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Is your makeup making you sick?

Looking a little blotchy today? Check your cosmetics. As of November 18, 2006, Health Canada requires cosmetic products -- which include beauty aids such as perfume and makeup and grooming aids like toothpaste and deodorant -- to carry a list of ingredients on their outer label.

The labelling regulations, which use recognized names from the International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients (INCI) system (already followed in places like the United States, Europe and Japan) were put in place to help consumers shop wisely and reduce potential health risks.

How does this new labelling affect me? "The labelling of cosmetics ingredients enables consumers to make more informed decisions about the cosmetics they use as they are able to easily identify ingredients to which they may be sensitive," says Renee Bergeron, spokesperson for Health Canada. "Because many other countries also use the INCI system, Canadians travelling abroad will be able to recognize and avoid ingredients, as necessary, without needing to know additional terminology."

Symptoms of sensitivity or misuse While two to five per cent of adults may experience mild irritation from certain ingredients and simply stop using the product, a small percentage may suffer stronger reactions, such as eye irritation, swelling of the face, hair loss and breathing problems. Some products may also contain ingredients that are toxic to children if swallowed. About 50 cases of adverse reactions are reported each year, but Health Canada says many more cases are never reported.

"The majority of products that cause adverse reactions in consumers are due to individual sensitivities to ingredients or product noncompliance," says Bergeron. Of the latter, she gives as an example black henna tattoos that are most commonly applied at markets and fairs, and owe their long-lasting colour to an ingredient called(PPD), which is prohibited in cosmetics for the skin.

5 steps to testing new products To reduce your risk of cosmetic reaction, Health Canada suggests the following steps: •Always read package directions and labels •Do a small patch test 24 hours before wear •Don't share cosmetics, especially makeup •Keep cosmetics out of children's reach •Stop using any product that causes an adverse reaction. If you have a severe or prolonged reaction, call your doctor -- and have the ingredients list handy.
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