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September 22, 2009

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Home » Feature » Health and Environment

Safety first in the quest for beauty

MORE than 80 percent of Chinese customers put safety as their top priority when choosing cosmetics, according to a recent online poll. The poll on, in which 600,000 people took part, was co-hosted by the country's cosmetics association and is claimed to be the largest carried out so far in the beauty industry.

The poll showed that more than 90 percent of customers were worried if the product was fit for their skin, over 88 percent had doubts over potential, long-term damage to the body and around 80 percent did not feel positive about the quality of cosmetics.

Almost 98 percent of those polled expected cosmetics manufacturers to carry more detail on their labels.

Things they hoped to be clarified include what kind of skin the product was for, what age, which season and at what time during the day it was best to use the product.

"Without safety, there is no beauty at all," says Liu Wei, of the China Cosmetics Standard Committee of Ministry of Health.

"Safety comes the first, then the product's stability. After that is the feel or experience, and the last one is its function. That is the correct order for cosmetics research and development," he says.

However, in practice, the order is reversed.

Cosmetics advertisements always stress the "magic" functions and "wonderful" experiences their products can bring instead of their safety, he says.

They also like to bombard customers with words and terms such as natural extracted, glycerin, AMP aminomethyl propanol and others.

"How can an ordinary customer know this weird jargon?" says Niu'er, a Taiwan cosmetics expert who owns his own production line.

"Customers are naive and sometimes pitiful. They don't know how to distinguish them, thinking that the more complicated the label seems, the better the product will be, which is absolutely wrong," he says.

During the past 20 years, China's beauty industry has grown dramatically and the country has become the world's biggest market for cosmetics.

In 1982, the total output value of the beauty industry was 200 million yuan (US$29.4 million) but in 2008 that soared to 50 billion yuan.

It is estimated to grow to 80 billion yuan in 2010 and to hit 110 billion yuan in 2015.

The high-speed development in the beauty industry also had its negative side and cosmetics scandals in China are no longer headline news.

Every year the country's Quality Inspection Bureau receives over 60,000 complaints related with cosmetics quality and among them there are also some international brands, including the Japanese SK-II scandal in 2006 which was tested as having heavy metal exceeding stipulated standards and the carcinogen found in Korean L'Ocean products early this year.

Liu has called for the setting up of an integrated safety system from manufacturing to marketing.

"During the production process, the material used must meet the national standard and the safety problems it might bring must be fully considered and assessed," he says.

"The report of test users before the product enters the market should be open to public and guidance of usage must be clarified on the label." Liu also said that a new administrative provision on cosmetics labeling was under way, but the time it will be launched still remains open to question.

One of the biggest highlights of the regulation is that it requests that all the materials used must be listed on the label in accordance with their dosage.


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