Beauty Can Be More Painful Than You Think

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Cosmetic workers are often exposed to a variety of different chemicals. While some are completely harmless, others contain dangerous toxins. Many beauty professionals are not aware of the harmful materials in the products they frequently use. Even if they are educated on the presence of a certain toxin, they may not know the risk it can pose over time.

In the cosmetology field, many salons and stylists will buy products at wholesale rates and in bulk, which can result in some products not having the individual labels which typically list ingredients and carcinogenic warnings. Often times if the toxin is labeled on the packaging, the company will claim that if it’s a small dosage, it is safe for use. However, that is not always the case.

This issue with transparency can create health problems for both cosmetologists and their clients. In order to change this, being aware of different types of chemicals in certain products is key and taking the proper precautions is vital.

Paint thinner leaves a smooth finish
Nail technicians are exposed to a variety of different airborne chemicals on a daily basis. Contact with irritants, allergens, and chemicals can cause common issues like headaches to ones as serious as irreversible central nervous system damage. There are a variety of toxins lurking in nail salons. Some include toluene, dibutyl phthalate, and isopropyl acetone, which are all linked to reproductive complications. Other toxins such as titanium dioxide and formaldehyde also found in nail products are known and indexed as formal human carcinogens.

Upon being surveyed, salon workers reported chemicals and dust in the air of their place of occupation. While some nail technicians wear masks to manage exposure, many of the masks worn are actually the incorrect masks to prevent toxins. The masks that are usually worn are surgical masks, which are meant to control infection instead of reduce inhalation of toxic chemicals.

Toluene is a clear, colorless liquid that is used for dissolving and is used in nail polishes as a paint thinner. Breathing in the substance can cause damage to your nervous system. Temporary effects can be headaches and dizziness, but cognitive impairment, vision impairment, and hearing loss can develop with extended exposure. Some studies show that high levels of toluene exposure can have a negative effect during pregnancy causing mental developmental delays in children.

Dibutyl Phthalate can be found in nail polish and polish hardener and can have harmful effects when airborne. While little is known about the long term effects of this chemical, in the short-term this toxin can cause irritation to the eyes and respiratory tract as well as nausea. This chemical can have poor effects on animals too, causing them to have reproductive issues. With this in mind, the state of California defines it as a developmental and reproductive toxicant.

Another commonly used toxin in nail polish remover is isopropyl acetone. Some of the more common symptoms it can cause are skin irritation, eye irritation, and lung irritation. On the more serious side, it can cause organ toxicity and cancer, as well as reproductive issues. A few studies showed that over an extended period of exposure, this toxin can lead to organ toxicity, especially in the kidneys. They found that when exposed to this chemical, rats developed kidney disease and another study linked prolonged exposure to renal tubule carcinoma, a serious cancer of the kidney.  

Asbestos for your matte foundation
For consumers and makeup artists, it is important to know the ingredients in the makeup you will be exposed to and potentially inhaling. The Environmental Working Group reported that women on average use 12 cosmetic products with 168 unique ingredients each day. However, not all of these ingredients are safe or even put on the label.

Currently the FDA does not have any laws regarding the preservatives found in cosmetics. According to the Cosmetic Act, colorants are the only ingredients that need to be approved by the FDA. Any other ingredient does not need to be FDA approved.

Some regular toxins found in makeup cosmetics include parabens, carbon black, and asbestos. Phthalates can often be found in many cosmetic products to help make them more flexible, while better holding color and scent. Phthalates can also be found in anything from deodorants to nail polish to lip balm. According to a study by the University of Maryland, this toxin can cause reproductive abnormalities, premature delivery, or even endometriosis. Most of the time these chemicals are labeled as “fragrance,” which can help to mask the dangers of these toxins.

Carbon black is found in eyeliner or mascara. This material is residue left behind from the incomplete combustion of petroleum tar materials, which leave behind the thick and gritty pigment used in eye makeup. Applying this substance to the skin on a regular basis can cause issues and the substance is known to be a carcinogen and contribute to skin cancer. Working with and breathing in this substance on a daily basis could lead to organ toxicity if it collects in various organs including the lungs, esophagus, kidneys, or bladder.

While asbestos is not an active, or even intentional, ingredient in cosmetics, relaxed regulations in the beauty industry lead to companies skirting corners in their material sourcing. Johnson & Johnson was taken to court because their baby powder contained asbestos and a California jury reached a $29 million verdict against J&J and Cyprus Mines Corporation. The cancer-causing mineral asbestos naturally occurs nearby talc, a common beauty additive. Recently, Claire’s has been producing children’s makeup that contained asbestos. Even as recently as June 2019, when the FDA recalled their JoJo Siwa makeup line for containing asbestos.

Asbestos is microscopic and can be inhaled when airborne. These fibers then stick to the lungs and other organs. Over time the body develops scar tissue around the fibers, which can turn into tumors ultimately leading to mesothelioma, an aggressive lung cancer. Cosmetic consumers and professionals should check ingredients for talcum powder and avoid using products with this ingredient due to many situations of cross contamination with asbestos.

Formaldehyde preserves your hair-do
Hairdressers work with harsh chemicals found in products like dyes, shampoo, bleach, and keratin treatments. Cosmetologists who offer keratin, bleaching, and hair coloring treatments can regularly be exposed to formaldehyde, 1,4-dioxane, nitrosamines, and p-phenylenediamine (PPD).

Formaldehyde is an organic preservative often found in hair straightening procedures, including keratin treatments. OSHA found that some hair products containing formaldehyde at an advertised “safe” level can release this toxin at levels that are unsafe during use. They also found that many products were mislabeled to not contain formaldehyde, when in fact they did. While OSHA allows that 15 mins of exposure is safe, many hairdressers are exposed over the permitted limit by breathing it in or getting it on their skin. This toxin is a carcinogen and exposure should be limited to reduce harm to the skin, eyes, and respiratory system.

Products that create suds may contain 1,4-dioxane. This includes shampoos, liquid soaps, and hair relaxers. However, this toxin will not be found on the labels of products because it is created by a chemical reaction within certain products when common ingredients are mixed together. The toxin is created through ethoxylation, which is when ethylene—known to cause breast cancer—is added to other chemicals to make them less harsh. Unfortunately, the FDA does not require 1,4-dioxane to be labeled on products since it is not an additive, but rather a byproduct. This ultimately makes it very difficult for workers to avoid this cancer causing substance. Perhaps due to this, several studies have found that there are higher levels of breast cancer among hairdressers.

P-phenylenediamine (PPD) is most regularly found in permanent hair dyes or oxidative dyes. When hair dye is applied to a customer, PPD reacts with hydrogen peroxide to bind the color to the hair. If this chemical were to react with hydrogen, it could lead to genetic cell mutations and ultimately cancer. Less seriously, this chemical can lead to skin irritation.

No matter the cosmetic specialty, cosmetologists should always be allowed the right to know what is in the products they are using every day. As mentioned there are not always strict laws when it comes to mentioning what ingredients are in the products we use. However, if the FDA were to provide stricter regulations on the contents of cosmetic products in their Cosmetics Laws, many of these ingredients would not pose a threat to workers today.  All workers should know the protocol of working with these toxins and if they plan on using any of these substances, please be sure to follow the OSHA’s Occupational Safety and Health Standards.