According to a recent study, many of the products that appear on the EU RAPEX alert system as being microbiologically contaminated contain ingredients of natural or organic origin.
The study looked at all cosmetics products that have been recalled from the market from 2005 until week 17 of 2008.
A total of 173 cosmetics products were recalled, 24 of which were due to microbiological contamination, although the authors note that as the RAPEX system only conducts random sampling of a few of the many thousands of cosmetics products available, the real number of contaminated products may be quite different.
Natural ingredients by nature contaminated
“An interesting note is that many of the products are composed of natural ingredients, including some organic compounds,” write the authors.
“Natural ingredients like plants and herbs contain by nature many microorganisms,” Michael Dyrgaard Lundov, one of the study authors, told CosmeticsDesign.com.
If formulators do not treat these ingredients prior to manufacturer in a way that kills these microorganisms, the products will be contaminated from the beginning, he explained.
However, with some ingredients, particularly those aiming for organic status, this is not an easy task.
Irradiation, one of the most common ways of sterilising ingredients, is not accepted by the majority of organic certifiers, explained Judi Beerling, technical consulting manager for Organic Monitor.
This leaves formulators with options such as pasteurisation or heat treatment, but these could have negative effects on the activity of the ingredient, she said.
“In some cases formulators may have to rely on their suppliers to provide materials that are not contaminated, although it might be difficult for smaller manufacturers to demand the testing and certification necessary,” she said.
No threat to healthy individuals
So if a product reaches the market in a contaminated state, what are the consequences for the consumer? According to Lundov, generally speaking healthy consumers are unlikely to be affected by the levels of contamination found in the recalled products.
However, cases have been recorded of infections in hospitalised individuals caused by cosmetics contaminated with Pseudomonas aeruginosa (one of the common microorganisms found in recalled cosmetics products).
Lundov also notes that if a contaminated product was to be used on broken skin, was accidentally ingested or got into the eye, this could potentially lead to a harmful infection.
In addition, Lundov notes that microorganisms can alter the chemical composition of the product and spoil it.
For Lundov, the most important way manufacturers can reduce the contamination is to follow GMP to make sure that the raw material used in production does not contain viable microroganisms. In addition, of course, following GMP would ensure that the manufacturing line is not contaminated.
It is not the job of preservatives to protect against pre-market contamination, he added. Preservatives are added to cosmetics products to ensure that the microorganisms introduced to the product by the consumer do not spoil it.
Source: International Journal of Cosmetic Science2008, Volume 30, pages 471-474Recalls of microbiologically contaminated cosmetics in EU from 2005 to May 2008M. D. Lundov and C. Zachariae