Most of us need various aids to help us feel good. From moisturisers and serums for our dry skin to hair dye to enhance our hair.

We often only consider whether or not the products work. Is that expensive moisturiser worth it? Does this shade of lipstick suit me? Is this the best dye for my hair? We are looking at their effectiveness and cost when we ask these questions.

Yet there is more and more evidence that we should be asking another, more important question: Will this product harm me? It’s easy to believe that manufacturers run tests for safety and government watch dogs protect us from the unscrupulous.

However, for our own safety, we should not be reassured by assumptions. The long-term effect of exposure to the various chemicals used in beauty products is difficult to assess, and animal studies cannot necessarily be translated into what happens in the human body.

This work often depends on academics rather than on the manufacturers, is often poorly funded, and may involve painstaking research over a long period.

What Does the Research Say?

Scientists at the National Institutes of Health found that women who regularly used permanent hair dye in the year prior to enrolling in the study were 9% more likely than women who didn’t use hair dye to develop breast cancer.

The research team found little to no increase in breast cancer risk for semi-permanent or temporary dye use.

The same study found that women who used hair straighteners at least every five to eight weeks were about 30% more likely to develop breast cancer.

A University of California study that ran in 2013 found lead, cadmium, chromium, aluminium, and five other metals in a sample of 32 different lipsticks and lip glosses commonly found in drugstores and department stores.

Some of the metals were detected at levels that could raise potential health concerns. The researchers said:

“Lipstick and lip gloss are of special concern because when they are not being blotted on tissue or left as kiss marks, they are ingested or absorbed, bit by bit, by the individual wearing them.”

An interesting study led by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, and Clinica de Salud del Valle de Salinas demonstrates how even a short break from certain kinds of makeup, shampoos and lotions can lead to a significant drop in levels of hormone-disrupting chemicals in the body.

Researchers provided teen study participants with personal care products that were free of chemicals such as phthalates, parabens, triclosan and oxybenzone.

Such chemicals are widely used in personal care products, including cosmetics, fragrance, hair products, soaps, and sunscreens, and have been shown in animal studies to interfere with the body’s hormone system.

Which Chemicals Should You Avoid?

Fortunately, there is a huge growth in natural skincare and cosmetics. These avoid most or all of the damaging chemicals. But if you want to check out your favourite products, here are some of the ingredients that you will want to look out for:

Triclosan

Found in antibacterial soaps, body washes, and some brands of toothpaste, triclosan is a hormone disrupter.

In 2016, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a rule stating that over-the-counter consumer antiseptic wash products containing many potentially harmful antibacterial active ingredients – including triclosan and triclocarban – can no longer be marketed to US consumers.

Products containing these are still available in many other countries.

Benzophenone-3

Also known as BP-3, benzophenone-3 is found in some sunscreens under the name oxybenzone. It is a relatively common allergen.

Phthalates

Phthalates are found in shampoo, perfume, nail polish, hairspray, sanitary pads, and fragrances. Much of the concern has been in terms of their effect on infants and reproductive health (for both men and women).

The US Consumer Product Safety Commission said in a 2014 risk report that exposure to certain phthalates may induce adverse effects to the thyroid, liver, kidneys, and immune system.

Some phthalates – like DEHP, among the most widely-used phthalates – are listed as a probable carcinogen by the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Parabens

Parabens, such as methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, and ethylparaben, act as preservatives in beauty products. Many governments do not think there is enough evidence to ban parabens.

A scientific review of cosmetics and their cancer risks, published in 2018 in the journal Cancer Spectrum, concluded that there is no evidence to suggest that using paraben-containing products leads to an increased risk of cancer.

However, it is recognised that parabens are probably hormone disrupters. Theoretically, this means they could increase our risk of getting cancer, but there isn’t enough strong evidence to back that up at this stage.

Beauty Chemicals vs. Smoking

Many of the discussions around these products reminds me of the discussions about cigarette smoking. It took a long time for governments to recognise how dangerous it was. I feel we may be going through a similar journey with many of these beauty chemicals.

The evidence may not be totally water-tight, but why take the risk, when there are so many products that are easily available and do not contain these chemicals?

If you want to know more about this subject, sign up for the online Non-Toxic Beauty Summit, running from March 9th to March 15th. It’s free to listen to and they have a great line-up of speakers.

What beauty products do you use? Do you read the list of ingredients? Do you worry about the chemicals in your beauty products or do you totally trust your government to take care of you? Please share your thoughts and let’s have a discussion!

Let's Have a Conversation!