Dangerous Beauty Products to Avoid

Anytime someone uses a product to treat blemishes on their skin, to straighten their hair, or to give themselves a bit of a sun-kissed glow without having to be exposed to the sun, they are using something that typically has a long list of ingredients written on the side of the package.  The question that needs to be asked is, “Are these ingredients safe for humans to use?”

Just about every day there are articles in newspapers and magazines or news reports on television about the dangers of certain ingredients used in beauty products.  With so much buzz and talk going on, it is hard to know exactly what to believe.  To help understand which products are safe and which may not be, let’s take a look at the science behind some of the claims.

Keratin Straighteners

Keratin-based hair treatments are done in hair salons and, if done correctly can provide beautifully healthy, silky smooth hair completely free of frizz and split ends.  Most keratin hair treatments are advertised as formaldehyde-free, but when tested by Oregon’s OHSA, more than half of the samples tested were found to have very high concentrations of the chemical.   Exposure to formaldehyde over a long-term period has been linked to cancer which means that while getting their hair smoothed or straightened every few months will probably not pose a great risk to a customer, a stylist who is treating several customers a week may be at serious risk of exposure and developing symptoms.

Permanent Hair Dye

Another frequent claim heard is that hair dye causes cancer, but research studies into this claim has produced conflicting results.  Some studies show that women, who use permanent color to dye their hair, particularly if they use a darker color, are more likely to develop lymphoma or leukemia.  Other studies, however have found no indication of any increased risk.  In addition, research studies that looked at women who used permanent hair dye and breast cancer found no link between the two.  Studies looking at pregnancy and hair dye found no evidence linking cancer although most doctors do recommend delaying dying the hair until the second trimester just to be cautious.

Prescription Eyelash Serum

The prescription drug Latisse temporarily stimulates the growth of the eyelashes.  The product is placed on the upper lash line daily for four months until the lashes begin to grow.  Latisse may cause the eyelids and the skin around the eyes to darken and it may cause the irises to darken to brown as well.


This product is used to lighten the skin and is available by prescription or over the counter in a less potent formula.  Hydroguinone is often prescribed by dermatologists for lightening age spots or melasma, which are dark patches on the skin.  If an individual overuses Hydroguinone it can cause skin discoloration.  This product has been linked to cancer in animals, but there is no clear link to cancer in humans.  Hydroguinone’s safety for human use is currently under study.

Tanning Beds

The research on the use of tanning beds is clear – they are dangerous and raise an individual’s risk of developing melanoma which is the deadliest form of skin cancer.  In addition, since tanning beds emit primarily UVA rays which contribute heavily to early aging of the skin, frequent use of tanning beds will cause premature wrinkling and drying of an individual’s skin.  It will also cause development of brown spots, so when society used to think that tanned skin was healthy skin, it really wasn’t, it was damaged skin.

Nail Salons

Using nail salons has become extremely popular over the last several years.  While relatively expensive, these salons still do a great deal of business and the technicians can sometimes operate in a chemically hazardous environment.  The chemicals used to provide manicures and pedicures, apply artificial nails, and paint designs, among many other services, include formaldehyde, phthalates, acetone, and/or toluene.  The fumes from these chemicals can be very noxious irritating the eyes, nose, and respiratory tract.  Customers who typically spend only an hour or two in the salons are not at great risk for exposure to the fumes, but the salon workers, who often work 9 and 10 hour days or more are at very high risk for exposure and eventual damage caused by these toxic fumes.

Other problems that can be found with nail salons are bacterial and fungal infections that may develop if equipment is not properly sterilized.


Phthalates make materials more pliable and are found in food packaging, toys, and in some beauty products.  These beauty products include shampoo, soap, and nail polish.  There have been two studies which have suggested that pregnant women exposed to phthalates may deliver male infants with abnormalities including small genitals and low hormone levels.  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration disputes these studies those and says there is not enough evidence yet to conclude that phthalates pose a health risk.  More studies need to be done to determine the exact nature of the risk, if there is one.


A common preservative found in cosmetics, parabens is typically used in make-up, moisturizers, and hair care products.  In one research study, parabens was found in breast tumors, but the study did not link the parabens to the cause of the breast cancer.  Other scientific researchers have stated that the amount of parabens in cosmetics is too small and it is implausible that it could be a cause of cancer.

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