All of us use skin, hair and body products from time to time, some more so than others. But what most of us aren’t aware of is that many of these products actually contain chemical agents that can harm the skin or worst still, be extremely detrimental to the health. Here are some common chemicals that can be found in most commercially manufactured products.
Commonly Found Chemical Ingredients
Present in most if not all cosmetic products, phthalates are a family of chemical compounds that are used to make polyvinyl chloride (PVC), pliant or vinyl flexible. The chemical is responsible for making plastic soft and flexible. The ingredient functions as a hormone disruptor that is associated with kidney, lung, and liver damage, reproductive defects and even cancer. The ingredient isn’t obviously stated by name on labels instead, phthalates are listed as a fragrance. In some cases, it is listed as Alkyl para-hydroxy benzoates, propylparaben, butylparaben or methylparaben. Additionally, phthalates can also be found in medical tubing, fluid bags, wood finishes, lubricants, plastic plumbing pipes, detergents, insecticides, food, especially meat and dairy products and fast food. There is some good news though, there are products that use alternative ingredients that are safer for health. Instead of products that contain parabens, reach for products that contain ingredients such as ethylhexylglycerin (which is plant-derived) or phenoxyethanol.
I’m sure you have seen labels stating that there are no parabens in a product, but what are they and how do they affect the health? As one of the most common ingredients found in skin and beauty products, parabens are known to disrupt the endocrine system. More specifically, parabens are believed to interrupt hormone function by mimicking the same characteristics of oestrogen. And are you might be aware, too much oestrogen can actually increase breast cell division and the growth of tumours. This, in turn, increases the risk of breast cancer in women, whereas, in males, it reduces the sperm count. Although it has been argued that minimal amounts of parabens will not impede the hormones, parabens still have some negative effects on the health.
Triclosan is actually a pesticide that is comprised of antibacterial properties. Naturally, large amounts of Triclosan can be found in antibacterial cleansers. Moreover, the ingredient is added to many consumer products to lower the contamination caused by bacteria. In fact, this antibacterial agent can be found in body washes, soaps, cosmetics and toothpaste. Additionally, triclosan is present in some kitchenware, clothing, furniture and even toys. Studies have shown that triclosan is responsible for being both a thyroid and hormone disruptor. Another thing to note is that this chemical, although triclosan functions as a potent antibacterial agent, is extremely unsafe for the environment. Other short-term studies have shown that when animals are exposed to high doses of triclosan, they experience a decrease in some thyroid hormones. More conclusive research is needed to see if the compound has the same effects on humans.
The colourless, strong-smelling gas is usually used to make building materials and many household products. It is also an essential and versatile compound that is used in pressed-wood products including plywood, particleboard and fibreboard. Additionally, paper product coatings, glues and adhesives typically utilise this agent as well. Apart from that, it functions as an industrial disinfectant and a preservative that is largely utilised in medical labs and funeral homes. In foods, it acts as a preservative and can be found in antiseptics, cosmetics and medicines. Another interesting thing to note is that this ingredient occurs naturally in the environment and it is also produced in small amounts in the human body. When made in the human body, the enzymes in the body actually work to break down the formaldehyde into formate, or better known as formic acid, this is then further broken down into carbon dioxide. Now we come to the important bit, the effects of formaldehyde on the human body. Studies have shown that exposure to the compound may increase the risk of cancer in the nasopharynx region, which is the uppermost part of the throat), but more research is needed to prove this. Other studies have found that when workers are exposed to high concentrations of formaldehyde is associated with leukaemia. However, there are conclusive findings that show the gas to be harmful to the immune system and skin, as it has been reported to cause skin irritation and allergic reactions.
Before purchasing any product, it is important that you read the label before using it. As a rule of thumb, when trying a new product, smear a small amount of product on the back of your hand and wait for a few minutes to see if you have an allergic reaction to it. Some with a sensitive disposition may experience the opposite intended effect of the product. Additionally, staying informed will provide you with the knowledge you need to avoid products that may severely affect your health.