health & wellness

Common Toxic Substances Hidden in Your Beauty Products

Sheena Joseph | Mar 17 2021
Image credits: Flickr

You will be surprised to know that almost every product in your beauty regime is laden with harmful chemicals. The worst part is that most of them are mentioned in the label but you are not informed enough to recognise them. The first step to a healthy personal care routine is to learn about chemicals that are bad for your body. Then you can go on to avoid purchasing products that contain toxic substances. This will not be an easy feat because most of the brands use them. However, it is definitely possible to sift through the long list and find a healthy option. Here are some of the most commonly used toxic substances.

1) Fragrance

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The most common and deceptive ingredient listed in beauty products is 'fragrance'. We do know what this particular ingredient is for. It makes your soap, shampoo, shower gel, perfume, lotion, hair spray, serum, and moisturiser smell good. There are very few products that smell fruity or floral due to natural ingredients. If there is 'fragrance' listed in the label, the smell comes from a synthetic compound. Some chemicals used in the synthesis of scent are turpentine sulfate, C2-C5 petrochemicals, benzene, phenol, toluene, xylenes, cresols, and naphthalene. These chemicals have been linked to endocrine disruption, developmental problems, and reproductive issues repeatedly. Phthalates are known to mimic estrogen. This can easily affect fertility and weaken the reproductive system.

2) Sulfates and Parabens

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Most of the shampoos and conditioners in the market are infused with sulfates and parabens. However, many brands are listening to the customer's cry for sulfate/paraben-free shampoos. Hence, if you choose to, it will be easier to find hair products that do not hurt your body. The chemicals in the shampoo do not affect only scalp health. The toxic substances will eventually move on to the rest of the body. If your shampoo is formulated with these toxic chemicals, it will alter the scalp's health and hair structure in the long run. Sulfate is known to cause frizzy hair and paraben is known to increase the risk of breast cancer.

3) Methylisothiazolinon and Ammonia

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Salon workers are exposed to harmful chemicals every day. Hair dye is one of the most dangerous culprits. Methylisothiazolinone is one of the many harmful chemicals in the dye and it is linked to neurotoxicity. While some people experience allergy and eye infection, some experts have reported an increased risk of cancer. Ammonia is another commonly-found ingredient in the dye. It can easily cause respiratory issues, skin irritation, and blood toxicity. The best way to avoid these risks is to go for organic hair colours even though they may wear off sooner than their chemical counterparts.  

4) Retinyl Palmitate

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Retinyl Palmitate (a synthetic form of vitamin A) is commonly found in lipsticks. It is added to the tint with good intentions as it is an antioxidant and preservative. While it is proven to be harmful to pregnant women, it does more than that. Once the lipstick is applied, the chemical is absorbed into the skin and converted into retinoic acid. When you step out into the sun, the acid is exposed to UV light and breaks down. This process produces toxic radicals that can cause damage to DNA and lead to genetic mutations. This increases the risk of cancer considerably. Unlike other chemicals in the lipstick (methylparaben and polyparaben), it also stays in the bloodstream long enough to cause damage.

5) Formaldehyde

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Formaldehyde made headlines for a while when popular baby talc brand Johnson and Johnson was under scrutiny. The chemical is known for causing cancer. Studies have shown that inhaling formaldehyde for a long period can lead to nasal cancer. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies formaldehyde as a human carcinogen. However, Johnson and Johnson is not the only brand to use formaldehyde. It is commonly found in many shampoos, shower gels, moisturisers, toothpaste, eyelash glue, nail hardeners, hair straightening solutions, liquid hand soap, and cleansers. It is also called formalin, morbicid acid, methylene oxide, methyl aldehyde, and methylene glycol. High levels of exposure can cause instant sensory irritation, skin sensitisation, and breathing difficulties.

6) Toluene and Dibutyl Phthalate

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Toluene and dibutyl phthalate are popular compounds in nail polish. DBP is added to make the nail polish more flexible and less prone to chips. Toluene is to keep the nail polish smoother. However, both these chemicals are hazardous and are banned in Europe. DBP is linked to a higher risk of health issues in the reproductive system. Toluene is known to cause birth defects and developmental problems in unborn children. It can also affect the nervous system of adults. Some of its short-term effects are dizziness, headaches, nausea, and eye irritation.

7) Cylcopentasiloxane

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Sunscreen has become an inevitable part of our lives. But it comes with a share of risks. Sunscreen is a formula that can only be manufactured in a laboratory with the help of certain chemicals. And one such chemical is cyclopentasiloxane. This can act as toxins to the reproductive system and disrupt the functioning of the endocrine system. Cyclopentasiloxane is a silicone ingredient used not only in sunscreen but medical implants, sealants, lubricants. This colourless, odourless, non-greasy, and water-thin ingredient is part of many common cosmetics. The slippery, silky texture makes it a crucial part of hair spray, hair detangling products, deodorant, waterproof mascara, foundation, eye shadow, gels, lotions, and concealer. However, sunscreen can seep into the skin more than other cosmetics.

8) Sorbitol and Saccharin

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Toothpaste is the last place one would look for a hazardous chemical. Sadly, it has many toxic substances. Sorbitol is a liquid chemical that prevents the toothpaste from drying out. Saccharin is an artificial sweetener that makes the flavour of the toothpaste bearable. While sorbitol causes diarrhoea in children if ingested, saccharin has been linked to bladder cancer. Sorbitol can also lead to dehydration, dry mouth, excessive bowel activity, high blood sugar, lactic acidosis. While some experts consider Saccharin safe, others debate that its effects on blood sugar levels are unclear. In some cases, it has caused breathing difficulties and headaches as well.