Sign In
  • ENG

Do you know about these harmful ingredients in your cosmetics?

Dr Dinyar Workingboxwalla tells us about the harmful ingredients present in cosmetics.

Written by Dr Dinyar Workingboxwalla |Updated : January 12, 2015 3:08 PM IST

harmful cosmeticsDo you know how many chemicals and toxic substances you put on your skin especially on your face in the name of make-up and skincare cosmetics? Things that you think are helping you look beautiful can in fact ruin your skin in the long run. There are a million products available in the market and how often do you read the fine print to understand what's in it? Even if you do, can you differentiate between which chemical is hazardous and which is not? Probably no! In order to make things easier,Dr Dinyar Workingboxwalla,a well-known cosmetologistfrom Mumbai with clients like Jacqueline Fernandez, Lara Dutta, explains in his book 'Beauty Unleashed:A Comprehensive Guide To Getting Perfect Skin And Hair', what's right and what to avoid. Here's an excerpt from the book.

Toxic toiletries

Beauty UnleashedThis is probably not something you think about when you are putting on your favourite lipstick, but the cosmetics and beauty products in your drawer are packed with all sorts of unsavoury chemicals. There are over 150 ingredients used in each product and, according to experts, many of these are toxic and potentially damaging to our health. These include artificial fragrances, colouring, pesticides, preservatives and other synthetic chemicals. Now, we know that sixty per cent of any substance applied to the skin is absorbed into the body (researchers estimate the average woman absorbs about two kilograms of chemicals through toiletries and cosmetics every year), and there is major concern that these substances can cause a wide variety of health problems, from allergies to cancers. It's not individual ingredients that are harmful; these have each been tested for toxicity and safety. The problem arises because of the combination of these ingredients in a single product, and the use of a combination of products, all containing a number of chemicals. One lipstick, for instance, may contain six to eight preservators some for the colour, some for moistness, and some for the fragrance. Together, they could be a harmful cocktail of toxic ingredients. One of the most common ingredients in many toiletries is sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS). This is an ingredient most manufacturers add to products such as shampoos, soaps, bubble baths, shower gels and even toothpastes, to make them foam. The point is, there is no need for products to foam to be effective. Many people think that the more the shampoo lathers, the better is its cleansing action but that is just a cosmetic effect. SLS is an irritant and can trigger allergies and rashes. I would really suggest switching products containing SLS for those using gentler and safer foaming agents, such as palm or coconut oils and Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate which is much gentler than SLS. (Read: How kajal, mascara and other eye make-up can harm you)

Also Read

More News

The immediate risk to health may not be that obvious right now. The results of exposure to many common chemicals may not become apparent until the next generation, which makes it very difficult to link the cause. The easiest way to protect yourself and your health from toxic chemicals is to switch to reliable organic brands while doing a little research yourself.

Harmful hair dyes

Synthetic hair colour products are among the worst culprits for allergic skin reactions. The ingredients that are the worst offenders are phenediamines, resorcinol and ammonia.

Women with sensitive skin should avoid these ingredients altogether and use natural, plant-based dyes. These are supposed to be gentler on the hair and scalp, but even they use metallic colours in them. Other chemicals to be avoided include chlorides, hydrogen peroxide, lead oxides and artificial colours, especially anything containing acid orange, solvent brown, acid blues and acid violets, all of which are suspected to be carcinogens. There is some debate as to whether some ingredients in hair colour, bonding/straightening/perming solutions, relaxers, may increase the client's risk to certain cancers. (Read: Hair colouring what you need to know)

Hidden risks

A recent study by Dr Vyvyan Howard, developmental toxic pathologist at the University of Liverpool, found that four out of five products contain a chemical called phthalates. In lab studies, these have been found to harm the liver, lungs and reproductive system, and especially the developing sex organs in males. They cause premature breast development in girls and low sperm count in men. Perfumes, deodorants, hair mousses, setting gels, hair serums and spray, certain shampoos and conditioners and many hair products were tested to see if they contained one or several of six different phthalates. As many as four out of five were found to have high levels of several phthalates chemicals that affect animals and humans and should not be used in cosmetics at all, according to Dr Howard.

Many people are exposed to multiple doses of toxins every day from the range of cosmetics they use. Yet, because the manufacturers don't have to list phthalates on labels, it's impossible to know about them. Now Dr Howard has started campaigning for manufacturers to stop using phthalates from their products and ban phthalates from the cosmetic industry; this could, however, be too little too late. (Read: Herbal alternatives to cosmetics)

The cosmetic industry is eager to point out that widely-used ingredients are backed by safety tests that outweigh isolated studies and scare-mongering internet reports. Conversely, the so called purists argue that plant ingredients have more affinity with the skin and so penetrate more easily to enhance cellular functions. Companies say that for every synthetic ingredient, there are different plant extracts that do the job as well. A peptide extracted from boswellia, the frankincense tree, is a natural answer to wrinkles, maybe even an alternative to Botox, for example. Also read if home remedies have any side-effects?

Chemicals to avoid

Methyl, propyl, butyl, ethyl parabens: Common preservatives used in all toiletries, dental and hair products. They are linked to allergic skin reactions and may be potential carcinogens.

Formaldehyde: Widely used in toiletries such as deodorants and nail varnish as a germicidal, fungicide and preservative. A potential carcinogen, it may trigger asthma and damage DNA.

Coal tar: Used as a colorant in cosmetics such as blushers and eye liners. Companies also use it in anti-dandruff shampoos. May trigger nausea, mood swings, and headaches and has been found to be linked with cancer.

Lanolin: In itself perfectly safe, but cosmetic grade lanolin can be contaminated with carcinogenic pesticide such as DDT. It is usually comedogenic, i.e., it can produce or aggravate acne.

Isopropyl alcohol: Used to blend colours in cosmetics, it is linked to neurological damage and cancer.

Talc (magnesium silicate): Used in makeup and powders. Irritates the lungs and may be carcinogenic; possible link to ovarian cancer.

Synthetic fragrances: Used in cosmetics and perfumes, may cause headaches, nausea, skin allergies, and rashes, coughing, asthma and vomiting. (Read: Your cosmetic beauty routine equals to 500 chemicals on your body every day!)

'Beauty Unleashed:A Comprehensive Guide To Getting Perfect Skin And Hair' is authored by Dr Dinyar Workingboxwalla and published by Westland Ltd. It can be purchased online onFlipkart. Watch this space for more excerpts from the book.

You may also like to read:

For more articles on make-up, visit our make-up section. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for all the latest updates! For daily free health tips, sign up for our newsletter. And to join discussions on health topics of your choice, visit our forum.

Total Wellness is now just a click away.

Follow us on