Leading skin care and beauty company Clarins has come in for criticism from a US-based toxicology organisation over allegations that ingredients used in its products may cause users serious allergic reactions.
According to the National Toxic Encephalopathy Foundation (NTEF), consumers should not need a degree in chemistry to be able to determine the labelling on cosmetics products, but because of current regulations, it often seems that way.
The scientific chemical names of most cosmetic ingredient mean nothing to most people, claims Dr. John Sheppard, director of the UK arm of the NTEF. And he says that even fewer people are aware that peanut-based extracts and oils often appear in cosmetic and toiletry products.
Peanuts are a leading cause of potentially serious anaphylaxis reactions, with current statistics indicating that around one child in every 125 is said to have a distinct allergic reaction to a range of products that include peanuts.
Most people are aware that a variety of processed foods include peanuts or peanut-based ingredients, but far fewer are aware that cosmetic products also contain such ingredients. Hydrogenated peanut oil is, according to the NTEF, a key ingredient in sunscreen products, and specifically features in Clarins' Protection Sun Control Stick.
Some research has indicated that peanut oil contained in cosmetic applications such as sunscreen may cause allergic reactions in some children, which is currently causing further research into the area.
But while there is any doubt in this area Sheppard comes down hard on Clarins, pointing to the company as being one of the biggest culprits in what he terms 'deceptive labelling'.
"We have been researching the mislabelling that is rampant in most of their cosmetics and specifically in their best selling fragrance, Angel Perfume by Theirry Mugler," said Sheppard.
The NTEF says that peanut oil is also included in Clarins' Extra Comfort, Toning Lotion and Aromatic Purifying Mask.
Although regulations in the US and Europe specify that peanut extract must be clearly labelled for all types of foods, this is not the case for cosmetic and toiletry products.
Although Clarins specifies that all of its products have been allergy tested, Shepperd stresses that none of this testing specifies whether or not these tests look into the matter of peanut allergies.
"The science is horrifying." Sheppard said. "A preponderance of the ingredients have never been tested for safety or their toxicological effects. The reason we are targeting Clarins is that we can speak with confidence on the ingredients, inadequate and invalid testing of Angel Perfume, along with the other discrepancies we are finding in their other products."
The NTEF says that it is especially concerned by Clarins' labelling because the company markets itself on the strength of being a producer of safe and natural products, but the organisation counters this claim by stating that the company's testing procedures are 'suspect'.
Further to this the NTEF says that Clarins should reformulate a number of the products it has highlighted because they do carry health risks, particularly to children suffering from peanut allergies.
As a counter-attack, the organisation says it is planning to launch a major publicity campaign in January 2007 to underline its belief that small amounts of toxins can prove harmful, particularly as the body stores different toxins to the point where they can have repercussions on health.