present in quantities of a few thousand ppm. However, the inevitable presence of these substances has also been considered, which must be monitored by cosmetic companies and managed in the plan of their GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice).


The presence of traces is tolerated even if today it is not clear which is the limit above which the cosmetic product is not compliant.

There are epidemiological studies conducted by the ISS (National Institute of Health) which conclude that a maximum concentration of 1 ppm is safe, but there is no concordance at European level.

For this reason, it is left to the Safety Evaluator the burden of considering case by case in relation to the type of product (rinse-off or leave-in), place of application (hair, skin, eyes, lips, etc.), way of exposure (dermal / inhalation) and type of metal.

But where is it more common to find heavy metals?

According to a study by the ISS, 58% are found in eye shadows, followed by glazes, lipsticks, eye pencils, and eyeliner.

And do you want to know which ones are the most common? Here is the list:

  • chrome
  • nickel
  • lead
  • cobalt

Attentions dear consumers to be fooled by the writings on the packaging of creams and make-up products. Now you have understood that there cannot be a “metal-free” cosmetic either because traces can always be found and because the current measuring instruments have a detection limit that usually attests around 0.1 ppm (therefore below this threshold the instrument cannot give us any help).

“Metal tested” labels that advertise the actual test on metals (usually the triad Nickel-Chromium-Cobalt) instead are preferable because they guarantee that the instrumental examination is carried out for each batch of product. Always make sure there is a reference to the maximum amount provided (consider the max. Limit of 1 ppm acceptable).

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