More and more, we are seeing ‘paraben-silicone-sulphate free’ on the packaging shampoos, soaps and others products. These components have been in our cosmetic products for a long time but only recently has this been noticed as a health and environmental concern.
The cosmetic industry in the UK is currently governed by the EU Cosmetic Regulation, but it is the NGO’s and Associations such as the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association (CTPA) that are demanding more safety and product transparency to companies involved in the manufacturing and trading of cosmetics and personal care products as there are still substances that are harmful for the health.
While you can find the ingredients on the packaging of the products, it is difficult to understand the risk and benefits of all of them. Here is a small list of some of the main components that are in the spotlight these days:
- Parabens are used as a preservative to prolong the shelf-life of products. They are absorbed through the skin and the digestive system, as it can also be found in foods, drinks and medications. It is classified as an ‘Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals’ (EDCs), which interfere with the normal function of the endocrine and reproductive system (Rattan et al. 2017).
- Sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) is a surfactant that acts as a detergent and also can be used as a food additive. According to a 2015 study issued by the Environmental Health Insights, SLS can cause skin irritation but there is no scientific evidence to suggest that is a carcinogen.
- Formaldehyde is a substance that can be used as a preservative in cosmetics, foods and drinks. The American Cancer Society states that professional keratin hair smoothing treatments containing formaldehyde releasing chemicals can be a health hazard. Inhaling formaldehyde can cause nasopharynx and cancer of the nasal sinuses. The low concentrations in cosmetics are not considered to be hazardous but may cause skin irritation.
- Phthalates are found in the environment, cosmetics, food wraps, toys… Some types of phthalates such as DEHP, DEP, BBP and DBP, are suspected of producing abnormal foetal development or endocrine-disrupting effects (Koo & Lee, 2004). Research conducted by Kim et al. (2004), reveals that phthalates can mimic oestrogen and therefore, may promote resistance to tamoxifen in breast cancer. More info here
- Metals such as mercury, lead, nickel, chromium, copper, iron, arsenic, aluminium, antimony, cobalt and cadmium are used in the cosmetic industry. They are absorbed by the skin causing skin reactions and exert toxic effects in some organs (Borowska & Brzóska, 2015).
- Fragrances/perfumes are composed by chemicals that can trigger allergies, hormonal disruptions, asthma, neurotoxicity and cancer (Bilal & Iqbal, (2019). Patel (2017) raised concerns about the exposure to artificial fragrances and health hazards, as they might contain chemicals that have been proven to be endocrine disruptors (EDC’s) such as parabens and phthalates.
- Alcohol/ethanol is used as a preservative and has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects among others. However, they can dry and irritate the skin. Research by Lachenmeier (2008) supports that alcohol applied to the skin might facilitate the absorption of xenobiotics (e.g. carcinogenic substances found in cosmetic formulations).
- PEG several studies have concluded that PEG are safe in cosmetics. Fiume et al. (2016), concludes they are safe when formulated to be non-irritating. Research by Fruijtier-Pölloth (2005) suggests that PEG have extremely low acute and chronic toxicities. Jang et al. (2015) confirms that the PEG studied in their review were recommended as safe for use in cosmetics up to 100% concentration.
- Silicones are a surfactant and are used in cosmetics to soften or smooth the skin or hair. They are deemed to be safe for use however; they are not environmental friendly as they are not bio-degradable. Silicones cause dryness as they create a surface barrier preventing moisture and nourishment however, they can be replaced by a healthier choice, natural oils.
- Talc/talcum can be found in make-up, baby powder, and hygiene products. Talc is a mineral often found near asbestos a carcinogen that can cause a fatal type of cancer (mesothelioma) if inhaled or swallowed. Due to this proximity, talc can easily be contaminated when mined (Mesothelioma.com). Research conducted by Penninkilampi and Eslick (2018), reveals consistent link between perineal talc use and ovarian cancer.
CANCER & COSMETICS
As an oncology patient, I have been advised to avoid hair dyes, deodorants, nail polish and lipsticks. However, I could not find enough evidence to support the link between these products and canc
- Hair dyes and chemical straighteners: A study published by Eberle et al. (2020) observed that the use of permanent hair dye and chemical hair straighteners every 5 to 8 weeks could be linked with a higher risk of developing breast cancer, especially for black women due to the presence of higher concentrations of oestrogens and endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDC). The reality is that there is not enough evidence to link hair dyes with breast cancer but because they are EDC’s and mimic oestrogens, they should be avoided.
- Deodorants: A systematic review undertaken by Allam (2016) identified an insufficient number of studies regarding breast cancer and deodorants to obtain reliable results. The American Cancer Society also states that there is very little scientific evidence to support this claim. However, my dad and a male massage teacher I had, developed cysts in the armpits which were associated with using deodorants containing aluminium.
- Lipstick: Many lipsticks contain lead, while the concentration is not high enough to cause health risks, it is best to avoid lipsticks containing metals.
- Nail polish: Studies have shown that chemicals in nail polish can be absorbed into the body; the exact amount of absorption and whether it is enough to have negative health effects, are not well established. According to the International Agency for Research, there are two ingredients that are carcinogens, Formaldehyde and Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP). Those chemicals are banned in Europe, but not in the US.
- Sunscreens: Many sunscreens contain endocrine disruptor chemicals which can also pollute coral reefs when these chemicals are washed off swimmers. Some of the bad ingredients to look for are: phthalates, oxybenzone, avobenzone, homosalate, nano particles, microbeads and perfum.
Choose mineral sunscreens containing zinc oxide and titanium dioxide; they are the healthiest and safest option.
For more info, you can visit breastcanceruk.org. They have made a list with ingredients to avoid.
Some apps that can help you choose safer products :
Think dirty. Database: 1,4 million products
Yuka: 500,000 cosmetic products and 1 million food products
Cosmethics: over 140,000 products
EWG. Database: 81,331 products
USEFUL WEBSITES, BRANDS & PRODUCTS
It is wise to double check the ingredients as even clean-organic-vegan Brands have different quality of products and some are better than others.
To make life easier, I found a few products on ewg.org database which are considered to have a low health hazard risk. Please note that I have no affiliations with EWG or any of the products that I recommend below.
Product: The Ordinary Serum Foundation, 30ml.
Price: around £6
2. EYE SHADOW
Product: Burt’s Bees Eye Shadow
Price: around £12
Product: Maia’s Mineral Galaxy, Forever Friend
Price: around £14
4. MAKEUP REMOVAL
Product: L’Oreal Paris Micellar Cleansing Water
Price: around £4
5. NAIL POLISH
Product: Sophi Nail Polish
Price: around £9
Product: Herbal Essence Bio Shampoo
Price: around £6
7. BODY CREAM
Product: Attitude Body Cream
Price: around £14
Product: Jason Mineral Sunscreen Lotio, SPF 30, 113g
Price: around £15
We cannot avoid toxic chemicals as they are everywhere: air, water, food… however, we can reduce our exposure to minimise the impact on our health and the environment. Products containing endocrine disruptor chemicals (EDR’s) should be avoided as they have been linked to infertility, endometriosis and other diseases. The list of chemicals is long, if you are not using any app, try to remember at least the following ingredients next time you need new cosmetics or beauty products:
Parabens, Phthalates, Fragance/Perfume, Silicones
- Allam, M. (2016). Breast Cancer and Deodorants/Antiperspirants: a Systematic Review. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27755864/
American Cancer Society. (n.d).Formaldehyde. Retrieved August 28, 2020, from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/formaldehyde.html#:~:text=Formaldehyde%20is%20a%20colorless%2C%20strong,coatings%3B%20and%20certain%20insulation%20materials.
- Bilal, M. & Iqbal, H. (2019). An insight into toxicity and human-health-related adverse consequences of cosmeceuticals – A review. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30909033/
- Borowska, S. & Brzóska, M. (2015). Metals in cosmetics: implications for human health. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25809475/
- Chemicals Safety Facts. (n.d.). Sodium Lauryl Sulfate. Retrieved September 1, 2020, from https://www.chemicalsafetyfacts.org/sodium-lauryl-sulfate/
- Eberle, C., Sandler, D., Taylor, K. & White, A. (2020). Hair dye and chemical straightener use and breast cancer risk in a large US population of black and white women. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31797377/
- Fiume, M., Heldreth, B., Bergfeld, W., Belsito, D., Hill, R., Klaassen, C., …Liebler, D. (2016). Safety Assessment of Alkyl PEG/PPG Ethers as Used in Cosmetics. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27383199/
- Fruijtier-Pölloth, C. (2005). Safety assessment on polyethylene glycols (PEGs) and their derivatives as used in cosmetic products. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16011869/
- Jang, H.J., Shin, C. & Kim, K.B. (2015). Safety Evaluation of Polyethylene Glycol (PEG) Compounds for Cosmetic Use. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26191379/
- Kim, I., Han, S. & M, A. (2004). Phthalates inhibit tamoxifen-induced apoptosis in MCF-7 human breast cancer cells. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15513900/
- Koo, H.J. & Lee, B.M. (2004). Estimated Exposure To Phthalates In Cosmetics And Risk Assessment, Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part A, 67:23-24, 1901-1914, DOI: 10.1080/15287390490513300. Retrieved from http://chemsites.chem.rutgers.edu/~kyc/pdf/491/wilson/cosmetics2.pdf
- Lachenmeier, D. (2008). Safety evaluation of topical applications of ethanol on the skin and inside the oral cavity. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2596158/
- Strand, T. (n.d.). Asbestos in Talcum Powder. Retrieved from https://www.mesothelioma.com/asbestos-exposure/products/talc-powder/
- Penninkilampi, R. & Eslick, G. (2018). Perineal Talc Use and Ovarian Cancer: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28863045/
- Rattan, S., Zhou, C., Chiang, C., Mahalingam, S., Brehm, E. and Flaws, J. (2017). Exposure to endocrine disruptors during adulthood: consequences for female fertility. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28356401/