Controversial chemicals in everyday cosmetics

By Haley Hernandez - Health Reporter

Grab any beauty product, turn it around, and you'll find a long list of ingredients.  Studies in certain animals show some can cause tumors and Alzheimer’s but the Food and Drug Administration says they are fine to use.

“You'll find creepy chemicals everywhere,” said Dr. Valencia Thomas, dermatologist with UTHealth and Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center. “Formaldehyde is a very common material.”

Formaldehyde, Aluminum and sulfates. Why are these chemicals in so many beauty products?

“There are certain products that we have to have in resin in order for them to harden and there are certain chemicals that are necessary to help a process move forward,” Dr. Thomas said.

That means, for example, Formaldehyde in nail polish is necessary for it to dry.

“Formaldehyde does cause cancer in higher concentration and can increase the risk of nasopharyngeal cancer. So, when we take a step back and look at the formaldehyde that's released from common cosmetic products, we find that the levels are very low” Thomas said.

In fact, she says the FDA scrutinizes all products to make sure they contain only small traces, but it's typically the consumer that likes the result of chemicals.

“Aluminum can be found in deodorant and antiperspirants to help them work longer,” Thomas said.

It's a natural earth compound, but Aluminum causes harm to rats.

“There have been studies that show that Aluminum can promote the growth of certain types of tumors, Aluminum can trigger Alzheimer’s disease when injected directly into the brain of rats,” Thomas said.

Although, there are no links tying deodorant to cancer or Alzheimer’s in humans, Thomas said there are links between Sodium Lauryl Sulfates found in soaps and shampoos and metabolic issues.

“I guess there are compounds that are used to increase the cosmetic feel of a product,” Thomas said referring to the suds produced by the Sulfates in soaps. “The main use is the bubbliness.”

That's right, she said Sulfates are for nothing but suds. While the amount sold in products is very small, there's no shortage of products without Sulfates.

“You can certainly get clean without the bubbles.”

These ingredients are not limited to certain products or brands, they're in almost everything. Many are also preservatives.

The amounts are so slight, there's none that Dr. Thomas thinks you must avoid, except if you color your hair. Even the small amounts of Sulfates in products can strip hair color, she said.

The biggest warning Dr. Thomas has for consumers is to buy domestic products. The scary part about buying online is you sometimes don't know where the product is coming from. She says, products purchased overseas don't get the scrutiny of our FDA and might have chemicals over the legal limit, and all of them can be harmful in large amounts.

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