Canadian Heavy Metal Limits in Cosmetics and Topical Natural Health Products

Heavy metals have been used in cosmetics since ancient times. A variety of beautiful-but-toxic pigments are produced by compounds of antimony, arsenic, borates, lead, cadmium, cobalt, copper, manganese, nickel and mercury, to name a few! Venetian ceruse was a lead-based, white makeup popular amongst nobility in the 16th century. Lead- (and sometimes antinomy-) based kohl eyeliner is still used in some regions of the world today. The advent of modern toxicology has led to the restriction of the use of these substances in cosmetic and consumer good applications. Despite legislation, heavy metals still find their way into our products whether it is by accidental contamination or adulteration. Globalized supply chains increase this risk. Heavy metals are often added to metal alloys to improve their performance characteristics which means that processing equipment, soldering and mixing vessels can be sources of contamination. If you’re interested in learning more, check out Netflix’s Broken S01E01 “Makeup Madness”. 

While a risk assessment should be performed for all elemental impurities identified by ICH guideline Q3D, in the pharmaceutical industry most professionals are familiar with routine testing for “the big four” or “CLAM”: cadmium, arsenic, lead and mercury. Did you know that in Canada, for cosmetic products and topical Natural Health Products (NHPs) Health Canada also posts strict limits for the permitted levels of antimony in finished goods? Overexposure to antimony and its compounds can adversely affect the skin, lungs, cardiovascular system and liver. 

The Health Canada limits for these five elemental impurities in both cosmetic products and topical NHPs are harmonized:

Element Quality of Natural Health Products Guidelines 

Limit for Topical Products

Heavy Metals Limits in Cosmetics Guide 


Arsenic 3 ppm 3 ppm
Cadmium 3 ppm 3 ppm
Lead 10 ppm 10 ppm
Total Mercury 1 ppm 1 ppm
Antimony 5 ppm 5 ppm
Note: limits may be adjusted by regulatory bodies from time to time, always check the original sources linked above for the most up to date information. 

The best way to demonstrate that your product complies with these regulations is to verify your inputs and test the finished product. Vivariant’s Induction Coupled Plasma – Mass Spectrometry (ICP-MS) method is validated for all five elements and is sensitive enough to ensure that your products meet these specifications. 

Contact us today to see how we can help you ensure a safe and compliant product.