Be it a simple toilet soap, shampoo, hair dyes, lotions, creams, nail polish, foundation, or even perfumes, the list is endless.
But how often do you pause to scrutinise the listed ingredients in your assorted beauty products?
Experts now warn that some chemicals contained in routine beauty care products could be carcinogenic (having the potential to cause cancer) and detrimental to human health.
These toxic substances have been associated with serious health complications as they tend to irritate and disrupt hormones, according to dermatologists and aesthetic experts based in the United Kingdom.
Apart from harming people, the chemicals are also environmental hazards that cause pollution. Here is a list of some popular ingredients that you might want to steer clear off as you select your beauty care regimen, as highlighted by scientists.
They are mainly used to elongate the shelf life of hair and beauty products.
Cosmetics that may contain parabens include make-up, moisturisers, hair care products and shaving products. Experts caution that they could irritate the skin and potentially disrupt hormones as they comprise chemicals known as propylparaben and iosbutylparaben. “The chemicals are capable of faintly imitating oestrogen thus are believed to cause disruption of the natural order — hormone balance. Although it is yet to be understood whether it is causal or coincidence, parabens have been detected in some cancerous breast tumours,” explains British Skin Foundation’s consultant dermatologist Mary Sommerlad.
Further studies are being carried out.
It is commonly used to prevent contamination of bacteria and is contained in products like toothpaste, hand gel and soap.
The chemical is suspected to cause antibiotic resistance and hormone disruption.
This has seen a number of manufacturers remove triclosan from their products voluntarily while some countries including the US have banned it. “When used in high concentrations and for a long period, triclosan has been linked to antibiotic resistance and skin complications such as contact allergic dermatitis and skin irritation,” experts say.
It is commonly found in products that lighten the skin, hair dyes and bleaching creams. In high concentrations, the chemical can cause critical health issues including pregnancy complications, burns and irritations of the skin.
Hydroquinone use is regulated in some countries such as the UK, where it is used to treat melasma by lightening large sun spots or dark areas and can only be accessed in prescription products. In nations where hydroquinone ban is not effected, experts advise consumers to exercise extreme caution before buying the products.
“Hydroquinone can fuel irritation of skin while used in high concentrations,” states Dr Sommerlad. “It can also trigger skin discolouration or extreme darkening and cause unexpected burns by aggravating skin sensitivity to sunlight. Prolonged usage in large amounts has also been linked to low birth weight in foetuses.”
Fragrance is a broad term that could refer to scents which may trigger reactions in some individuals after using products, explains Berkshire based Thames Valley Aesthetics’s Advanced aesthetician Simon Thorpe.
It is often listed as one of the ingredients that make beauty products.
Experts attribute substances with floral scents such as linalool, citronella, sandalwood, cinnamon and tea tree to contact allergic dermatitis and skin irritation.
“Since the ingredient is only listed as ‘parfum’ or ‘fragrance’, it may be hard to ascertain if the product contains a fragrance that could cause a reaction.”
Dermatologists recommend carrying out a patch test first on a section of the skin to safeguard against reaction to products.
It originates from crude oil and is added as an antioxidant and stabiliser in some creams. It is also used to create a smooth finish and hold colour in nail varnish.
While small dosages are believed to be harmless, toluene can be dangerous to expectant women and can also affect babies’ development while used in higher concentrations.
Experts caution that “exposure to high toluene levels for a prolonged period may be risky particularly to pregnant women and may negatively impact the nervous system. Benzophenone
It is found in hair sprays, some shampoos, foundation, nail polish and sun creams.
This chemical is designed to safeguard products against losing their colours and scents due to sunlight exposure.
Even though it is safe while used in low concentrations, studies indicate that benzophenone could potentially hinder reproduction, fertility and growth as it tends to mimic female sex hormones (oestrogen), which can trigger hormone disruption.
The European Food Safety Authority lists benzophenone as a toxicant linked to liver enlargement . Some studies have also attributed hormone disruptions to the chemical and its derivatives avobenzophone and oxybenzophone.
It is used in skincare products with SPF and sun creams. Homosalate, just like other UV filters, is believed to be a hormone disruptor.
Experts have raised concerns over the chemical’s ability to disrupt and harm the endocrine hormone system hence potentially affecting fertility and thyroid functions through skin absorption.
It is a dark powdered pigment used in lipstick, eyeliner mascara as well as face scrubs and masks containing activated charcoal.
Carbon black is used as activated charcoal in skincare products to minimise sebum secretion for oily skin.Although it is known to be non-toxic, experts say it could cause irritation and drying of the skin.
It is used to prevent contamination of bacteria and increase products’ shelf life . Experts warn that using products with high concentrations of the chemical can cause eczema, skin irritation, allergies, hives and blisters. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has also classified formaldehyde as a carcinogen. While prolonged exposure to the chemical in large quantities has been associated with tumours and leukaemia, minimal exposure could have different results.
They are sticky, colourless liquid chemicals comprising alcohols and amino acids and are commonly used in shaving cream, shampoo and soap. Despite the fact that ethanolamines are feared to be carcinogenic, they are freely used in cosmetics as they are yet to be banned. “Ethanolamines, in certain conditions, react to produce potentially carcinogenic substances known as nitrosamines,” says Dr Sommerlad.
It is a UV filter used worldwide in some moisturisers, shampoo, sun cream and nail polish. It is believed to trigger hormone disruption by imitating oestrogen as well as cause allergic dermatitis and skin irritation.
Octinoxate is banned in some countries such as Palau Island and Hawaii as it tends to cause bleaching of coral, therefore harming marine life.