Since ancient times, men and women have used cosmetics to beautify their physical appearance, enhance particular features and protect themselves from natural elements. Today, the beauty, fragrance and cosmetics industry annually generates $13 billion in sales and employs roughly 175,000 people in the United States. However, consumers are warned that many cosmetic products have been linked to rashes and other skin conditions, allergic reactions and other negative health effects.
Creams and Lotions
Creams and lotions are semi-solid emulsions comprised of water and oil that are applied topically to the skin. While some have medicinal purposes, cosmetic creams and lotions moisturize the skin and boost healthy color. Sunscreen and suntan lotion can also be classified as a cosmetic, especially if the product has additional superficial benefits (such as tanning boost or fragrance). Popular brands of cosmetic creams and lotions include Aveno, Cetaphil and Neutrogena.
Creams and lotions have been known to cause skin conditions and/or irregularities in certain users, usually those who have a pre-existing allergy or medical problem. In 2008, Telegraph UK reported that many critics were speaking out against nanoparticles, an active ingredient in many popular skin creams. They alleged that the particles were capable of permeating skin tissue and causing damage, particularly to the brain of unborn fetuses.
Like creams and lotions, foundations are applied topically, and are often emulsions comprised of oil and water. However, the purpose of foundation is to embellish the face and neck with a uniform color; for this reason, virtually thousands of shades are available to cater to different consumers. Today, a popular trend among women is ‘mismatching’, or using foundation shades that clash with their natural skin color, rather than complement it. For example, a woman with a darker complexion might use a lighter shade of foundation to achieve a contrasting look. Popular brands of foundation include Bare Minerals, Olay and Prescriptives.
Some foundations have been found to contain heavy metals with detrimental health effects. One example is Clinique’s Stay Ivory, in which six heavy metals – arsenic, beryllium, nickel, cadmium, lead and thallium – were detected during a May 2011 study.
Facial Powders and Enhancers
This category denotes cosmetics that are applied to the face and/or neck after foundation has been applied. Powder, which can be sheer or colored, is used to absorb oil emitted by the foundation and minimize its shiny effect on the skin. Popular brands of facial powder include Bobbi Brown, Clinique and Physicians Formula.
Facial enhancers are used to provide further shading or color to the entire face, or add color to a specific feature. Concealer is used to hide imperfections, such as acne. Blush, or rouge, is used to provide distinct shading to the cheeks. Bronzer is used to create a metallic sheen effect, and applied uniformly on the face. Mascara colors the area between the eye and the eyebrow. Lipstick provides opaque shading to the lips, while lip-gloss provides translucent shading. Liners darken boundaries between regular skin and other features, such as the eyes or lips. Liners can also be applied to eyebrows; some women use eyebrow pencils for this same purpose.
Facial powders can cause eye irritation, as well as skin reactions if an allergy is present. Some enhancers have also been known to cause rashes, irregularities and other skin conditions. At times, inorganic chemicals in these products have been blamed for negative health effects; for this reason, many women opt for products composed of only organic chemicals. In addition, many facial makeup products contain alpha hydroxy acids and/or beta hydroxy acids. These have been known to damage cells that protect the skin from UV rays, and have at times been linked to increased risks of skin cancer.
Fingernail and Toe Polish
Women and men have used nail polish to make their digits sparkle since at least the 15th century. Most women wear uniform color patterns; shades such as deep red, black and neon colors are often perceived as individual fashion statements. However, the complexity of nail patterns has significantly evolved over the last 10 years. Many women (and men) will have their fingernails and/or toes painted professionally, procedures respectively known as manicures and pedicures. Nail polish, which is usually made from nitrocellulose, is easily removed using an acetone-based solvent (aptly known as nail polish remover). Popular brands of nail polish include Essie, Opi and Sally Hansen.
Plasticizers are used to make nail polish. Certain types of industrial plasticizers known as phthalates are believed to have carcinogenic properties, and have been linked to birth defects and reproductive problems.
In ancient times, people used beeswax, saltwater and even pigeon feces to style their hair. Today, products that color, shape and enhance hair constitute a considerable portion of the cosmetics market. Hair dye and other coloring products continue to be popular with women; some choose to uniformly color their hair, while others highlight or tint certain areas of their hair. It is also common for men to dye their hair. Hair-shaping products include wax, mousse, gel and hairspray; to achieve an extremely rigid effect, some people apply glue to their hair. Popular hair product brands include Aveda, Bumble and Bumble and Tiji.
Some negative health effects have been associated with hair products. Coal tar, for instance, is commonly found in hair dyes. This material has been linked to bladder cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and leukemia. Other ingredients and products have been blamed for premature hair loss in men and women.
Perfume and Cologne
Perfumes, which are generally worn by women, and colognes, generally worn by men, are used to improve one’s overall fragrance. They are typically made from a precise solution of scented oils, aromatic compounds and solvents than can recreate smells found in nature, as well as man-made products (such as cotton candy). Perfumes arguably comprise the widest cosmetic price range; cheap fragrances can cost less than $20, while high-end brands such as Clive Christian No. 1 may exceed $1,000 in value.
Some negative effects have been attributed to manufactured fragrances. In addition to allergic reactions, some fragrances have been known to cause headaches, nausea and even asthma. Certain scents and brands are thought to be carcinogenic, as well. In addition, the manufacture and widespread use of perfumes and colognes (to cover an unpleasantly smelling building, for instance) has been linked to air, soil and water pollution.
As scientists have worked to optimize laser technology, the technique has become increasingly popular in recent years. In cosmetics, lasers can be used to remove unwanted strands of hair, treat wrinkles or acne and even correct an irregular smile. In some cases, lasers are used to aid liposuction and perfect the contours of one’s body. Though this method is not as widespread as more traditional cosmetic procedures, most major US cities are home to at least one laser facility. Much more common are laser eye centers, where the technology is used to correct visual impairments.
Temporary and long-term health risks have been linked to cosmetic laser techniques. Pain, burn marks and reddened skin may occur during or immediately after the procedure; this can lead to blistering or infections. In some isolated cases, patients have suffered from facial mutilations or other serious injuries as a result of malfunctioning equipment. Blindness or added visual impairments may also occur.