Cosmetics and toiletries can contain harmful ingredients so take care when you are using and buying these products. Find out what to look out for and how to use them safely.
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Cosmetics include soap, shampoo, toothpaste, shaving products, deodorant, perfume, hair dye, insect repellent, sunscreen, self-tanning products, lipstick, foundation and eye shadow.
Remember that natural, plant-based or organic cosmetics and toiletries can also contain harmful ingredients, so take the same care as you would with any product.
You should also be aware of the pitfalls of buying cosmetics and toiletries online, as other countries may not have the same stringent rules for ingredients and warning labels as New Zealand. We explain some more about this below. We also include some of our tips on making your own cosmetics and toiletries at home.
- Always read the label to see if there’s anything special you need to do to keep yourself and others safe. For example, using the product away from your eyes, or what to do if it is accidentally swallowed.
- You may need to store some products out of reach of children. Check the label.
- Follow the instructions and use products correctly; it can be risky to use something that’s been made for another purpose.
- If product’s label says it may cause skin irritation and you have sensitive skin, you could try a patch test. Apply a small amount to an area of your skin, for example, the underside of your wrist. If your skin becomes irritated or you develop a rash, do not use it.
- Don’t use products that are past their use-by date. Some products will have a symbol that tells you how many months the product will last for after it’s opened or will have a best before date.
- Some products have to be stored in certain way. For example, keep products in aerosol cans away from direct sources of heat. Always check the label to find out how products should be stored.
- Put products away as soon as you've finished using them and make sure lids are tightly closed. Check the packaging is secure and does not leak.
- When in doubt, throw it out.
Most cosmetic and toiletries you buy in New Zealand are safe to use because we have strict rules and high safety standards for importing and manufacturing these products. However, be careful if you are buying overseas or online; products from other countries may not meet our rules or high safety standards.
Always buy cosmetics and toiletries from shops and retail outlets that you know and trust. This includes online retailers too.
Be careful when you buy cosmetics and toiletries online. While it is convenient and you can buy cosmetics that may not be available in the shops, it can come with risks.
It is sometimes difficult to know if the product is real or a copy of a well-known brand, if it has been tampered with, or whether it has been stored correctly.
It’s good to stick to websites and companies you know and trust. If you are in any doubt about the safety of a product, don't buy or use it.
The real deal about fake cosmetics
Never buy fake beauty products, especially online. They may contain toxic ingredients or cause unexpected skin reactions.
It is often very hard to tell if a product is fake; it’s best to buy from places you know and trust. Here is advice to help you figure out whether your product is real or not.
- Read online reviews; if a website is selling a fake beauty products, it should show up in the reviews.
- If it’s a fraction of the usual cost and there are many products available to buy, be wary.
- Examine the packaging and product. Unmarked packaging, misspellings or differences in the brand’s logo are all major signs a product is fake.
- If it has a strange texture or smell, or if you notice any visible contamination (like dirt, dust or even hair), do not use it.
- If you think it’s too good to be true, it probably is.
We have regulations and safety standards designed to keep you and the environment safe. All New Zealand manufacturers and importers must comply with the rules.
Cosmetics, in particular, have high standards limiting the ingredients that can be used, robust packaging, and ensuring that any risks are included on the label.
The rules for the safety of cosmetics, including children’s ‘toy’ cosmetics and face paint, cover any product or preparation used:
- on the outside of your body
- on your teeth or in your mouth
- to clean, perfume, change the appearance of, protect, keep in good condition or correct body odours.
The information on the label is important
To comply with the rules, labels must:
- be written in English
- list all hazards and tell you how to use the product safely
- list all of the ingredients in the product from the highest concentration to the lowest
- provide enough information so the New Zealand importer or manufacturer can be contacted
- provide a batch code (this allows manufacturers and suppliers to identify when and where the product was made, so that they know if it is too old to sell)
- include recommendations about how to dispose of the product and packaging
- identify any nanomaterials (microscopic particles) in the products by using the ‘nano’ in brackets after the ingredient.
If the label does not have this information, you cannot be sure the product you are buying is safe.
If you are making cosmetics and toiletries at home, such as soap, moisturisers or cleansers, we have advice on how to keep yourself and your whānau safe.
Many ingredients in cosmetic products have hazardous properties. This includes those that are 'natural', for example, essential oils.
Check if the ingredients you are using are harmful. Find out whether any of the ingredients can irritate the skin or eyes, are flammable, or are toxic. This information should be on the label or packaging.
There are also some ingredients that are restricted or prohibited for use in cosmetic products.
If you are making cosmetics and toiletries to sell, there are rules and regulations you need to follow.
Keep safe when making cosmetics and toiletries
If you are making cosmetics and toiletries from scratch, follow our advice to keep yourself and your whānau safe.
- Store any potentially harmful ingredients high up in a locked cupboard.
- Keep out of reach of children and pets, and keep them away when you are making your cosmetics or toiletries.
- Understand and check the ingredients you are using. Read the label and check online for the safety data sheet for each ingredient. They explain how the ingredients can be safely used, stored, and disposed of. It provides first aid information, information about the personal protective equipment you should wear, and what to in an emergency, such as a spill or fire.
- Wear protective goggles, gloves and long sleeves to protect your eyes and skin. Some ingredients are caustic and can damage your eyes or burn your skin.
- Work in a well-ventilated area. Make sure windows and doors are open.
- Keep the ingredients in their original container.
- When you have finished, clean up spills, seal and close containers before you put them away.
- If you are disposing of ingredients, read the label. It will tell you whether it’s safe or not to put in your household rubbish. For disposing of things that can’t go into household rubbish, check with your local council. Consumer NZ has a guide that tells you which chemicals your local council will accept for disposal and where to take them.
Selling handmade cosmetics and toiletries
If you are planning on making cosmetics and toiletries to supply or sell, and they have any hazardous properties, you will need to follow the rules for manufacturers. If you are repackaging and relabelling products, then you are also considered a manufacturer.
If you are buying cosmetics overseas to supply or sell in New Zealand, you must follow the rules for importers.
What is triclosan?
Triclosan is a chemical that is used as an antibacterial and antifungal agent. It is used in clinical settings and can be found in a wide range of cosmetics and personal care products, cleaning products and paints. It’s used to stop the growth of bacteria, fungus and mildew. It’s also used as a preservative, so can be used in the manufacture of plastic, rubber, textile, leather and paper products to stop the growth of bacteria, fungus and mildew and to prevent odours.
What types of products is triclosan used in?
Triclosan is used in personal care products such as soap, toothpaste, mouthwash, shampoo, body washes and some cosmetics. It’s also an ingredient in some cleaning products, paints, animal and veterinary products, and in some manufactured items. To determine whether a cosmetic product contains triclosan, check the label or contact the manufacturer.
Is triclosan always listed as an ingredient on the label?
If the concentration of triclosan is below a certain level, it doesn’t need to be listed on the label. Triclosan may also be listed under a number of different names, as the manufacturer can rename it (within certain rules).If you think a product may contain triclosan and it is not listed on the label, contact the manufacturer.
Is it safe to use?
Triclosan is not currently known to be hazardous to humans. The EPA has set maximum limits for triclosan in cosmetics for safe use. Its concentration is restricted to 0.3% in cosmetic products, including toothpaste and mouthwashes. Importers and manufacturers are legally required to comply with these limits.
How do I know whether a product contains triclosan?
Labels on cosmetic products must contain a list of hazardous ingredients, using common chemical names. If they are not on the label, the ingredients must be listed on the product itself, packaging, or a leaflet available at the point of sale. This enables consumers to identify and avoid products with ingredients that are of concern to them. Other types of products may contain a list of active ingredients, or a list of ingredients may be available on the manufacturer’s website.
Is triclosan approved for use in New Zealand?
Yes. There are four different types of approval for triclosan under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (HSNO) Act. Triclosan is approved as a single chemical, a medicated dog shampoo, a cleaning product and products containing triclosan are approved under a number of group standards. Group standards are approvals used for groups of hazardous substances of a similar nature, type or use. There are group standards for cosmetic products, dental products, cleaning products, veterinary medicines and paints.
How many products contain triclosan in New Zealand?
Because most products containing triclosan are approved under group standards, it is not possible to specify how many products contain the substance.
Who has approved the use of triclosan in New Zealand?
All hazardous substances need to be approved under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (HSNO) Act 1996, before they can be used in New Zealand. The EPA’s role is to oversee applications under the HSNO Act to import and manufacture hazardous substances. The EPA has four approvals for triclosan. It is approved for use as a single chemical, as medicated dog shampoo, as a cleaning product, and products containing triclosan are approved under a number of group standards.
Those products covered under a group standard can include:
- cosmetics (triclosan is restricted to a maximum concentration of 0.3%)
- dental products
- cleaning products
- veterinary medicines
- animal nutritional and animal care products
- surface coatings and colourants
- additives, process chemicals and raw materials
- active ingredients used for the manufacture of agricultural compounds.
Is triclosan banned in other countries?
Triclosan is restricted in some countries and for some uses. Its use in cosmetic products was restricted in the European Union in 2014. Since January this year, it has not been approved for use in the manufacture of soaps, hand washes and disinfectants. It is also prohibited in manufactured products that come into contact with food. However, it can be used in veterinary hygiene products.
Triclosan was withdrawn as a pest control product in Canada in 2014. The Canadian regulators are consulting their public and industry on risk management proposals to reduce the amount of triclosan entering the environment.
From 6 September 2017, over-the-counter consumer antiseptic wash products containing certain active ingredients, including triclosan, can no longer be marketed in the US. This rule does not affect consumer hand “sanitizers” or wipes, or antibacterial products used in healthcare settings.
Is triclosan harmful to the environment?
Triclosan can be harmful to the environment. Triclosan rinsed off and washed down the drain – from soaps, toothpastes and other products – can accumulate in waterways and affect plants and animals. New information about the environmental effects of triclosan has been presented to the EPA but more data is needed to determine the impact of this new information.
The EPA continues to monitor international developments and the latest research about triclosan through a wide range of scientific media, as part of its ongoing monitoring and assessment of this hazardous substance.
Does triclosan cause antibacterial resistance?
Current international opinion in the European Union and Australia is that there is no clear link between products containing triclosan and increased antibacterial resistance.
Is triclosan an endocrine disruptor?
Endocrine disruptors interfere with the body’s hormones. Triclosan has not been established to be an endocrine disruptor. The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has requested that further information be generated for triclosan to determine whether or not it is an endocrine disruptor.
Who is responsible for ensuring that products don’t contain triclosan amounts greater than permitted?
The manufacturer or importer is responsible for ensuring the products they sell comply with rules. Triclosan’s concentration is restricted to 0.3% in cosmetic products, including toothpaste and mouthwashes. Importers and manufacturers are legally required to comply with these limits.