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Heavy metals in jewellery may cause allergies or increase the risk of cancer – Customs rejected 11% of controlled fashion jewellery

Publication date 5.2.2024 8.30
Press release

Of the commercially imported pieces of fashion jewellery controlled by Customs in 2023, 11% were rejected. Jewellery manufactured from materials that are cheaper than precious metals, contained excessive amounts of carcinogenic cadmium, toxic led and allergenic nickel. Customs is already familiar with the problems of jewellery imported from outside Europe.

Customs controlled and examined altogether 152 pieces of fashion jewellery imported in 2023. The product safety control focused on the heavy metal content of necklaces, rings, earrings, bracelets and hairpins also sold in grocery stores. As much as 11% of the jewellery controlled in 2023, contained levels of cadmium, led or nickel that exceeded the regulations. Customs prevented these batches of jewellery from being sold in stores in Finland.

All the 17 batches of products that were rejected came from countries outside Europe, especially from China and India. In addition, two types of earrings were found to contain cadmium at risk levels, and Customs pointed this out to the importers.

Fashion jewellery made of non-precious metals or steel is an annual part of Finnish Customs' product safety control. This type of jewellery is also regularly found to contain products that are harmful to health. Excessive levels of heavy metals can cause a variety of harmful effects, some of which are serious.

“We selected fashion jewellery, or so-called costume jewellery, based on our controls in recent years. We anticipated problems, but the more products we analyse, the more non-compliant products we seem to find,” says Jonna Neffling, Head of Product Safety.

The heavy metals in jewellery can cause real harm

Nickel, which many users of this type of jewellery are familiar with, can cause contact allergy that can appear quickly on the skin. Cadmium and lead, on the other hand, accumulate in the body from several sources. Their harm is usually only apparent in the long term, with the exception of lead poisoning, for example.

“Cadmium and lead are very harmful substances for example to the central nervous system, kidneys and bones. Led affects human development and reproduction, and cadmium is a carcinogenic heavy metal,” explains Siru Viljakainen, Customs Chemist.

The samples selected by Customs are subjected to detailed analyses at the Customs Laboratory. Jewellery is one of the product groups that touch the skin, so the release of nickel is examined. In addition, Customs analyses the total amount of lead and cadmium. Rapid procedures allow for a quick and efficient initial examination of a large number of products. If the result of the rapid test gives reason to suspect problems, then the release of the element or its total amount will be further analysed in detailed examinations.

The manufacturer is always responsible for the safety of the jewellery – the authorities monitor the implementation of the regulations

Common limit values for metals that pose a health risk – this includes lead, cadmium and nickel – have been defined by EU legislation. Products imported to Finland must not exceed these limit values of the EU's REACH regulation, and Customs monitors the fulfilment of the requirements at the time of import.

Customs monitors the product safety of products imported commercially from the EU and from outside the EU. Customs takes the samples randomly from the importers warehouses based on risk assessments, before the batches end up for sale. Products already on sale in Finland are supervised by the Safety and Chemicals Agency (Tukes). Orders from online stores by consumers in Finland are not subject to controls by the authorities.

Images (Aku Häyrynen / Finnish Customs)

Media release