The Chemicals behind the Cosmetics

The shampoo; the lipstick and the perfume you sprayed on as you quickly rushed out the door: products you would never guess were dangerous.

Across the globe, cosmetic producers are placing carcinogens like anti-fungi chemicals, hormone disrupting chemicals, lead and mercury amongst others into our cosmetics for various reasons causing a variety of different health issues to come to the forefront.

Although there are strict chemical regulations within the UK a few chemicals that are placed in our cosmetics are questionable. When I spoke to chemicals and research manager of Breast Cancer UK, Dr. Margaret Wexler, she explained: “In the UK makeup does not contain high concentrations of dangerous chemicals, due to strict EU cosmetics legislation. However, many cosmetics products contain small amounts of chemicals which may be harmful and many believe should be banned.”

The UK cosmetic industry generates around £4.5billion a year and is regulated by the Department of Trade and Industry’s 1996 Cosmetic Products Regulations. However, according to Drop Dead Gorgeous: Protecting Yourself from the Hidden Dangers of Cosmetics, this act contains a loophole which allows companies to produce cosmetics which contain these ‘harmful’ ingredients.  

Which begs the question, do we really know what we are putting on our skin?

During a study I created, 62% of people agreed they were 100% happy with the cosmetics they are currently using. Yet, an astonishing 68.9% of participants agreed they did not think make-up products were completely safe – and they were right.

It is proven that some cosmetics contain hormone-disrupting chemicals (endocrine disrupting chemicals – EDC’s.) These chemicals contribute to breast cell growth and development. They also aid the production of damaged cells: increasing the likelihood of mutations in the breast, which may lead to breast cancer. These EDC’s are found in aftershaves, shampoos and face creams.

So what do you need to look out for?

Aluminium in deodorants, synthetic musk’s in perfumes and creams, Triclosan’s in antibacterial soaps, parabens in body washes and benzophenones in sunscreens and the list goes on. (Said list can be found at There is no way, if you’re a sanitary human being, that we can avoid all of these chemicals however knowledge is power, right?

Let’s scale it in a little: focus on deodorants. A few sprays here and there to make you feel better in the morning? Maybe a few sprays during a busy shift at work to freshen you up or perhaps before bed? This could be contributing to your likelihood of breast cancer according to Breast Cancer UK whilst adding to the carbon footprint.

The aluminium salts in our deodorants are known to cause reactions within our breast tissue resulting in a cyst developing. The salts block our sweat ducts and render the toxins in our body stationary meaning they are unable to be released: thus creating a build up. Said growth is most commonly known as Gross Cysts Breast disease – the most common benign growth found in women across the world.

Just avoid skin creams with UV filters, deodorant or hairspray aerosols and avoid any product with an ingredients list as long as your arm (cheap make-up brands etc,) then you should be fine.

Saying that across the planet, teenagers use cheap cosmetics in a bid to increase their self-esteem. However, unbeknownst to them, it is also increasing their risk of suffering from hormone imbalance, infertility and even contracting cancer.

With a fifth of teenage girls as young as 12 refusing to leave the house without a full face of make-up, generation Y are at a huge risk from increased exposure of the chemicals behind our cosmetics.

Not only are the teenagers at risk from over-exposure, the products they use and their age are also detrimental to the problem. At the age of thirteen, they are not only starting to develop into adults physically but mentally too. At this crucial time, the hormone disruptors – found in many make-up and hygiene products, will only add to the hormonal imbalance in the brain making the development stage into adulthood even harder.

With the adolescents being unable to afford the organic products they reach out for the cheaper options – the cheaper the product the more chemicals contained within. With this in mind, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) of America decided to test this thesis.

Taking urine and blood samples from 20 teenage girls from the ages between the ages of 14-19 the EWG tested for dangerous chemicals such as phthalates, triclosan’s and parabens and found that there were significantly increased rates within each of the girls systems. The participants were then asked to swap their everyday cosmetics for organic alternatives and after the three-day trial, samples were taken from the girls again. The results showed that the dangerous chemicals found in their blood stream were decreased by an astonishing 45%.

In reality, there is no way of knowing how dangerous every product we put on our skin is. And there is certainly no way that we can avoid every single dangerous chemical on earth but if we know what chemicals are in our cosmetics we may be able to adjust our products for safer ones.  

Photo Credit: Idhren via Compfight cc

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Megan Lee

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