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 Microbes and Safety Standards

For the purpose of setting acceptable levels of microbial contamination, the EU Commission has divided cosmetics and toiletries into two categories. Category -1 products are those for use on infants under the age of three, for use on near the eyes, or for use on or near mucous membranes.

All other personal care products are classified as Category -2 products. Simply put, when you buy Category-1 products, they must contain 50 times fewer microbes than Category-2 products. Additionally, since microbes are likely to get into personal care products during normal use, there must be sufficient preservatives added to the product, to prevent contamination from rising above these levels.

Three pathogens (disease-causing microbes) that commonly live on the human body are Candida albicans, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and Staphylococcus aureus.

Normally they do not cause illness or disease because their numbers are controlled by friendly microbes, or by our immune system. If, however, they enter parts of the body where they can breed rapidly, or if our immune system is weakened (for example, during a viral infection such as flu), they may cause illness.

These three pathogens have also been identified as the most likely microbes to enter and contaminate personal care products during normal use. EU regulations require sufficient levels of preservatives to be added to kill the microbes - the test being that none of them should be detectable in 0.5 grams (or 0.5 millilitres) of a Category- 1 product, or 0.1 grams (or o.1 millilitres) of a Category-2 product. 

This means there will be higher levels of preservatives in Category-1 products for babies and sensitive areas of the body, than in the more commonly used Category- 2 products. This could imply that baby shampoo is not necessarily more gentle than ordinary shampoo if it contains a higher concentration of preservative than an equivalent formulation for adults.

The importance of keeping our personal care products free from microbes must not be underestimated. Now here is this most important than for contact-lens users. During the last decade and a half, Acanthamoeba, a single-cell protozoan (member of the amoeba family), has caused eye infections in several contact-lens users.

Most of the cases were linked to poor contact-lens hygiene or to using cleansing solutions that did not adequately kill this microbe. As the number of contact-lens users  has increased, the number of reported cases  of acanthamoeba keratitis has also risen.

If caught early, this painful eye disease can be easily treated but some patients have lost eyes to this microbe or have required corneal transplants to correct the damage. To keep this in perspective, during one year in the mid-nineties, there were 70 eyes lost to acanthsmoeba in the UK. That same year, 90 eyes were lost to champagne corks.

 

Reference:Cosmetics Unmasked: Dr Stephen & Gina Antczak

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