The reality behind your magnificence merchandise | Weblog

Across the world, women use beauty products every day. The average woman uses 12 different beauty products daily, such as cleansers, hair products, skin care products, lotions and makeup. When purchasing a new product from the store, most people don’t realize the negative implications these items can have on both their own health, and the health of the environment. 

If items are being sold in a store, most of us assume them to be safe. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Before products reach the market, they go through a testing process, but this process only tests for short-term health effects. For example, most researchers seek to ensure there are no adverse consequences directly after application, such as skin irritation. The long-term effects are where the uncertainty lies.

Without considering the long-term health consequences of cosmetics sold on shelves, we leave consumers extremely vulnerable to developing adverse effects later in life. Many chemicals used in the production of beauty products contain parabens, phthalates, polyethylene glycol, hydroquinone and heavy trace metals. But, what exactly does all this mean? 

To provide some context, parabens are used to preserve shelf life, phthalates are used as stabilizers, and hydroquinone is used as a skin depigmentation agent. Such chemicals have been linked to a broad range of health effects including endocrine disruption, reproductive disorders, neurotoxicity and carcinogenicity. 

Similarly, such chemicals affect wildlife and the environment in similar ways — leading to decreased biodiversity, toxic water quality and heightened pollution. Phthalates have been proven to cause endocrine, reproductive and developmental disruption in marine and aquatic life. When land mammals consume marine life, they also ingest the harmful toxins inside of them, leading to a trophic cascade in which the entire food chain is affected. Such harms can thus have ripple effects on the entire ecosystem, severely impacting ecological interactions. 

A Harvard study found that more than 50% of sampled cosmetic products in the U.S. contained high levels of PFAs, per- or polyfluoroalkyl substances, which can be extremely toxic even at low dose levels. PFAs have been linked to multiple types of cancer, immune system disruptions, and harm to developmental and reproductive systems. In a recent study, of all the products that contained PFAs only 8% actually self-reported their usage of the chemical. Most companies do not disclose this information and lack transparency, thereby misleading consumers. 

Interestingly, many of these mentioned chemicals are actually banned from use in other countries, proving how shockingly behind the U.S. is in protecting citizens from harmful chemicals. Hydroquinone has been banned in Australia, Japan and the entire European Union. Some phthalates are banned in European countries.

In terms of regulation, the law does not require that cosmetic products and ingredients, besides color additives, have FDA approval before going to market. With little government regulation on the use of these chemicals in daily products, it is often left to the consumer to make the decision of which products are safe to use. Unfortunately, many consumers are not aware of these issues, as beauty companies do not disclose such shocking information to their customers.

To fully understand the true effects of such products, let’s look at the potential health consequences of some of these common items. In a study by the International Journal of Cancer, women who used hair dye at least once in the 12-month period prior to the study had a 9% higher risk of developing breast cancer than their counterparts who did not use hair dye. 

Hair straightening products have been linked to an 18% higher risk of breast cancer in women. Essentially, the more often women straighten their hair, the higher the risk. In skin-lightening and anti-aging creams, many products contain mercury, which can lead to difficulty breathing, indecision and irritation. 

On the bright side, California has taken the lead in pushing for more regulation of such toxic products, enacting laws that go into effect next January. Such laws will ban the use of more than 24 toxic chemicals in personal care products. Such regulations are taking steps in the right direction to protect users from harmful health outcomes.

In the meantime, what are some actions you can take to limit your exposure to such toxins? 

First off, instead of dumping out all of your products, you can slowly begin to replace them as you run out. When purchasing new products, it is important to not only check the ingredients list to ensure such chemicals are not listed, but look for a reputable third-party verification such as USDA Organic. Oftentimes, many manufacturers will claim their products are “clean” or “natural” even when that is not the case. Such labels do not need governmental approval, so virtually any company can claim to be clean when what they are practicing is far from it. Improper and misleading labeling is known as greenwashing, which presents false solutions to the climate crisis.

All in all, cosmetic brands rarely disclose the extremely harmful chemicals in their products. With little government action, it is up to consumers to protect themselves and the environment from such toxins. By checking labels and verifications, you can take steps towards buying more health-conscious products. If you are still unsure, online platforms are widely available that rate the health hazards of a particular product, usually on a scale of 0 to 100. Awareness is key, and implementing such changes in your own life can go a long way in protecting your future health.

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