In case you hadn’t noticed- we’re in the midst of a bit of a beauty special here at I❤Healthy! So amongst all the product reviews and other beauty tips we’ll be sharing with you I thought it would be a good idea to fill you in on why you really should clean up your makeup bag.
Given the strict regulations on what can go into food and beverages in the Western world you would think that there would be similarly stringent rules and processes for cosmetics and other body products. As we have all heard a thousand times- the skin is our largest organ, and as you can see when you rub in a good moisturiser- it’s very absorbent. Skin is so absorbent in fact, that we may be absorbing up to 2kg of chemicals per year from beauty and hygiene products alone. I don’t know about you, but that’s a figure that definitely makes me question my beauty products.
So here’s a sample of some of the chemicals you should be keeping an eye out for in your conventional beauty products…
Parabens are used as preservatives and antimicrobial agents and feature in all sorts of beauty and hygiene products from deodorant and shampoo to makeup creams. They have come under a lot of scrutiny for their oestrogen-like properties, which enables parabens to mimic this naturally occurring hormone within our bodies. The balance of hormones in our bodies is of critical importance for our overall health and wellbeing. Oestrogen is a sex hormone that regulates the development of the female reproductive system and secondary sexual characteristics such as breast development. However, aside from its major reproductive role, oestrogen also helps to regulate bone density and our immune responses, is important for female mental health, and also is a protective factor against development of heart disease (just to mention a few!).
Given the many important roles oestrogen plays in our bodies, I think it’s a pretty common sense conclusion that we should make sure our oestrogen levels are stable! Logically then, chemicals which mimic or otherwise affect oestrogen, such as parabens should be of concern when considering products that we put on our skin. Oestrogen plays a significant role in the development of breast tumours, so discoveries of parabens present inside cancerous breast tumours makes many people question whether these are something we should be applying to our skin on a daily (if not more frequent) basis. Dabre et al. (2004) found that among 20 breast cancer biopsies they studied, four had more than double the regular concentration of parabens (particularly methylparaben), and other samples also contained significant amounts of the chemicals. A 2014 study in the Journal of Applied Toxicology also found that parabens could influence the invasiveness of breast cancer cels in vitro (Khanna et al.).
While these studies don’t indicate that parabens outright cause breast cancer, the correlation is significant enough to warrant further investigation, and personally I would rather not take the risk. There are more and more beauty and hygiene products becoming available that have ditched parabens all together, and many can be bought straight from your local supermarket. For this reason I feel that I would rather be safe than sorry- it’s easy enough to choose paraben-free products, so why risk it?
Watch out for: Shampoos, other hair care products, deodorants, shaving creams, moisturisers and creams.
Phthalates are most often used as plasticisers to help lend flexibility to plastic products, however they are often a component of beauty products, and are used to help fix fragrance and colour. They can often be found in nail polish, hair sprays and deodorants (Parlett et al., 2013). Phthalates are well known as endocrine disruptors, and due to their weak oestrogen-like properties can also cause problems for reproductive health, by competing with naturally occuring oestrogen in our bodies. Prenatal exposure to phthalates is significantly associated with genital tract disorders in male infants, and phthalate exposure in rats is associated with a number of reproductive issues including low sperm counts and cryptorchidism (the absence of one or more testes) (Singh et al., 2012). Phthalates have also been linked with other reproductive, respiratory, and liver problems, and even autistic spectrum disorders (Ventrice et al., 2013).
As awareness of phthalates and their toxic effects become more well-known, more and more companies are taking the option of removing them from their products. Look out for ingredients such as Dimethyl phthalate, Di-n-butyl pthalate, 2-ethylhexyl phthalate (a common carcinogen) or any other ingredient with the suffix “phthalate”. They may also be listed by their acronym, including: DINP, DEHP (aka. DOP), BBP, DIDP, and BBP .
Watch out for: Nail polishes, perfumes, hair sprays, deodorants, soaps, shampoos, moisturisers
Lead is a heavy metal whose toxic properties have been known for centuries. As a major environmental toxin, efforts have been made to minimise human exposure to lead through the use of unleaded gasoline, lead-free paints, and changes to soldering and canned products. Despite these efforts, lead has been found to contaminate many brands of lipstick from the cheap dollar-store brands all the way to the lines of leading fashion and cosmetic houses. Lead affects almost every body system, with its harmful neurological effects such as learning disabilities a well-known effect. Liver, blood production, and renal and reproductive systems are all affected (Al Saleh et al., 2009). Women may also be at increased risk of lead complications, as loss of bone density after menopause may release lead stored in the bones.
A recent study of 32 different lip products from a range of brands in the US, found that 75% of those products tested contained lead (Liu et al., 2013). This is similar to the results discovered by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics which found 20 of 33 products they tested also contained lead. All studies cited investigated lip products that ranged in price, and the findings existed across the board.
While the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has regulations in place regarding the permissible levels of lead in food products, it has no such levels in place for cosmetic products, despite many concerns about the presence of lead in lip products. They argue that the levels found in lipsticks are not a safety concern, due to the way lipstick is used. However no safe level of lead exposure has been identified (Liu et al., 2013). Given the potential for heavy metals such as lead to accumulate in the body this is certainly an ingredient I believe my makeup can do without, and thankfully, many organic brands feel the same way.
Watch out for: Lipsticks, lip glosses, other lip products
Green your beauty routine
I don’t know about you, but even those three chemicals are enough to have me concerned about what I’m putting on my body. That’s not to mention the many other concerning ingredients such as sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), mercury, kohl stone, coal tar, carbon black, arsenic and aluminium. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics have a great list of other ingredients to keep an eye out for, which you can read here. We’ll also be adding more in depth information about some other ingredients over coming months- so make sure you keep and eye out for further information.
In the mean time- it’s not all doom and gloom! Plenty of natural and organic products have moved away from incorporating these harmful substances into their products. You can read reviews of some of these great brands under our “Beauty” page and keep an eye out for more to come this week and in future. Making the change to natural products isn’t as difficult as you might think, and many toiletry products are even available at your local supermarket. Keep an eye out for our upcoming tips on how you can green your beauty bag without spending a small fortune!