Moisturizers, lipsticks, perfumes, and hair products have become an integral part of our daily lives. You may pick them from local stores thinking they are safe for use, but are they so? In recent years, an increasing number of reports have raised safety concerns regarding the cosmetics we use.
Researchers have found dangerous levels of iffy chemicals in cosmetic products, such as moisturizers and hair dyes. Many are linked to uterine and breast cancers, whereas some are found to increase users’ risk of skin cancer.
However, not all chemicals found in cosmetics are detrimental to human health. With little to no knowledge of the beauty industry, it’s difficult to understand which chemicals to avoid. But we’ve simplified the task for you by listing a few common ones in this guide.
Understanding Which Chemicals Are Worrisome
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates cosmetic products in the U.S., has prohibited a dozen substances for safety reasons.
Some studies in humans and many studies in animals have established a link between exposure to many of the chemicals and cancer later in life. Despite that, they are ubiquitous and remain legal because there isn’t strong enough evidence to prove a causal effect.
While not all-inclusive, here are a few common chemicals called in the recent state bans:
1. Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA)
A common chemical found in lipsticks and eyeliners is BHA, which is classified as a potential human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. BHA is usually used in products containing fats or oils, such as lipstick and eyeliners.
Numerous studies have linked the toxic effects of BHA with endocrine disruption, reactive oxygen species (ROS) production, disturbances of energy metabolism, and carcinogenesis. A 2021 NIH study reveals that long-term exposure to BHA caused benign and malignant forestomach tumors in rats, mice, and hamsters.
Decades of research have classified formaldehyde as a human carcinogen, but despite that, it’s a fairly common ingredient in an array of cosmetic products. Formaldehyde is used to lengthen the shelf-life of cosmetic products.
Most commonly, this strong-smelling chemical is used in hair straightening and smoothing products. Besides, you’ll find them on the labels of eyelash glue, nail polish, and various other cosmetics.
Exposure to formaldehyde has been linked to cancer in both animals and humans. In rats, formaldehyde inhalation has been found to cause leukemia and nose cancer. Furthermore, the application of formaldehyde to lab animals’ skin has been associated with the accelerated development of cancers.
Several human studies have discovered a link between formaldehyde exposure in the workplace and cancer of the nasopharynx, i.e., the upper part of the throat. Occupational exposure to this chemical has also been linked to cancer of the nasal sinuses.
Quite recently, Black women reported that they developed uterine cancer as a result of using hair relaxers. The latest findings of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found an association between uterine cancer and the frequent use of hair relaxers.
More than 7,000 lawsuits have been filed against cosmetic companies like Revlon and L’Oréal. Plaintiffs in the hair relaxer lawsuit allege that using hair relaxers increased their risk of or caused them to develop uterine cancer. Many claimed to have developed breast and ovarian cancer.
Besides Revlon and L’Oréal, there are several defendants in the hair relaxer lawsuit, asserts TorHoerman Law. Dark & Lovely, Softsheen-Carson, Motions Hair, and Just For Me, to name a few, are companies under fire because of their cancer-causing hair relaxers.
While the settlement amount is expected to be between $20,000 and $200,000, there has been no settlement yet.
3. Coal tar, like M-, O- and P-Phenylenediamine
A by-product of coal processing, coal tar is a viscous brown-black liquid.
O-phenylenediamine, m-phenylenediamine, and p-phenylenediamine were initially derived from coal tar. These are now often produced synthetically and used in cosmetics, such as hair dyes. Bear in mind that the darker the hair dye, the more phenylenediamine it is formulated with.
Cancer studies in experimental animals have shown that coal-tar extracts cause skin tumors in rabbits and mice and lung cancer in rats.
Numerous human studies, predominantly case reports, have found a link between occupational exposure to coal tar and skin cancer. There have also been reports of kidney, bladder, and lung cancers due to exposure to coal tar.
Shockingly, exposure to coal tar dyes has been found to increase a person’s risk of developing bladder cancer, acute leukemia, multiple myeloma, and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Therefore, based on sufficient evidence from human investigations, coal tar is classified as a human carcinogen.
Beauty at the expense of health is a big no-no! That is why we urge you to make wise decisions.
Always read labels on the product packaging to know what goes into the formulation. Note that the dose determines whether an ingredient is detrimental to your health. Therefore, be sure to check the dosage of iffy chemicals to understand if it’s safe or not.
While it’s best to avoid using cancer-causing products, throwing away all your cosmetics right away doesn’t make sense. To reduce your exposure to dubious ingredients, cut out items gradually.
Until more is known, do as much research on carcinogenic elements as possible. That way, you will be able to make a sound decision when purchasing cosmetics.