Warning issued as illegal chemicals found in teeth whitening and gel nail kits

Woman using teeth whitening strips at home.
Some products like at-home teeth whitening kits, gel nail polish kits and skin whitening creams may contain illegal substances that can cause harm. (Getty Images)

British shoppers are being warned to stay away from "dangerous illegal cosmetic products" that are easily available to buy online.

Experts from the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) have issued a stark warning against products including at-home teeth whitening kits, gel nail kits, and skin lightening creams.

In a new campaign to raise awareness about the risks posed by such products, the organisation has outlined the harmful ingredients and dangers of these popular products.

The warning reinforces previous cautions from professional bodies including the British Dental Association and the British Association of Dermatologists. Both organisations have spoken out in the past about the danger to health some of these products may cause.

According to CTSI, some skin lightening products that can be bought online may contain banned ingredients including hydroquinone, mercury, and licensed medicines like corticosteroids. Creams containing these ingredients are illegal to be sold in the UK and Europe.

Illegal teeth whitening kits that are sold to be used at home may contain more than 0.1% hydrogen peroxide or other bleaching agents that release hydrogen peroxide. It is illegal for such kits to contain this volume of hydrogen peroxide, as it can cause burns and damage to gums.

An orthodontist pointing at some teeth on an x-ray displayed on a surgery monitor while talking to a patient about a dental procedure.
Dentists have warned against using teeth whitening kits at home, as they can contain dangerous levels of hydrogen peroxide. (Getty Images)

The organisation said that teeth whiteners bought from online marketplaces “have been found to contain illegal and dangerous levels of hydrogen peroxide, as much as 300 times the safe, legal limit”.

It comes after a number of home teeth-whitening kits sold on retailers including AliExpress, Amazon, eBay and Wish, and found alarmingly high levels of hydrogen peroxide.

The Which? investigation, published in 2021, found that 21 of the 36 teeth whiteners tested from online marketplaces contained more than the legal amount of hydrogen peroxide permitted for home use in such kits.

Paul Woodhouse, a board member of the British Dental Association, said at the time: "Hydrogen peroxide is a seriously strong chemical and not to be messed with.

"Dentists are trained in its usage and they also know what whitening products are effective to use and safe for teeth and gums. If you destroy gum tissue, you are never going to get it back and you lose your teeth.

"If it penetrates the surface of your tooth, which is likely, it’s probably going to lead to the death of that tooth."

When it comes to gel nail polish kits, the CTSI warned that certain chemicals in these nail treatments and systems can cause allergies in some people, resulting in skin damage and lifelong side effects.

UV Gel nail treatments and liquid monomer and polymer powder (L&P) nail systems contain chemicals known as acrylates, including HEMA (2-hydroxyethyl methacrylate) and Di-HEMA (trimethylhexyl dicarbamate).

Woman painting her nails at home during pandemic
During the Covid pandemic, many people started buying at-home gel nail polish kits but allergic reactions to chemicals in the kits have risen. (Getty Images)

"To reduce the risk of developing an allergy, UV Gel nail treatments shouldn’t come into contact with the skin, so they should only be administered by trained salon professionals using proper lamps," the CTSI says.

The British Association of Dermatologists (BAD) first issued warnings about the allergic reactions linked to artificial nails in 2018 and after a number of people reported skin reactions.

The organisation acknowledged that the closure of nail salons during the Covid pandemic may have contributed to more people trying at-home gel kits - however, the risk of allergies have risen due to the lack of experience non-professionals have with these products.

Dr Deidre Buckley of the BAD said: "Many people are unaware of potential medical and dental implications if they become sensitised to nail methacrylates. The same or very similar methacrylates are used in white dental fillings, enamel tooth coatings, orthopaedic bone cement, diabetic glucose sensors and insulin pumps. This can have serious consequences for future medical care."

The CTSI said its officers "have been working hard to intercept these dangerous products at UK ports and borders", adding that 88% of cosmetic products checked in the last year by just one of its teams in Suffolk were found to be unsafe or non-compliant.

Christine Heemskerk, lead officer for product safety at CTSI, said in a statement: "Cosmetic products should attract compliments, not complications. These dangerous goods can leave the public with serious life-long side effects.

"Trading Standards will remove these products from sale and take action where needed, but online sellers need to take responsibility for the goods available for sale on their websites. Turning a blind eye is not an option when dealing with people’s health. Online marketplaces can and must do better."

Dr Emma Meredith, director-general of the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association (CTPA), added: "The safety of our customers is the number one priority of the cosmetics industry and the UK has strict laws dedicated to the safety of cosmetic products and their ingredients.

"All cosmetic products legally placed on the UK market, even via online, must abide by these robust rules. CTPA would advise purchasing your cosmetic products from a reputable retail source and ensure they are correctly labelled with a full ingredients list.

"If a product is labelled ‘for professional use only’, please only trust a professional to apply it for you, so you can get the results you want, safely."

Shoppers are urged to report any suspicious cosmetic products or if they have experienced adverse reactions after using a product to Trading Standards. You can call the free Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline on 0808 223 1133 if you are in England or Wales. In Scotland, contact Consumer Advice Scotland on 0808 164 6000, or if in Northern Ireland, call Consumerline on 0300 123 6262.

Watch: Dermatologists issue warning over gel nail kits following rise in allergies

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