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Cosmetics And Toiletries -- The Toxic Chemicals We Put On Our Skin

A recent news item claimed that using make-up and other toiletries on a daily basis can mean up to 5 pounds of chemicals being absorbed into your body in a year. Biochemist Richard Bence said: 'We really need to start questioning the products we are putting on our skin and not just assume that the chemicals in them are safe.' He also believes that absorbing chemicals through the skin could be more dangerous than swallowing them - whereas lipstick getting into your mouth is broken down by the enzymes in saliva and in the stomach, chemicals in products which are absorbed through the skin get straight into your bloodstream.

The US National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health has reported that nearly 900 of the chemicals used in cosmetics are toxic, although other groups believe that the real number is much higher. The chemicals most often cited as giving cause for concern include:

  • parabens, preservatives used in products including soap, shampoo, deodorant and baby lotion which may cause endocrine (hormonal) effects
  • sodium lauryl sulphate, used to help create lather in soaps, shampoo, shaving foam, toothpaste and bubble bath, which can cause skin irritation
  • phenylenediamine, an ingredient in hair dyes which is thought to be carcinogenic (cancer-producing)
  • formaldehyde, a preservative used in aqueous products such as shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, liquid hand wash and bubble bath. It is claimed to be a carcinogen and sensitiser.
  • phthalates, common in fragrances and nail polish, which are thought to cause reproductive or developmental effects

Using cosmetics may not just be a risk to the person who uses them. For instance, the ingredient nonoxynol (or nonylphenol ethoxylate): breaks down in water treatment into nonylphenol, a synthetic estrogen that feminises male fish, and triclosan, an antibacterial widely used in soaps, may be contributing to the general problem of antibiotic resistance

When we think about the damage that chemicals may be doing to our health, we tend to focus on our food and drink, and the air we breathe. It is easy to forget that the cosmetics and toiletries we put on our skin every day may be equally responsible for polluting our bodies and the environment.

And did you know that ...

  • Labelling on a cosmetic saying it is a 'rich emollient' may sound healthy, but you do not know what the product is rich in.
  • If you see 'moisturizer' on the label of your cosmetic, you might think that this means moisture is being added to the skin. Actually, a moisturizer puts a protective layer on the skin which helps it to retain its own moisture.
  • You might feel that a product has disappeared into the skin, but when it claims it is 'penetrating' it may only mean it forms a dry film on top of the skin and gives the feeling that the product has 'penetrated'.