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Are Your Beauty Products Harming Your Health?

Updated on November 19, 2011
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Danielle is the co-founder of Find Solace Within, a body-positive website, and co-owner of Body Solace Studio, a yoga studio in NS, Canada.

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Get the facts on potentially dangerous beauty products

Do you cover blemishes, go tanning, or straighten your hair? The vast majority of other women do too. Most beauty products contain a long list of ingredients, and those ingredients may not actually be safe for you to use and could actually be a concern to your health. Here are some of the chemicals, ingredients, and products that you may want to look out for, and substitutes that you can replace them with so you can keep on looking beautiful.

Keratin Straighteners
Advertised as "formaldehyde-free", there have actually been high concentrations of the chemical found in more than half of the samples of keratin straighteners - the hair treatment that gives you silky, smooth, frizz-free hair. Exposing yourself to formaldehyde for long periods is actually considered cancer-causing, so you may want to reduce getting your hair chemically-straightened to every few months.
Substitute: Using a conditioner and a flat iron. A moisturizing conditioner can help calm frizz and static, and a flat iron can help you achieve the straight-hair look. While this option will only last until your next shampoo, you health will forever thank you.

Permanent Hair Dye
It's rare to find a woman with her natural colour these days, but the scarily enough, studies are saying that you're potentially more likely to develop leukemia or lymphoma if you're using permanent hair dyes, especially the darker colours. This study is being reexamined as it has been debated as to whether or not there actually is a link, so as of now it's really a matter of choice as to whether or not to take precaution.
Substitute: Plant-based hair dyes can easily change your hair without any chemicals. Unfortunately with this option you won't achieve as drastic of a colour change, and the colour won't last as long. Another option is to get highlights in your hair. Ask the stylist to use a special cap or foils so the dye doesn't get absorbed into your skin.

Coloured Contact Lenses
Wearing coloured or patterned contact lenses that don't actually correct your vision, just provide an eye-changing effect, can actually run you the risk of developing an infection or injuring your eye - which can lead to vision loss. Avoid any lenses sold without a prescription, like the ones you can pick up at salons, costume shops, or online. Contacts require proper fitting, cleaning products, and care, which is not provided with over-the-counter versions.
Substitute: If you really want a different eye colour, go see a professional. Eye doctors can prescribe you coloured contact lenses with a proper fit specifically for your eye and your eye only, and show you the proper care and maitenance that the contacts require. After all, it is your vision we're talking about.

Prescription Eyelash Serum and Permanent Eyelash Tints
Prescription drugs that can (temporarily) give you long, flirtacious eyelashes can also give you undesirable side-effects. The serum could potentially darken the skin around your eyes, or discolour your irises. Permanent eyelash tints may claim to give you thicker-looking lashes and no need for mascara, but these tints have actually been linked to blindness. There are no FDA-approved dyes for use on eyelashes, so don't believe what anyone tells you.
Substitute: Eyelash extensions can give you that flirty lash just as well, but without the health risks. However, the adhesive could possible irritate the eyes and cause an allergic reaction. Best to play it safe and stick with good old mascara!

Hydroquinone
Dermatologists may recommend this chemical as a skin lightener for age spots or dark patches. However, overuse can actually cause skin discolouration and studies have linked the chemical to cancer. Scientists are currently studying the safety of the product, but play it safe and steer clear of it until it's further understood by the professionals.
Substitute: Laser skin resurfacing removes the top layer of the skin, which is done by a dermatologist. It can reduce age spots and even out skin colour, but it is expensive, painful, requires a healing process, and there is a small risk of scarring or discolouration - but no harmful chemicals are involved!

Tanning Beds
It's no secret that tanning beds increase your risk of melanoma, but did you know they also emit UVA rays which speed up premature aging, like wrinkles and brown spots? You'll like your bronzed glow a lot less when it has aged and damaged your skin.
Substitute: Sunless tanning products like lotions, sprays and wipes easily help you fake that tan. Try to avoid spray booths though as you could inhale the spray or get it in your eyes. Remember to still use sunscreen with your sunless tanner - you may look like a sun goddess but you're skin still needs protecting.

Nail Salon Products
Manicures expose you to a wide range of chemicals including formaldehyde, phthalates, acetone, and toluene. The fumes from these can irritate the eyes, skin, nose, and respiratory tract. Salon trips could also potentially result in bacterial infections if the equipment is not sterilized properly.
Substitute: Take precautions before your treatments by inspecting the cleaniness of the salon to avoid infections - if it doesn't appear like it's up to health standards, don't risk it! Avoid shaving your legs before a pedicure as well, and rebook your appointment if you've cut your skin in some way. It's always better to seem over-cautious than risk an infection.

Phthalates
Chemicals found in nail polish, shampoo and soap. It is used to make products more pliable, but studies have shown that exposure to this chemical during pregnancy could cause abnormal development in male infants (low hormone levels and small genitalia are examples). Though there is not enough proof that phthalates can cause such a health risk by FDA standards, you may want to consider avoiding this chemical throughout your pregnancy, just in case.
Substitute: Look for phthalate-free products if you're concerned, or check products ingredients for the chemical.

Parabens
The most common preservative found in makeup, moisturizers, and hair products, and one study has shown linked it to breast tumors. It is still being debated however.
Substitute: Paraben-free cosmetics that use vitamin C or vitamin E as preservatives are a good option to shop for when switching.

Expired Makeup
Yes, it does expire, and it can cause health risks like eye infections, and skin problems. Here are some product expiry dates to remember:

  • Foundation/cream blush and bronzer: expires one year after opening
  • Blush/Eye shadow/Powdered Foundation: two years after exposing the powders to air
  • Lipstick: lasts only one year
  • Mascara: 3 months until it becomes potentially harmful - and always throw out all eye makeup immediately if you develop an eye infection.

Scary isn't it? Making these small changes in your beauty routine could mean a great deal to your health. Try changing to things like mineral makeup, which contains fewer preservatives, and generally has built-in sunscreen, to still look glamourous but also know you're doing a pile of good for your body. And always remember your sunscreen, perferrably SPF 30 or higher to reduce the risk of skin cancer and premature aging! It's undeniably your most important beauty product.

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    • writingfrosh profile image

      writingfrosh 5 years ago from Philippines

      Thanks for sharing this valuable information Elizabeth. It surely is wiser to value health over vanity. I will be more careful the next time I shop for toiletries and other stuff.

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