Beauty products are composed of a combination of synthetic organic compounds, typically derived from plants or animals, that are intended to beautify and/or enhance the human form. Cosmetics are commonly used for cleansing, to beautify and/or improve the skin, through the application of moisturizers, toners, masks, cleansers and other moisturizing products. Cosmetics, used in place of other exogenous (externally applied) substances, can be used as stand-alone beauty products or as components of various other cosmetic products. Cosmetics can be categorized into two broad categories: synthetic or natural. The synthetic/natural category includes over a hundred different compounds that can be derived from a wide variety of organic and inorganic sources.
Most of the synthetic/natural substances found in beauty products are carcinogenic (cancer-causing) agents. They have been banned throughout several countries, including the European Union, because they were known to cause cancer. One of the most widely used artificial preservatives in the world is parabens, also known as bisphenol A (BPA), a derivative of petroleum and a byproduct of plastic production. Most commercial lipsticks, shampoos, lotions, breath sprays, makeup removers and other skincare products contain this chemical. A high number of people suffer from the allergic reaction dermatitis, a relatively common occurrence in those with sensitive skin. Exposure to high levels of this chemical can produce a red rash, usually confined to the throat and surrounding areas of the body.
Some of the most common artificial preservatives used in beauty products include Bisphenol A, BPA, Dibutyl phthalate (DBP), Butylparaben, Diethyl ester, Phthalates, and Tetraglycidyl urea. All of these items are considered likely to cause adverse skin reactions or increase risk for cancer. Manufacturers are not required to list the major allergens, chemicals or toxins that they use in their formulas. Some of these ingredients are still banned in some countries.
The main ingredients that should be contained in all natural, organic beauty products are plant-based oils, waxes, extracts, herbs and minerals. Plant-based oils are hypoallergenic and do not cause allergic reactions. Oils derived from olive trees, jojoba and palm trees are effective moisturizers and cleansers. Nonpetrolatum, paraffin, mineral oil and SLS (styrene lavender oil) are safe ingredients, too. In a recently published study, however, researchers found elevated levels of one specific component in popular moisturizer cream: Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHT).
The purpose of BHT is to soften and condition, while deterring bacteria from clinging to the surface of the epidermis. However, Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), when applied to the skin, forms a risk of carcinogenesis in humans. This conclusion was based on research conducted by the National Institute of Health (NIH). The researchers concluded that there is a “link” between BHT and breast cancer. However, the results were not conclusive, since there are many other factors involved in the link.
One of the ingredients most commonly used in personal care products, formaldehyde, may also be harmful. Although studies have not established a link between low-grade formaldehyde and cancer, exposure to high levels of the chemical has been shown to cause allergic reactions, irritation, inflammation and headaches. One of the ingredients commonly found in antiaging cosmetics, parabens, is also a known carcinogen. Both formaldehyde and parabens are widely used because they are cheap to use and easy to obtain. Because they are naturally occurring compounds, it is not always possible to determine if a substance is safe until a well-known health problem is linked to it.
Researchers are examining the effects of high-quality shea butter, one of the natural sources of vitamin E, on skin. Their findings indicate that the butter contains an antioxidant that could help slow the aging process and reverse wrinkles. A product containing shea butter has become very popular in Europe and is now becoming popular in the U.S. for its natural antioxidant properties.
Another interesting trend in nontoxic beauty products has emerged with mineral oil-free makeup. In recent years, mineral oil has been banned from cosmetics because it clogs the pores and causes blemishes. The ingredient, petrolatum, is actually a by-product of petroleum. Now, mineral oil-free makeup is being produced in a more eco-friendly manner, without using any petroleum-based ingredients. Because it is not petroleum-based, it is considered “greenwashing,” and manufacturers are trying to convince consumers that the product is safe as long as it is used properly.