The Ugly Side of Beauty; Cosmetics May Be Good for Your Looks, but Are They Good for Your Heatlth/weekend Magazine

Article excerpt


Over the past few weeks we have revealed the ' `secret ingredients' in our food, over-the-counter medications and everyday household products. We have discovered that many of them can cause allergies; some have even more sinister potential side effects.

In the last of the series we take a look beyond the glamorous image and glossy packaging of the world of cosmetics and beauty products, to see what really goes into the contents of our make-up bags and dressing tables.

A huge number of people find they are allergic to the common ingredients in cosmetics and beauty products, even simple products like shampoo and soap, after-shave and anti-perspirant. Tiny amounts of these ingredients might cause eczema and acne, asthma and dermatitis if you happen to be sensitive to them. All cosmetics and toiletries, even those which are `natural', are preserved. Some contain preservatives that are natural, but they do not work alone, and usually need at least one of the synthetic preservatives for the product to be effective. Those who are prone to allergies often turn to `hypoallergenic' products but unfortunately there is no such thing as an entirely non-allergenic product: there is always someone who is allergic to something.

Allergies are not the only concern. It has recently been revealed that many chemicals in cosmetics can pass through the skin, into the bloodstream and internal organs. A recent report by the American Journal Of Public Health found that women who die their hair have a 50 per cent higher risk of developing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, and men using commercial hair dyes have twice the risk of multiple myeloma, a malignant tumour of the bone marrow.

Even homely old talc has been cited several times as a possible carcinogen.

It has been estimated that there are probably a few thousand cases of young babies and children inhaling talc every year causing coughing, sneezing, vomiting and cyanosis (turning blue). Studies have also linked talc (used on personal hygiene products) with ovarian cancer.

The World Health Organisation found many of the 140 colourants used in lipsticks, rouges and eye shadows, unsafe. Some colours listed as `harmless' were found to produce injury when fed to animals and were removed from the list. At present nine colours still deemed safe - including FD&C Blue No 1 and FD&C Citrus Red 2, have been shown to cause tumours in animals.

A study by the American government Accounting Office found that 884 chemicals available for use by the cosmetic industry were on a federal toxic substances list. Formaldehyde is used as a preservative and disinfectant: it is a suspected carcinogen. Coal tar, listed as FD&C or D&C colours, is a common ingredient in cosmetics, hair dyes and dandruff shampoos. It is a known carcinogen and has been linked to frequent allergic reactions including asthma attacks, headaches, nausea, fatigue, nervousness and lack of concentration.

Even some of the more commonly used and `safe' raw materials are not without side effects: for example, the majority of mainstream creams and lotions contain mineral oil and lanolin, yet mineral oil can block the pores and cause blackheads while lanolin is one of the most common causes of allergic reactions.

Some experts are even suggesting that many cosmetics actually make our skins dependent on them. As Dr Rajendra Sharma of the Hale Clinic in London warns, `The cosmetic industry is geared towards selling its products. If they provide you with a cream which makes your skin better when you use it and worse when you stop, you will keep buying the product. They are looking for compounds which are fine when you use them but when you stop, your skin starts to deteriorate.'

Unfortunately the answer isn't as simple as just choosing `natural' products. Naturopath Rhaya Jordan warns that `Something can be labelled `natural' if it's got just 2% of calendula, say, and 98% of petroleum and chemicals. …