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Cosmetics toxicity exposure- Health risks assessment

by Milos Pokimica ND

by Milos Pokimica ND

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"Currently, there are more than 84,000 ingredients used in cosmetics. More than 12,000 of them are industrial chemicals used as cosmetic ingredients."

There is still one more route where toxins can enter our bodies. It is not from food, water, air, or radiation. It is through our skin.

All cosmetics that we put on our skin penetrate it, get absorbed into our tissue and blood system, and then enter our bodies directly. It is worse than eating it because in our digestive system there are acids in the stomach and billions of protective probiotic microorganisms that can help us to some extent.

Putting something to our skin is the same as inhaling it or shooting it directly into our veins. Actually, cosmetics toxicity exposure is worse.

If you do not want to eat it, then don’t put it on your skin.

If you are a woman and you need to dye your hair, then first put some of that ammonia dye into your mouth because that is precisely what you do when you put the dye on your head.

Many studies had been done on the possible link between hair dye use and cancer for many years, especially link with bladder cancer, leukemia, and lymphomas.  Early hair dyes contained some aromatic amines, which were found in the late 1970s to cause cancer in lab animals. Today IARC has established that workplace exposure as a hairdresser or barber is probably carcinogenic to humans.

What we know is toxic and also found in most of the hair dyes is:

  • Formaldehyde (cancer and fetal damage in utero)
  •  p-Phenylenediamine (kidney problems and bladder cancer, PPD, in short, is  applied as a dye for dark tone colors and is manufactured from coal tar)
  • DMDM hydantoin (immunotoxin, banned for use in Japanese cosmetics)
  • Ammonia (respiratory problems and asthma)
  • Resorcinol (increase in circulating testosterone levels)
  • Eugenol ( cancer, allergies, immune and neurological system toxicity)
  • Parabens
  • Lead acetate (for the dark shade, anemia, neurological problems)

There is also a list of more than 20 different hair dye chemicals banned by the European Commission so far. Again if you do not want to eat it do not put it on your skin. It will add to overall toxic exposure even if they are not cancerogenic chemicals. Organic hair salons are popping up like mushrooms these days due to the growing toxic awareness.

Good Old Days
Most women born in the late 1800s had the opinion that cosmetics were immoral, a form of deceit, the mark of a “painted woman.”
Ad for Wyeth’s Sage and Sulphur Compound, 1928
Ad for Wyeth’s Sage and Sulphur Compound, 1928

What about the rest of the cosmetics toxicity exposure? In 2017 the cosmetics industry on a global scale reached $265 billion in revenue. For products that are used on a daily basis, small effects cumulating over time within large populations can be almost impossible to predict without comprehensive analysis and studies, and that is something nobody wants to invest in. There are some studies that have been done, but that is not an adequate amount.

Currently, cosmetic manufacturers have no legal obligation to report health problems from their products.

An excellent example of this is the Johnson & Johnson company that has suffered lines of costly court defeats over cases of its talcum powder inducing cancer. And many more cases are still looming. What happened was that internal memos showed that Johnson & Johnson knew about the cancer risk but still decided to misinform and represent talcum powder as an absolutely safe product.

Initially, a jury in the US state of Missouri awarded 550 million dollars in compensation to 22 women. On top of that, a jury added $4.1bn in punitive damages. So far the Johnson & Johnson battles some 9,000 legal cases involving its baby powder with hundreds of more lawsuits pending. Memos revealed that decades ago their own employed toxicologists were warning the company that there is a statistically significant association between hygienic talk use and ovarian cancer. It took years but in time there were nine studies done and published in the open literature. They also warned Johnson & Johnson that if they deny this risk, the talk industry will be seen in the public eye as same as the cigarette industry. The main argument of the victim families was that the company knew but deliberately did not present an adequate warning to customers of the risks of using the talk powder in question. The main cancerogenic substance in question was talk that can be found in many everyday household products such as body powders, cosmetics, or products designed especially for babies. The International Agency for Research on Cancer lists the perineal use of talc-containing products as possibly carcinogenic to humans. Talc, a naturally occurring mineral, can also sometimes contain a trace amount of asbestos but asbestos is cut from powders back in the 70s and it is not the culprit here, the talk is. It might be safe in the area of sweating armpit, but women traditionally put the stuff on their genitalia and the genitalia of babies too. Inhaling is also carcinogenic, and people who work with talk are at higher risk. It also raises the risk of fibroid tumors. This kind of tumor has no threat of malignancy. They are composed of muscle cells that overgrow to form a mass or knot within the uterus that is causing swelling, increased urination, and abdominal pain. By age 50 more than 80% of the black woman and 70% of white women have it.

Johnson and Johnson lawsuit response
Johnson and Johnson lawsuit response

Now we cannot live the life of paranoia and deprivation in fear of every product that is out there. All I can say welcome to the real world of “being informed.” Ignorance might be the bliss down the line.

Currently, there are more than 84,000 ingredients used in cosmetics. More than 12,000 of them are industrial chemicals used as cosmetic ingredients. Some of them are reproductive toxins, known carcinogens, and endocrine disruptors.

Parabens are preservatives used in cosmetics with 75 to 90 percent of cosmetics containing them. Also, parabens are used as fragrance ingredients, but consumers will not find that listed on the label because fragrance recipes are considered trade secrets. What they do is mimic estrogen. They are one of the well-known xenoestrogens. Studies show that methylparaben used on the surface of the skin responds with a UVB spectrum of light increasing skin damage, causing aging and DNA damage. They can be present naturally in certain foods but are metabolized when eaten. When applied to the skin they will be absorbed into the body directly into the bloodstream. Going into details about all of these chemicals is useless. Without governmental regulation, you as a consumer cannot read and understand all of the weird chemicals if they are even listed. There are a bunch of them that are known to be toxic. I will just name them and won’t go into details just so that we can have some objective views.  

  • DEA (diethanolamine) and DEA compounds (used to make cosmetics creamy, cause liver cancers and cancerous changes in skin and thyroid)
  • Dibutyl phthalate or DBP (nail products and some hair sprays, toxic to reproduction and hormone balance)
  • BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) (in moisturizer, makeup, cause cancer and interfere with hormone function)
  • Synthetic fragrances and perfume (allergies and asthma, cancer and neurotoxicity)
  • PEG’s (cancer, used in, moisturizers, conditioners, deodorants), mineral oil (makeup, lotions, in baby oil, soap can have PAHs that cause cancer, are toxic to the liver)
  • Siloxanes (hair products, moisturizer, makeup, damage the liver and disrupt hormones)
  • Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulfate (SLES)(shampoo, cleansers, bubble bath, can be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane)
  • Triclosan (in anti-bacterial products and sanitizers, interfere with hormone function)
  • Chemical sunscreens (inflammation, dermatological effects, allergic reactions, and photogenotoxic (DNA altering) effects and actually promote cancer)
  • Aluminum (brain disorders, breast cancer, pro estrogenic effect)

The common woman uses 12 personal care products daily and man about 6 with each product containing a large list of chemicals. Less than 20% of these chemicals are tested for safety by industry safety panels. They just dump them to products literally. They do not have a legal obligation to test them. It would be too expensive for the industry to do double-blind clinical trials for every chemical they put in cosmetics and there are no legal obligations for them to do so. Thus we do not know what these chemicals can do.

On cosmetics labels, words like “natural”, “herbal”, “organic” has no legal definition. That means companies can put chemicals from the laboratory and called them natural because they smell like flowers. Herbal Essences from Procter and Gamble, number two shampoo in the US, for example, have the “essences” made from oil, and you will read this as a fragrance on the label. They add a touch of real oils from plants so that they can have a nice picture on the front and misguide you. This real natural essential oil is not what gives them a refreshing smell. Also, citric acid, a natural ingredient that is often found in citrus fruits such as oranges and lemons is there to balance the pH of the shampoo to about 5.5. Shampoos, including brands like Herbal Essences, are kept at a slightly acidic pH level. Citric acid acts as a preservative, and acidic levels are kept because hair appears shinier and lies smoother. Sodium citrate, which is also an Herbal Essences ingredient, achieves the same result as citric acid and is cheaper but they add citric acid beside it. They do that to fool you because if you think that you are smart and know what and from where citric acid is you will think that it must be “natural” shampoo.

The worst of all cosmetics on the market are skin whitening creams. They are super toxic. When for example Estee Lauder offers you a chance to help fight breast cancer they are at the same time using chemicals that are linked to cancer. The pink ribbon is so “empowering” to the woman’s cause. They all know how much real intelligence an average woman has.

The way they get away with this is marketing and when somebody asks them why are they using these chemicals they have a defense that these chemicals are a necessity. Without them, there will not be most of the products on shelves because there isn’t any other way for manufacturing them. These products will be overly expensive, and most women will have no money to buy them, and the doses used are so small that they will have no impact on the health of the users. And yes, they know all of this even if there are no clinical trials for most of the chemicals they are using. Some of the workers get dosed all day long. Even now when there are studies that link many of these substances to diseases, there are no laws to force the industry to get rid of them.


The FDA does not assess the safety of personal care products. Since 1938 they banned 8 out of more than 12000 chemicals used in cosmetics. They do not even require all of the ingredients to be listed on the label. Cosmetic companies are self-policing, and compliance with recommendations is voluntary.

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Passages selected from a book: “Go Vegan? Review of Science: Part 1” [Milos Pokimica]

  1. Toxicity and Human Health Risk of Hair Dyes doi: 10.1016/j.fct.2003.11.003.
  2. The Use of Personal Hair Dye and Its Implications for Human Health doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2016.01.018.
  3. Johnson & Johnson Knew for Decades Talcum Powder Contained Asbestos, Reports Allege doi: 10.1136/bmj.k5430.
  4. Jury Awards $4.7bn Damages Against Johnson & Johnson in Talcum Cancer Case doi: 10.1136/bmj.k3135.
  5. Parabens and Their Effects on the Endocrine System doi: 10.1016/j.mce.2018.03.014.
  6. Safety Assessment of Diethanolamine and Its Salts as Used in Cosmetics doi: 10.1177/1091581817707179.
  7. Formaldehyde in Cosmetics in Patch Tested Dermatitis Patients With and Without Contact Allergy to Formaldehyde doi: 10.1111/cod.12493
  8. Modernizing Regulation of Cosmetic Products: Reintroduction of the Personal Care Products Safety Act doi: 10.1016/j.jaad.2018.03.045.
  9. Time for a Makeover-Cosmetics Regulation in the United States doi: 10.1111/jocd.12886.

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GoVeganWay.com brings you reviews of the latest nutrition and health-related research. The information provided represents the personal opinion of the author and is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.  The information provided is for informational purposes only and is not intended to serve as a substitute for the consultation, diagnosis, and/or medical treatment of a qualified physician or healthcare provider.



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October 21, 2021


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