Dangers of Chemicals in Cosmetics – Toxic Ingredients to Avoid

Jessica Lewis
October 11, 2016

Cosmetics. Everybody has heard about them. Everyone uses them one way or the other and, the thing is, they are not synonymous only with the idea of femininity anymore. Nowadays, men also gather around the make-up stands. Be it to surprise their lovers with a new lipstick or buy facial creams for their own use, men too contribute to this billion-dollar industry.

Cosmetics are substances used to clean and improve the body’s appearance. Unlike what most people are inclined to believe, the domain of cosmetics does not limit to facial products only. Many of them are designed for nails, hair, and teeth as well. Cosmetics are a sum of chemical compounds that are either derived from natural sources or synthesized in factories. In addition to the more commonly known ones such as lipsticks, foundation, eye shadow or mascara, skin lotions, hair styling products, and perfumes are considered to be cosmetics as well.

The Food and Drug Administration representatives stated that cosmetics’ purpose is to enhance the physical appearance without affecting the body’s structure in any way. According to the National Women’s Health Information Center, cosmetics do not influence the composition of the areas on which they are applied. They are not only sold in drug stores, despite their status as chemical substances, because most associations regard them as safe. Not all personal care products are cosmetics. A personal care product can be, based on its composition, either a cosmetic or a drug. For example, topic cleaners are not cosmetics, despite being directly applied to the skin( they modify the skin’s structure to some extent when they are used in treating acne).

Cosmetics – Short Historical

Ancient civilizations were the first to use cosmetics. Unlike their present-day purpose, that of enhancing physical beauty, cosmetics were as well employed in religious rituals or as a means to maintain good health.

Ancient Sumerians and Egyptians were practical and saw in cosmetics the ideal way to protect themselves from the sun’s rays. Specialists state that Sumerians were the first people to have used lipstick. They mixed crushed, colorful gemstones with various liquids for them to be applied on the lips more easily. Egyptian men and women used ointments for their skin protection and perfumes in religious ceremonies. The essential ingredients for their fragrances were natural plants with strong scents such as chamomile, rosemary, cedar, thyme but also oils to dilute them, like olive or sesame oil. Egyptians were the ones to turn minerals into powder and introduce them in their everyday life as colorful pigments for eye makeup.

Later on, Chinese people discovered how to turn a fungus, Tremella fuciformis, into a beauty product. Chinese medicine people introduced it into creams and facial lotions to reduce expression lines and even wrinkles. The benefits of plant-based cosmetics were visible because many of them had high antioxidant properties. No wonder people still use plants to make facial masks even after millennia. The nails were another body part that benefited from the use of cosmetics. The Chinese royals more precisely wore nail polish in bright colors such as red or golden as a means to display their social status. The lower classes were denied such treatments. The Japanese turned rice into powder to make their faces look white as a sign of purity and cleanliness. They were shaving their eyebrows because they considered that the forehead was the most beautiful part of their faces. Also, their teeth were blackened. Japanese people had the belief that the inside of the human body was impure. The mouth was a gateway to the body’s interior. As a consequence, they have appropriated it with the role to point towards that creed.

Greeks and Romans included cosmetics in their day-to-day life as well. Indians used henna to both dye their hair and adorn their bodies with intricately made body designs. After 1500, perfumes and body lotions became even more popular. European women tried to whiten their faces with all sorts of chemical compounds; some of them used white lead paint. Later on, toxic substances, including lead, were replaced by zinc oxide. Cosmetics became an influential industry only after 1900 when the number of beauty salons multiplied. Back in the day, most of their clients were women. Today, men and women alike are regular customers. The massive sales are clear proof in regards to this. [1]

Cosmetics are currently divided into sectors, each with a particular purpose. Their incomes are roughly the same:

  1. Makeup products

The make-up market includes products containing color pigments able to modify the physical appearance visibly. Some of the most popular make-up products are lipsticks, concealer, foundation, mascara, eyeliner, bronzer, and nail polish. This one is by far the most versatile segment because of the large number of colors that can be used.

  1. Haircare

The haircare market includes both products found in general markets and professional hair care products manufactured by famous brands. They include shampoos, conditioners, masks, hair color, and styling products. Most of them are designed to nourish the hair and prevent any sort of damage caused by heat or air and water pollution. Aside from a beautiful skin aspect, luscious hair is a good indicator of both youth and general good health. Women are the main clients in this sector. Lately, men have started to follow fashion trends and pay more attention to their physical appearance. More and more companies create hair products for male use only.

  1. Skincare

This sector is by far the most profitable; the products’ manufacturers affirm that they are beneficial in delaying the aging process by diminishing fine lines and wrinkles. Some of the most used skincare cosmetics are cleansers, toners, moisturizers, exfoliators, anti-acne, and anti-aging creams.

Other personal care products that are deemed as cosmetics are perfumes, sunscreen, deodorants, or toothpaste. [2]

Damaging chemical compounds

  1. Parabens

Parabens are a class of chemical compounds strongly related to the development of various medical conditions. They are cheap and efficient so many companies use them in beauty products. The most common types are methylparaben, propylparaben, ethylparaben and butylparaben. They are included in everything, from moisturizers to hair care products and even shaving gels. Specialists link its use to breast cancer development. Following their absorption, they react similarly to that of the primary female hormone, estrogen. Traditional companies avoid them. People should read the labels before buying certain products. Most labels contain the “paraben-free” inscription, which makes the products suitable for everyday use. Pregnant women and children should avoid them.

  1. Coal tar

Coal tar is a thick black liquid derived from petroleum. It is casually used in dry skin treatments or anti-dandruff shampoos. The European Union has banned it but it still has a legality status in North America. Coal tar is a carcinogen; extended exposure to it can lead to tumors and cellular damage. Various experts have concluded that many of its constituents are truly toxic. For example, they have associated Pyridine, with neurological damage. Current evidence is seemingly not enough to exclude coal tar from the cosmetics industry.

  1. Carbon black

Carbon black is one of the main constituents in many eye-designed cosmetics such as eyeliner or mascara. It is derived from carbon-based products, coal tar included. Specialists link its components to a higher rate of tumor occurrence and related skin damage. People expose themselves to its toxicity either through inhalation or direct contact. Experiments were done on rats indicated a higher risk of cancer after prolonged exposure to carbon black.

  1. Phthalates

Phthalates are mostly used in nail polish or hair spray, but companies that manufacture fragrances and perfumes include them in their chemical structure. Similar to the parabens’ mechanism of action, phthalates act as a weaker estrogen in that they negatively affect the hormonal balance. People are exposed to phthalates regularly as they are present in cleaning products as well.

  1. Acrylates

Acrylates are found in nail polish and polish removers. They are derived from acrylic acid, an organic compound that irritates and even damages the skin and respiratory tract. Numerous health organizations have linked 2 types of acrylates, namely ethyl acrylate and methyl methacrylate to cancer. Despite their status as banned substances, acrylates are still used by nail salons, but in lower concentrations.

  1. Triclosan

Triclosan is a chemical compound found in soaps, detergents, and some cosmetics such as deodorants, creams, and shaving products. A wide range of companies uses it due to its antibacterial properties. Triclosan can both kill the bacteria and remove the bad smell, so it is understandable why it is so commonly utilized. The Food and Drug Administration has yet to ban it, despite the negative results of many experiments done on rodents.

Triclosan can pass through the skin and affect the hormonal balance. Studies are conducted in regards to this subject. Countries such as Japan or Canada restrict its use.

  1. Fragrances

Most of the chemicals found in fragrances are toxic and linked to skin problems and cancer occurrence. Fragrances are used in perfumes and deodorants to enhance their scent. They are also found in detergents, cleaning products, and even in some products labeled as “fragrance-free”. Aside from fragrances, perfumes also contain additives. Many of the chemical compounds found in fragrances have not been tested for toxicity as to be banned. Experts claim that exposure to them can trigger allergic reactions and even dangerous medical conditions.

  1. 1,4 dioxane

1,4 dioxane is derived from petroleum and is currently absent from beauty product labels. It is found in shampoos and body washes, the International Agency for Research on Cancer has placed it on a list of possible carcinogens. Like most chemical substances, it penetrates the skin, thus being toxic for the internal organs. 1,4 dioxane is linked to cancerous cells development. Even so, people can hardly avoid it because the substance is not listed as an ingredient on the product’s label. Pregnant women and children are more sensitive to its harmful effects.

  1. Ethylene Oxide

Ethylene oxide is found in shampoos and body washes. It is also used as a means to sterilize surgical instruments. Cancer prevention associations deem it a powerful carcinogen. People can experience nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and cyanosis, after being exposed to it. Experts associate ethylene oxide with the development of blood and breast cancer.

  1. Hydroquinone

Hydroquinone is an ingredient designed for skin lighteners. Women of color use it on a more regular basis due to the social pressure coming from the mass media. It is included in cleansers, moisturizers, or hair conditioners. Experts link it to cancer development because of how hydroquinone reacts after creams containing it are applied to the skin. The substance decreases the melanin amount found in the skin, making it more prone to damage caused by UV rays. The European Union has banned it. Still, the American Food and Drug Administration allows it as an active compound in over-the-counter drugs.

  1. Homosalate

Homosalate is used in sunscreens. It harms the hormonal balance due to its ability to penetrate the skin. It belongs to the class of salicylates, chemical compounds able to block the sun’s harmful rays by absorbing ultraviolet light. The Food and Drug Administration deems a non-toxic substance if used in a lower concentration.

  1. Lead and heavy metals

Lipstick, eyeliner, and nail polish are a few of the most popular products containing heavy metals such as lead, zinc, mercury, or iron. Some metals are intentionally added. Nonetheless, a heavy metal accumulation inside the body can prove to be harmful, because most of them are neither naturally occurring in the body, nor needed by it. Heavy metals have been associated with higher cancer and infertility risks. [3][4][5]

There are few chances cosmetics will be used less in the near future. This will not happen only because there is a giant industry behind them. Social appearance is important for women and men alike. The domain of cosmetics is a profitable one, despite the many toxic compounds included in their composition. Most of them are indeed approved by the Food and Drug Administration, the association which regulates cosmetics. There is enough proof that, aside from enhancing the physical appearance, they are efficient in diminishing the wrinkles and covering any possible area one would consider to be imperfect. This does not mean they are beneficial. There is also evidence in regards to their harmful effects. They have the ability to penetrate the skin and accumulate underneath it as toxic constituents. People have reported cases of skin irritation, allergies, and even cancer. Lately, organic alternatives have been released on the market and they seem to enjoy more and more popularity both amongst normal individuals and celebrities. There is also the healthiest choice, that of wearing nothing. A bare face can look just as youthful as any other.