Cosmetics Cover-Up Brings Rash of Troubles

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Cosmetics Cover-Up Brings Rash of Troubles

"I have to go to the dermatologist so often," said Sue Baek, 26, a financial analyst at Chase Manhattan Bank in Seoul. "Cosmetics made by certain firms give me problems, such as bad acne, especially around my eyes, so I have to avoid those brands." Despite such caution, though, Ms. Baek keeps going back to the clinic, and the list of cosmetics she must avoid keeps getting longer.

One problem Ms. Baek and other makeup users in Korea face is that cosmetic manufacturers are not required to list on packaging labels the ingredients used in their products. By contrast, cosmetic makers in the United States and most European countries must print ingredient lists on their product labels as a consumer-protection measure.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration also advises cosmetic makers to include expiration dates on their products because cosmetics used after the sell-by date may be ineffective or even harmful. But an official at the administration said, "A product may go bad long before the expiration date if it's not stored and handled properly."

Indeed, domestic firms tend not to specify expiration dates because of such usage-period variations, according to Seong Yu-jin of the cosmetic firm LG Household and Health Care. But many do list the manufacturing dates. "When stored in cool conditions and direct sunlight, unopened perfumes and toners last about five years," Ms. Seong said. The life spans of lotions and cream-type cosmetics are shorter: about three years under good conditions. Most colored cosmetics such as loose powder, lipstick and blush last up to five years, while foundation, makeup base, eyeliner and mascara last about three years, according to LG Household.

If the cosmetics firms disclosed the ingredients in their products, many consumers like Ms. Baek point out, plenty of allergic-type ailments could be avoided.

The Consumer Protection Board said that it constantly gets complaints about cosmetic-caused skin troubles. The agency then tells the callers to contact the cosmetics firm directly. Most people who call the firms get refunds or product exchanges. But the agency pointed out there were eight cases between March and July in which the consumers were unable to settle with the firms. In one, a woman said she bought a locally-made product in March and immediately began having skin irritations: itchiness and red blotches. She complained to the company and exchanged the goods in April. When the problems recurred, she returned the new products and went to a doctor, who told her she had dermatitis.

The chief dermatologist at one of Seoul's biggest clinics explained how common cosmetic-induced skin problems are. "Nearly 30 percent of our patients have skin ailments associated with allergies from cosmetics," said Yu Min-seok of L.J.H clinic in Cheongdam-dong. Dr. Yu explained that determining the allergen is done through a patch test, in which the cosmetics the patients use are placed under various patches on the body for 48 hours.

"When patients use cosmetics made by foreign companies, it's easy to pin down what caused the trouble," Dr. Yu said. "But when it's caused by Korean cosmetics, we have no way of knowing what the allergen is."

Nevertheless, the Korea Cosmetic Industry Association said recently that it had "no plan" to require cosmetic firms to list ingredients on their labels.

by Ser Myo-ja

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