Toxic chemicals in makeup

Toxic chemicals in makeup

Women of the developed world are obsessed with cosmetics. The average woman spends 450 days applying her make-up in a lifetime, nearly 90 percent of British women use fragrances and over 80 percent wear lipstick. Bare-faced beauty is patently not de rigueur in the 21st century. Unfortunately, with toxic chemicals in many cosmetics, our make-up obsession may be damaging our health…

The female obssession with make-up is no surprise given that multinational cosmetic companies spend billions of dollars every year advertising their products with slick campaigns that capitalise on our appearance-related insecurities.

Our daily application of potions, lotions and make-up products exposes each of us to around 126 different synthetic chemicals, a number of which have been linked with tumours, cell mutation, allergies, reproductive complications, endocrine disruption and cancer.

In 1992 the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) responsible for enforcing cosmetics and pharmaceutical regulations in the US declared that 65 percent of women’s cosmetics sampled contained carcinogenic contaminants. According to the US Environmental Working Group (EWG) more than one-third of all personal care products contain at least one ingredient associated with cancer. Yet, out of the 20,000+ cosmetic ingredients registered for use, relatively few have been prohibited.

If that wasn’t bad enough, neither fragrance ingredients, nor carcinogenic impurities (that arise out of the manufacturing, storage process, or break down products of chemicals within a formulation) legally have to be listed on ingredients labels. If you see the word ‘fragrance’ or ‘parfum’ it could denote the presence of anything up to 200 different chemicals, many of which are neurotoxic, capable of causing cancer, birth defects, allergic reactions and very often on government hazardous waste lists. Around 95 percent of the chemicals used in fragrances are synthetic compounds derived from petroleum.

Should we be worried? Yes, because our skin is one the most complex living organs of the body, regulating temperature, protecting the body against pathogens, excreting unwanted substances and serving other vital functions. The layer known as the dermis is rich in blood vessels, nerves and sensory organs. It is not as was once thought an impenetrable barrier to all external elements. In fact, the skin can absorb up to 60 percent of the substances we apply to the skin, which often find their way into the circulatory system where they can wreak havoc.

Some cosmetic ingredients such sodium lauryl sulphate and polyethylene glycol (PEG) compounds are penetration enhancers – modifying the structure of the skin enabling greater absorption of other more toxic chemicals.

We can also absorb chemicals via inhalation, ingestion, the mucous membranes in the eyes, nose and mouth, breast milk and placenta. Many synthetic chemicals are lipophilic (fat loving) and concentrate in our body fat, accumulating over a lifetime. Biomonitoring studies, assessing the concentrations of various chemicals in humans have found that we are all contaminated with a host of undesirable synthetic chemicals, some of which have been obsolete for 30 years.

Babies and children are the most at risk. In the 1980s the scientific community finally acknowledged that some synthetic chemicals can cross the placenta and blood-brain barrier and adversely affect the development and brain function of the unborn fetus. We now know that fetuses and young children are exquisitely sensitive to chemicals, with exposure in the womb causing adverse effects at much lower concentrations than would be the case for adults. A 2004 study by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found an average of 200 different chemicals and pollutants in the umbilical cords of ten babies. Endocrine disrupting chemicals that interfere with, mimic, or block male or female hormones at critical stages in the development of a fetus have been linked with falling sperm counts, increases in testicular and breast cancer, premature breast development, the feminisation of fish and the bizarre appearance of stamen (that’s a euphemism)-like stumps on Arctic female polar-bears.

Cosmetic manufacturers often contend that the concentrations of synthetic chemicals used in cosmetics are too low to warrant any safety concerns, but we are exposed to hundreds of chemicals from a variety of sources 24 hours a day.

Most safety testing undertaken investigates the affects of single ingredients, rather than the cocktail of chemicals we are exposed to in consumer products. But, recent investigations have revealed that cocktails of chemicals can have more pronounced toxic affects than would be predicted by the sum of the individual chemicals present in a formulation. For instance, combinations of environmental oestrogens have been found to be 1000 times as potent as each individual chemical.

Buy Toxic Beauty: The Hidden Chemicals in Cosmetics and How They Can Harm Us by the lovely Dawn Mellowship