The beauty industry is anything but pretty to millions of women, whose daily beauty routines could jeopardize their long-term health. Cosmetics and personal care products are often made with some not-so-pretty ingredients — hazardous chemicals like degreasers, plasticizers and surfactants found in paint — and are riddled with pesticides, carcinogens and hormone disruptors.
According to the Breast Cancer Fund , a cancer advocacy group, the cosmetic industry uses more than 10,000 chemicals in everything from lipsticks to lotions. The ingredients in many of these products could increase your risk of cancer, immune disorders, infertility and other serious medical problems.
The cosmetics industry is among the least regulated in the United States, and many women are unknowingly exposing themselves to potentially harmful products on a daily basis. What is known, though, is that more research is needed to understand possible risks that can come from beauty and cosmetic products.
The Price of Beauty: Cancer?
Every day, one in 13 women expose their bodies to products containing possible carcinogens, according to the Environmental Working Group. Are cosmetics and beauty products dangerous? That’s a question that’s still up for debate. Many cosmetics and personal care products are untested for long-term health problems, according to the American Cancer Society. Before you dab your face with moisturizer, slather lotion on your body or apply lipstick, know the potential health risks that may come when you apply these 10 beauty and personal care products:
1. Perfume. A few spritzes of eau de toilette is harmless, right? But perfumes may be anything but. The majority are primarily made of phthalates — endocrine-disrupting chemicals that may be linked to early puberty in girls and is thought to pose a breast cancer risk in older women. Many perfume manufacturers do not disclose that their products have phthalates, because they are often classified as proprietary ingredients.
2. Shampoos and body washes. Would you take a gasoline bath? That’s what you’re doing when you use many body washes, bath products and sudsy shampoos. These products often contain 1,4-dioxane, a petroleum-derived contaminant formed during the manufacturing process. 1,4-dioxane is often used as a paint solvent and is classified as a possible human carcinogen by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
3. Deodorant. Millions of women consider underarm anti-perspirants and deodorants to be everyday essentials, yet they contain aluminum-based compounds that are believed to contribute to the growth of breast cancer. These products also contain parabens, which are skin-absorbing compounds that build up and have been identified in breast cancer tumors and breast tissue. The lesson here is what you put on your body today could end up in your body tomorrow – so be careful about what products you apply on a regular basis.
4. Lipstick/lip balm. Few things are sexier than a lipsticked pout, but lipsticks and lip glosses may contain toxic metals, including lead, chromium, cadmium and manganese. Recent studies by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found traces of lead in 400 lipsticks that were tested, but the agency said they did not consider the lead levels to be a safety concern.
Further, potentially dangerous metals have been found across a wide range of lipsticks — from drugstore brands to expensive department store lipsticks. Heavy metal exposure is linked to cancers and brain damage, as well as neurological and cognitive problems in unborn babies. Certain metals, such as lead, may be unsafe at any level.
5. Hair dyes. Hair dyes contain nearly 5,000 chemicals, including some that may cause cancer. Permanent and semi-permanent hair colors, especially black and dark brown, may be associated with higher cancer risks, including non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, multiple myeloma and Hodgkin’s disease.
It’s important to point out that in the 1970s researchers discovered chemicals in hair dyes caused cancer in animals, but hair dye manufacturers have since removed many of those chemicals. It is not known if the remaining chemicals in hair dye cause cancer in humans.
6. Lotions. Could the lotions you use to moisturize your body cause skin cause cancer? Maybe. A 2008 study by scientists at Rutgers University found hairless mice were at a 69% higher risk for skin cancer when four popular skin creams were applied to their bodies daily.
Scientists could not conclude that moisturizers could case skin cancers in humans. However, the study did raise questions about the frequent use of lotions and moisturizers on human skin, which is the highly absorbent. Also, many lotions contain phthalates.
7. Hair straighteners and smoothers. Silky, straight strands of hair may never go out of style, but the chemical products that transform your tresses may contain formaldehyde, a known cancer-causing agent. The so-called Brazilian Blowout, a chemical process that straightens and smoothes hair, contains formaldehyde and its derivatives.
The potentially higher cancer risk is not only for women who get Brazilian Blowouts, but also for also for the stylists or hair do-it-yourselfers who apply them at home and are exposed to chemicals during the application process. Some stylists have even worn gas masks during the Brazilian Blowout application process – so how safe can that really be? The National Cancer Institute has advised caution. In 2011, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) alerted hair salon owners and their workers about the health hazards of these products following an FDA Warning Letter to the product manufacturer after safety and labeling violations and complaints about possible formaldehyde exposure.
8. Gel manicures. Who doesn’t like long-lasting, shiny nails? Before opting for one, you should know that the ultraviolet (UV) rays from nail lamps, which lock in color and shine in gel and traditional manicures, are believed to put women at a higher risk for skin cancer.
UV nail lamps are common in nail salons and are also found in many over-the-counter gel manicure kits. A 2009 study found that at least two women who used UV nail lamps developed skin cancer on their hands, although more research is needed to further link UV nail lamps with skin cancer.
9. Wrinkle creams and acne removers. The mere prospect of smoother skin, wrinkle-free foreheads and invisible laugh lines are enough to convince many women that wrinkle creams may the the next best thing to the fountain of youth. But the alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) and beta hydroxy acid (BHA) used in many wrinkle creams and acne products have raised concerns that they may contribute to skin damage and a potential increased risk of skin cancer, according to the Environmental Working Group; the FDA is investigating.
10. Nail polish and nail polish removers. A beautiful nail polish manicure or pedicure may expose you to phthalates, a plasticizer “hidden ingredient” in many products. While phthalates are not typically listed as ingredients in many nail care products, they are often used as drying agents in nail polishes.
Phthalate exposure is linked to hormone disruptions and a wide variety of birth defects and reproductive issues in both men and women, according to the EPA. Many nail polishes and nail polish removers also contain potentially harmful chemicals such as DBP, formaldehyde or toluene.
How to Protect Yourself from Beauty Products
You might be tempted to throw out your makeup bag and banish beauty products forever, but don’t. Beauty is only skin deep. Armed with knowledge of possible cancer-causing ingredients, you can still wear makeup with confidence when you know more about what’s in them, their possible effects, and your risk.
The next time you’re at the makeup counter or shopping the toiletry aisle, keep these tips in mind:
– Use fewer products, and use more items with natural ingredients. Simpler is better, especially when it comes to cosmetics. Decrease your risk of chemical exposure by using fewer products in your beauty routine, buying products made with fewer ingredients, and favoring all-natural products such as natural hair dyes, natural deodorant, natural makeup, etc.
– Avoid fragrances. That beautiful smell wafting from cosmetics and personal care products may be hazardous to your health. A “fragrance” could contain hundreds of chemicals, including potentially harmful phthalates. Avoid synthetic fragrances and choose natural essential oils when possible.
– Become an avid label reader. Product labels are your friend. Read them religiously to find out what’s in the cosmetics and beauty products you buy. Beware of chemicals, which are often flagged by big, hard to pronounce words, and stick to all-natural ingredients as much as possible.
Were you surprised at the number of beauty products with ingredients that could cause cancer? Do you have any additional research or opinions you’d like to point out? Leave ‘em in the comments section, and don’t forget to share this article with the women you know!