Health Issues From Beauty and Personal Care Products

2012-04-19 | |
Last updated: 2019-10-23

The term “risky cosmetic procedure” might bring to mind the potential dangers that can arise from many of the types of cosmetic surgery that both women and men undergo to look better and feel better about themselves. For some, it might even refer to the use of botox and the problems that can arise with its use. However, few people would typically consider that this description might also include many of the beauty and personal care products that they use on a regular basis.

While it would be alarmist to imply that the risks and dangers of such products are somehow as significant as the risks of any major surgery, some products do pose health risks in their own right. Whether it is due to poor safety standards, unknown ingredients or a lack of understanding of the health effects of certain materials used in these products, the fact is that beauty and personal care products can affect our health.

This makes it all the more important that customers understand the risks associated with certain products.

How Frequently are these Products Used?

Though we might only think that we use a few beauty and personal care products each day, that is rarely accurate. In almost all cases, people use a number of such products on a daily basis. According to research by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), an average adult uses 9 personal care products per day.

As well, 1 in 4 women use at least 15 such products each day while the average woman uses 12. This means that, whether safe or not, we are exposed to the many ingredients of these products every single day.

Which Types of Beauty and Personal Care Products Pose Health Risks?

In simplest terms, all personal care and beauty products have the potential to cause health issues. It depends entirely on what they contain. The same EWG report already mentioned found that almost everyone is exposed daily to the more than 100 different chemicals that make up each of these different products. The next question, of course, is how many of these products are safe?

Put simply, consumers are acting as guinea pigs for exposure to quite a number of different chemicals. This is a fair statement because the US Food and Drug Association stated in 2000 that it had only reviewed 11% of the more than 10,500 ingredients used in these products. While the FDA does require that all products with untested ingredients be labeled with warnings, taking a look at the packaging for these products quickly reveals that enforcement is often sorely lacking.

What Are Some Risks Of Personal Care And Beauty Products?

So, if all types of products can cause health issues, a question that arises is what are some of the health problems we may encounter in using these products? The simple answer is this. The number of possible health effects is almost as varied as the number of products on the market. A future article will look at the specific health effects of certain products. However, there are some general health issues that can arise from regular product use.

Allergic Reactions To Cosmetic And Personal Care Products

One of the least severe health effects that a person might experience from the use of such products is an allergic reaction. In 2010 research from the University of Valencia, researchers found that approximately 8% of people experience an allergic skin reaction when they come into contact with these products. Contact means touching the material, smelling it or even being exposed to small quantities in the air. The research also found that roughly 1 in 4 allergic skin reactions was the result of these products.

With regard to specific ingredients in these products, the researchers found that the preservatives used in beauty and cosmetic products accounted for 20% of the skin reactions. As well, the ingredients used in hair dyes accounted for another 15%. Ingredients used in fragrances accounted for 8% of reactions. The worst part, however, is that 57% of allergic skin reactions from these products were not tied to specific ingredients.

What this means is that for people with allergies, finding products they can safely use can be very difficult. This is made worse by the fact that allergic sensitivities frequently increase in intensity with each exposure to the ingredient causing the allergy. The result can be frequent uncomfortable or even painful allergic reactions that are very difficult to prevent.

Cosmetic Products Causing Poisoning

As bad as allergies and sensitivities to chemicals are, there are even worse issues. Some of the ingredients in beauty products and personal products are actually toxic or poisonous to the body. The worst part is that producers of the the products often actively marketed products with toxic ingredients as nontoxic. A study from the California Department of Toxic Substance Control found some disturbing results among the tested products. The study indicated that more than 30% contained the most toxic chemicals while 80% contained chemicals with some known measure of toxicity.

Lead Poisoning From Lip Coloring Products

One material that is well known for its toxicity and is found in beauty products is the metal lead. In February, the US Food and Drug Association (FDA) reported that more than 400 brands of lipstick contained levels of lead that were twice the level previously estimated. Lead can cause numerous medical problems in adults including fatigue, depression, digestive problems, bowel pain, muscle pain, and headaches. It can even cause memory issues and difficulties in thinking.

Lead accumulates in the body with each exposure meaning regular use of lipstick can lead to long term health effects. The FDA recognizes that no amount of lead exposure is safe. Yet despite all this, there is no regulation to limit the amount of lead that products such as lipstick can contain.

Formaldehyde Poisoning From Beauty And Personal Care Products

The health effects of the others chemicals found in these product can vary considerably, but one common chemical used in a range of products, formaldehyde, can cause irritation to the eyes, nasal passages and lungs at the lowest levels. In slightly higher concentrations, it can lead to the development of asthma and permanently reduced lung capacity. In 2010 research from the University of California, researchers determined that the chemical can alter a woman’s menstrual cycle. It can even cause spontaneous abortions. All of this is from just this chemical.

Poisoning From Phthalates In Beauty And Personal Care Products

Another common group of chemicals used in such products, called phthalates, are also toxic or sometimes downgraded to an “irritant” depending on sources. The US government recognizes these chemicals as causing nasal and airway inflammation as well as damage to lung cells. These chemicals can also cause damage to numerous other tissues.

In 2010, researchers from the National Taiwan Normal University tested the interactions of phthalates with specific rat tissues to determine the effects that the chemical might have. From their research, they discovered that phthalate exposure can cause some cardiovascular, liver, kidney and genital cell damage. What this means is that regular exposure to this chemical from numerous products can lead to health effects over time.

Hormone Disruption From Personal Care and Beauty Products

The same research from the university in Taiwan also found another important health problem due to exposure to phthalates. The issue is that this family of chemicals has the ability to disrupt hormone levels. Their research is not the first to observe this health effect either.

Research from Harbin Medical University in China in 2009 found that phthalates disrupt hormone production. The phthalates interfere with production of testosterone in men just as Bisphenol A interferes with estrogen. Lower testosterone levels affect sexual drive, sperm quality and production. At the same time, low testosterone levels are related to insulin resistance and obesity. In research from the University of Rochester, researchers found “significant” correlations between belt size and the amount of phthalate-related chemicals in the urine.

Though more studies are needed to understand the relationship better, any chemicals that increase the burden of obesity and obesity-related disease pose significant health risks


Even though cosmetic surgery is clearly the highest risk we may choose to take to improve our appearance, even day-to-day use of beauty and personal care products can affect our health. Many such products on the market claim to be safe. However, the producer’s face little or no regulation so these products may contain materials with negative health effects. Unfortunately, so many of the ingredients used in these products have not had government testing. The result is that consumers, especially women, are involuntarily acting as guinea pigs for the makers of these products

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Category: General Health, Health Risks

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