When Cosmetic Products Can Harm Your Skin

The connotation of cosmetics being a tool only for feminine vanity is a modern invention. Using substances to change our appearance traces back beyond the Ancient Egyptians. Research into evolutionary psychology has shown that back in our primal days, physical “beauty” was an important factor in determining whether or not an individual was a good candidate for mating. Yes. Mating. Smooth skin, red lips, pleasant body odor, etc. were indicators of health, genetic advantages, and fertility. Think of it this way:

“Hello! I am a healthy, young, attractive specimen from your species. If we have children together, they will be more likely to pass on our genes to the next generation! Yay!”
Thanks to medical innovations, today’s youth are guaranteed a greater chance of survival of birth defects. Physical beauty is no longer an evolutionary advantage.

Yet we continue to apply that lipstick, spray the perfume, and slather on that cover-up to hide our imperfections.

But this article is not about why people use makeup. This article is about the dangers that lurk within the bottles, tubes and various canisters that line our dressers and bathrooms. In the United States, thanks to lobbying from cosmetics companies, the Food and Drug Administration has little jurisdiction over cosmetics. Unlike their counterparts in the pharmaceutical and food business, cosmetics companies follow an “innocent until proven guilty” approach to selling potentially harmful products to their customers. As long as they are not caught, they can sell whatever they want. Yes, to you. You the customer might be applying carcinogens to your skin everyday.

Only you can protect yourself from the things you buy.

Beware of these ingredients:

1. BHA A preservative found in cosmetics, there is good evidence to support its status as a carcinogen. The EU considers it as an unsafe ingredient. In the US, however, it is found in food, packaging, and cosmetics.

2. Coal tar dye (CI–five digit number) A recognized human carcinogen found in hair dyes, and nail polish. It is banned in the EU but allowed in the US.

3. Parfum (or fragrance or Perfume) This mystery ingredient can be literally any of the hundreds of ingredients cosmetics companies use to make scents. The reason for keeping the ingredients secret: smell has become company property—companies are not forced to release their trade secrets.

4. Phthalates Sometimes used as “fragrance” (it won’t be listed), also used as plasticizers in nail polish (sometimes listed as “DBP”). They may cause reproductive defects and are harmful to the environment. Materials made of PVC also contain phthalates in them!

5. Mercury (or thimerosal or calomel) Mercury is extremely toxic. Period. This metal can be found in eyeliners, mascara, eyedrops, and deodorants.   As if having to worry about mercury in seafood wasn’t enough.

6. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate or Sodium Laureth Sulfate Commonly found in shampoos, toothpaste, and soap, SLS is used as a foaming agent. While not a carcinogen by itself, SLS can be contaminated by 1,4-Dioxane, which may be a carcinogen—so beware!

7. Parabens This chemical is in virtually all Americans. It is also found in 70-90% of all cosmetics, according to A Consumer’s Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients. Parabens  are endocrine disruptors and can easily be absorbed through the skin—they may even play a role in interfering with male reproduction. Yikes.

Of course, the list above is but a scant fraction of the thousands of nefarious ingredients in cosmetics. Be on the lookout for harmful things that you put on your body. Try using less synthetic cosmetics and use alternative, organic ones instead. Your body is precious! Please be safe!

This entry was posted in: Science


The campus newspaper of King's Academy, in Madaba, Jordan. Established 2007.