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We use cosmetics every day, but never give much thought to what effect the ingredients may have on us. We all assume that the FDA has us covered, but they have little minimal authority over personal care products, including cosmetics. Lately, more and more studies are showing that cosmetics contain harmful ingredients that could be causing health problems. While we apply makeup to look good, we won’t be feeling good if we develop diabetes, lead poisoning, or breast cancer.
The latest study looked at phthalates, a chemical compound with few vowels. It is a common substance in plasticisers, used in cosmetics and the packaging they are sold in. It is found in nearly everything, including mascara, lotion, most hairstyling products, foundation, lipstick, nail polish, oral pharmaceuticals, and hair loss treatments. The chemical compound has already been shown to disrupt hormones in the endocrine system in previous studies, but the new study may link it to diabetes in women. The study, published in Environmental Health Perspectives, found that women with high levels of phthalates in their urine were twice as likely to develop diabetes as those with lower levels. More research is needed, because phthalates are in the medication and medical supplies used by those with diabetes, so that could be the cause for the link.
Phythalates, a chemical compound with a similar name from the one above, may cause hormone disruption, increased risk of cancer, and behavioral problems. Avoid products that have methyl, butyl, ethyl, or propyl in the ingredient list. Try to look for mineral makeup from an organic or natural company, since many of the mineral makeups on the market contain very few actual minerals and more of the standard makeup ingredients.
Products containing lead have been pulled from shelves after the highly-publicized discoveries – just not lipstick. Jezebel reports that fear of lead in lipstick has been around since the 1990s, but it took until 2007 for The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics to find that two-thirds of the 33 lipsticks they tested contained lead. Even more startling, one-third contained more lead than the FDA finds safe in candy. This prompted the FDA to conduct a study of 20 lipsticks in 2008 and expanded it to 400 lipsticks for a study that was released last February.
Both studies found that many of the lipsticks were contaminated with lead. There was no correlation between cost and lead levels, NARS, Covergirl, and Maybelline each had two lipsticks in the list of top ten lead offenders. The lipstick with the least amount of lead was also the cheapest: Wet ‘N’ Wild Mega Mixers Lip Balm. The FDA points out that lead levels in lipstick should be looked at differently than those in candy, because lipstick isn’t eaten. Some is bound to get into your mouth, but you don’t typically consume large amounts of it. While the small amounts that get into your mouth may not be a huge concern, lead accumulates in your body, so reapplying it throughout the day can increase your lead poisoning risks. Most people likely don’t have to be too worried, but pregnant women may want to avoid lead-containing lipstick to protect their unborn child from the lead.
Salon nail polish brands claiming to be free of toxic chemicals often contain them. The California Department of Toxic Substances Control studied 25 salon-exclusive nail polish brands, including many that claimed to be free of the “toxic trio” chemicals: toluene, dibutyl phthalate (DBP), and formaldehyde. Of the 12 brands that claimed to be toluene-free, 10 contained it. Of the seven polishes that claimed to be free of the toxic trio, five contained at least one of them. The toxic trio can cause asthma, developmental problems, cancer, and other health problems. While the study didn’t look at drugstore brands, it is likely that the results would be similar. However, for the average at-home user, the exposure to the chemicals is not a big concern. The danger lies in working with the hazardous polishes for long hours in a poorly ventilated area, like a nail salon.
Another formaldehyde-laced beauty treatment is the Brazilian Blow Out. California found that while the straightening process was advertised as formaldehyde-free, it actually contained the dangerous chemical. There was a lawsuit that saw $4.5 million paid out to consumers.