Sun | Dec 3, 2023

Your skin care products could be harming your health

Published:Wednesday | November 8, 2023 | 12:09 AMKeisha Hill/Senior Gleaner Writer

EVERY DAY we use soaps, lotions, deodorants, hair products and cosmetics on various parts of our bodies. However, in recent years, an increasing number of reports have raised concerns about many of them.

While the chemicals in cosmetics make us look, feel, and smell better, research strongly suggests that at certain exposure levels, some of these chemicals may contribute to the development of cancer in people.

Researchers have found dangerous levels of mercury in skin lightening and anti-ageing creams. They have also linked chemicals in hair dyes and straighteners to breast and uterine cancer and have traced fragrances in soaps and shampoos to poor semen quality and fertility issues.

According to Dr RivaneChybar Virgo, medical doctor, and health and wellness coach, it is important to take note of what we are putting in our bodies, as well as what we use on the outside of our bodies.

“People should choose products that do not increase overall exposure to toxins when and where they can. This is particularly important when the body is undergoing crucial cellular and hormonal changes, like during pregnancy, early childhood and puberty,” Dr Chybar Virgo said.

You do not have to overhaul your entire routine overnight, she said, and you can take stock of what you put on, or in, your body from time to time.

“Many of these chemicals are considered hormone disruptors. Hormone disruptors can affect how oestrogen and other hormones act in the body, by blocking them or mimicking them, which throws off the body’s hormonal balance. Oestrogen can make hormone-receptor-positive, breast cancer develop and grow. Many women should choose to limit their exposure to these chemicals that can act like oestrogen,” Dr Chybar Virgo said.

The most common chemical found in beauty products is paraben, which is used as preservative in deodorants, moisturisers, shampoos, body wash and makeup, and increases the chances of breast cancer. Its chemical structure is similar to oestrogen and it can be carcinogenic even in tiny amounts.

“Parabens can penetrate the skin and act like a very weak oestrogen in the body, potentially turning on the growth of hormone-receptor-positive breast cancers. Parabens have been found in breast tissue and breast cancers, but this really doesn’t mean much. Parabens have been found in many other tissues because of their wide use,” Dr Chybar Virgo said.

Another chemical known as Phthalates are commonly used to hold colour and reduce brittleness in nail polish and hair spray. They are also a component of many personal care and cleaning product fragrances.

“Phthalates are a hormone disruptor. Phthalates do not act exactly like oestrogen, but they can disrupt the balance of other hormones that interact with oestrogen, including testosterone,” Dr Chybar Virgo said.

Meanwhile, formaldehyde and formaldehyde releasers found in nail products, hair dye, hair straighteners, false eyelash adhesives, cosmetic glues and some shampoos, is also linked to causing cancer and can also damage the immune system.

“The change we need comes with being aware of the items that we use and then taking the necessary steps to reduce the use of them in your environment. We cannot eliminate them totally, but we can minimise their exposure, which is less work on our bodies natural defence, so it does not have to be working over time,” Dr Chybar Virgo said.


There are several steps you can take to reduce potential risks related to personal care products:

Do your research: When choosing a product, look at the label to see what chemicals it contains, and determine if it’s something you want to use. Find out as much as you can about what you are using.

Find safer alternatives: If products you are currently using contain potentially harmful chemicals, switch to a safer option if one is available.

Be sceptical of product claims: Many companies are legitimately working to develop safer products, but some manufacturer claims are dubious. Many companies will remove chemicals that have been highlighted as problematic, such as bisphenol-A or phthalates. But they may then replace those chemicals with ones that are equally problematic.

Pare down: While it may be tempting to fill your bathroom shelves with all the latest lotions and potions, making more judicious choices may be a better option. Limiting your options to products you consider essential can reduce your exposure.

Go natural: Many beauty treatments can be mixed up in your kitchen. However, be aware that some natural consumer products can also bring health risks. For example, essential oils are often recommended as an alternative to perfumes and fragrances, but some, in particular lavender and tea tree oils, have estrogenic properties that can pose some of the same health risks as their chemically laden counterparts.