Look good, stay safe

COSMETICS is a lucrative business. There is always a demand from people wanting to appear beautiful. In Malaysia (and in many Third World countries) having marble white skin is the gold standard for beautiful skin tone.

This demand is exploited by manufacturers of beauty products who race to position products in the hearts of consumers. The cosmetics business, which is growing by leaps and bounds to feed the needs of the consumers, is undoubtedly good for our economy, but a more important aspect that has to be factored in is health concerns.

When it comes to achieving beauty, some consumers are willing to go to great lengths. It is argued that one has autonomy over one's own body. That said, as to how a woman deals with her body falls under her own discretion. In that vein, if she chooses to whiten her skin, that decision has to be respected. That brings us to a complication.

I believe that even though we have the right to treat our bodies as we wish, our decisions on how to do so are not always a private matter. That we have the Ministry of Health that oversees what beauty products can enter the market shows that our personal decisions are dependent on the decisions of others.

And I believe that the layers of consideration including those of the consumers are for the benefit of the consumers themselves. After all, one's health is not really a private matter because if we look at the bigger picture, the government is affected by the so-called private matter. Say that a large number of consumers have their health affected by beauty products, the government would have to spend a large amount of money treating the patients.

So how do we go about telling consumers to stop using hazardous products? Education is the key.

Consumers can be informed over TV and radio on the harmful chemicals in beauty products. While we do have government websites that detail the beauty products as well as the harmful substances that have been banned, the effort should not stop there.

As can be seen in the advertisements on television, beauty products displaying the ideal manifestation of beauty are rigorously promoted.

In contrast, information on the hazards of beauty products is difficult to find. In a way, it portrays the selfishness of the stakeholders who put consumers' health second to profits.

Education also comes in the form of law enforcement. We do have rules regulating beauty products in the market. Before marketing their products, manufacturers must notify the National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency.

The fairly lax measure, which gives the manufacturer considerable leeway over notification, might explain how harmful beauty products slip into the market.

By the time inspections of items on sale take place, a number of consumers might have been adversely affected by harmful products. The authorities should take more pre-emptive measures to prevent harmful beauty products from reaching the market.

To allow only certified beauty products to be in the market, government intervention in the cosmetics industry is necessary.

The Ministry of Health can launch campaigns and public talks, and enforce stringent laws to ensure the safety of beauty products but the final say lies with the consumers.

The writer is a final year student with an international university just outside Kuala Lumpur. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com