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art by Alex Carranza

Toxic beauty products pose potentially dangerous risks

art by Alex Carranza
art by Alex Carranza

Health is often thought of in terms of what you put into one’s body, but equally important is what one is putting on their skin. More than 10,500 chemicals are in usage for beauty products within the United States, and the regulations from the federal government on these substances are at a minimum, according to the University of Texas. More than 1,000 substances have bans from usage in beauty products in Europe; however only 10 substances have bans in the United States.

“There are thousands of beauty and skincare products that can be found on the market. It is a multi-billion dollar industry,” Melissa Menard, esthetician and Team Member at ShopEco in Walkerville, Ontario said. “Yet, there is no governing body that extensively tests the chemicals that are added to the products that we use day-in and day-out. In fact, it is much easier than the average consumer realizes for cosmetic companies to introduce products with newly invented ingredients to the mass retail market. There are many articles, websites and books dedicated to this topic that are urging North American governments to tighten up their regulations on the cosmetic industry.”

These chemicals, which are prevalent in American products, not only damage the epidermis, but also the deeper layers of skin.

“Skin absorbs up to 60 percent of what substances are applied,” Erika Reiss, esthetician at DeSpain Medical Spa said. “You want to read skin care ingredients just like you would food ingredients. Avoid using products with too many ingredients you don’t recognize or use too many chemicals that contain ‘eth’ such as sodium laureth sulphate which may be toxic.”

Sodium laureth sulphate is generally linked to eye and skin irritation, according to Princeton’s website. The substance is common in soaps, as listed on the back of the container with the ingredients.

“I do read the labels to see if there are any bad chemicals in them,” junior Shyleah Jones said. “I have had BB cream make my skin breakout and blush dry out my face.”

In order to avoid skin irritations Jones reads the ingredients, but confessed she didn’t always. One test is to take the cream or product and dab some on one’s forearm to see if there is a reaction. Keeping skin healthy has become more important as skin cancer rates have risen. The number one skincare neglect is sunscreen, which can prevent sunburns, premature aging and even skin cancer, Reiss said.

“Use an appropriate moisturizer for your skin type and a physical sunscreen, one with zinc and/or titanium dioxide, everyday,” Reiss said. “Physical sunscreens are less irritating to the skin and zinc is a more natural ingredient that reflects the uva/uvb rays.”

Chemicals like sodium laureth, color dyes and diethanolamine are all very common in cosmetic products yet pose an immediate threat to skin health; however, not all dangerous chemicals will have easy-to-spot side effects like rashes. Certain chemicals, as listed in the “Dirty Dozen” list by scientist David Suzuki, have serious, even fatal side effects. BHA and BHT are used as preservatives in cosmetic and food products, though they have been linked to endocrine and hormone problems. Formaldehyde-releasing ingredients, also used as preservatives, may contain carcinogens linked to cancer.

Typically, the higher-end products are less harmful as they use the top notch products, but this leads to more expensive cosmetics that not all can afford. Smaller companies, like ShopEco, can provide high end and organic products, but they are not widely available like drugstore makeup companies.

“Make up is not harmful to the skin if you are using a high quality cosmetic line,” Reiss said. “My number one choice is Jane Iredale because it is a pure mineral make up and is considered a skin care make up. Other mineral make up is a good choice. You want to avoid mineral oil which can clog pores.”

Another problem posed is that there just isn’t much information yet on this subject. Mass production of beauty products is a relatively new development, and at this point there haven’t been too many studies performed.

“Whether or not makeup is harmful to skin is a hotly debated topic in the industry. Obviously, I believe that many ingredients can be harmful. There is also the issue of lack of knowledge,” Menard said. “For example, Nanotechnology was an emerging industry when I started in the field. At this point, it has arrived. Although it is tremendously cool from a science perspective that ingredients can be made nano size … there is question as to the safety of ingredients that can be absorbed into the body so easily. There haven’t been enough long-term studies and the truth is that we just don’t know, yet, if these ingredients are safe.”

by Sophie Whyte

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