Although the cosmetics industry insists that its products are safe and that there is no reason to be concerned about the use of chemical preservatives, increasing evidence suggests that people, and women in particular, absorb a significant amount of chemicals from skin care products, hair care products and makeup each year. Some estimates put the number as high as 4 pounds and 6 ounces per year. Savvy consumers are concerned that the omnipresence of chemicals in cosmetics and personal care products increases one’s risk for cancer and other health complications.
From an exhaustive list of chemicals found in such products, a particular few deserve consumers’ attention due to their widespread use. First, parabens are widely used in creams, lotions and deodorants as an antifungal and antimicrobial preservative. Although the available research is too limited to state conclusively that parabens are carcinogenic, trace amounts of parabens have been found in breast tumor samples.
Phthalates, commonly used in nail polish, perfumes and fragrances in other products, are another chemical of concern. These endocrine disruptors behave like estrogens in the body and are believed to be a common cause of early puberty in girls, which in turn increases one’s risk for reproductive cancers later in life. Finally, triclosan is commonly used to prevent the growth of mold and bacteria in soaps, toothpaste and deodorant. In addition to disrupting the body’s hormonal activity – particularly the thyroid, which regulates metabolism – the widespread use of agents such as triclosan may be increasing bacterial resistance to antibiotics.
While it is not uncommon to hear joking speculations as to how much lipstick women “eat” in the course of a year by repeatedly raising a glass or mug to her lips while wearing lipstick, the reality concerning lip color versus other products for skin and hair is actually much more stark: while that tiny quantity of “eaten” lipstick is broken down within the gastrointestinal tract by enzymes in saliva and the stomach, the integumentary system provides no such protection against chemicals absorbed through the skin.
The cosmetics and personal care industries contend that their products are impossible to mass produce without using chemical preservatives to extend shelf life. This may be true, given the massive quantities produced and the expected shelf life of one to two years; however, a growing supply of more natural body products, including organic skincare & hair products, is available which do not contain chemical preservatives. The makers of these alternatives eschew the use of chemical preservatives by preparing their products either to order or in very limited production runs so as the reduce or eliminate the need for chemical preservatives. Some such producers rely on natural preservatives, such as citric and other acids used to preserve olives and other foods at room temperature. In addition to being free of harmful chemicals, these products are often produced in a cruelty-free or even “vegan” manner, meaning that they are free of animal ingredients and have not been tested on animals.
For many consumers, learning how to best protect oneself against chemicals in the environment seems like a chore at best and an exercise in futility at worst. Fortunately, it is easier than most people realize to reduce one’s exposure by choosing personal care products that are free of chemical preservatives. By educating oneself about these and other chemicals in the environment and the risks associated with the ingredients found in commonly used products, one can significantly reduce one’s risk for cancer and other chronic health conditions.
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