Cosmetics and safety

Cosmetics are a part of just about everyone's life. Every day, most of us use products like skin cream, aftershave lotion and baby shampoo. Most cosmetics are safe, but they can sometimes cause health problems, like allergic reactions and skin irritation.

What is a cosmetic?

A "cosmetic" is any substance you use to clean, improve or change your complexion, skin, hair, teeth or nails. Cosmetics include beauty preparations (perfume, skin cream, nail polish, make-up) and grooming aids (soap, shampoo, shaving cream, deodorant). More information on what products are considered cosmetics can be found on our "What is a cosmetic?" page.

Safety tips

  • Check the container for safety information, including hazard symbols.
  • Always read and follow directions carefully. Misuse of a product can lead to problems like rashes, burns or eye damage.
  • Do not spray cosmetics near a flame or source of heat. This can cause fires or explosions.
  • Keep cosmetic products out of the reach of children! If a child swallows a cosmetic, contact the nearest Poison Control Centre. You can find the number on the first page of your telephone book, or call 411.
  • Most cosmetics contain preservatives. These important ingredients help keep germs from growing in the product. To make sure your cosmetics stay germ-free, follow these simple rules:
    • Wash your hands before putting on makeup
    • Do not share makeup
    • Do not add water or saliva to dilute makeup
    • Keep cosmetics in a dry area, away from direct heat and sunlight
    • Do not use a cosmetic if it changes in smell, colour, or feel
  • A product labelled "hypoallergenic" can still cause allergic reactions. "Hypoallergenic" simply means that the product is less likely to cause allergic reactions.
  • Be careful of unrealistic/exaggerated manufacturers' claims on any product, especially if they suggest major or permanent changes to your body or skin structure. If the product has a therapeutic effect on your body (like treating a disorder or skin condition), it is considered a drug (or natural health product) and should have a Drug Identification Number (DIN) or a Natural Health Product Number (NPN) on the label.
  • If product directions say to do a patch test, do one to check if you are sensitive or allergic to something in the cosmetic. To do a test, follow these instructions:
    1. Clean a small area of skin behind your ear or on the inside of your forearm.
    2. Apply a small amount of the cosmetic and allow it to dry.
    3. After 24 hours, wash the area gently with soap and water.
    4. The cosmetic should not be used any more if the area is red, itchy, burning or blistering.
    You will need to follow these steps every time you use a permanent or semi-permanent hair dye. Sensitivity to these ingredients may not show up until you have used these products a number of times.
  • If you think you've had an adverse reaction to a cosmetic, stop using the product. See a doctor for advice if the reaction looks irritated and lasts long.
  • Report problems with cosmetic products by submitting a Consumer Product Incident Report.
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