Are natural cosmetics a better bet?

Some people wary of ‘chemicals’ are drawn to natural beauty products, assuming they’re safer and better for you. But natural cosmetics may not always be a better choice. For example, many natural ingredients can cause skin reactions and allergies, including lavender, tea tree oil, lanolin, cinnamon (and derivatives), citrus oils and various essential oils. Some, such as lavender and tea tree oils have been linked with hormone disruption in boys.

 

People can even develop potentially harmful food allergies after being sensitised to ingredients found in cosmetics. There have been reports of people who’ve developed food allergies to goat milk and cheese after using goat milk soap or moisturiser on their skin. Other reports have linked food allergies to skin-care products containing almond oil, peanut, wheat and oats.

 

Ask the experts

Dermatology and toxicology experts we spoke to agreed that based on current knowledge, cosmetics ingredients in the marketplace are safe to use as directed.

 

“These chemicals are used in very small quantities and some, like shampoos and so on, for only a very short period of time,” says Dr Rosemary Nixon, from the Australasian College of Dermatologists. “Cosmetic products are defined by their temporary effects and inability to change our body’s physiology. Very little, if any, of the product would be able to penetrate the outer layer of the skin.”

 

In the future, when these chemicals have been in use for many decades and/or more rigorous studies have been conducted, some long-term detrimental effects may be discovered for ingredients currently accepted as safe.

 

For now though, in the absence of good evidence of harm, consumers need to decide for themselves whether the benefits of using products containing these ingredients outweigh any potential risks, and whether these risks are greater than the known lifestyle-related risks such as poor diet, lack of physical activity, excessive alcohol, exposure to sun and occupational hazards.

 

Buying major international brands or at least steering clear of products without an ingredients list, is your best bet if you are concerned.

 

Toluene

Found in some nail polishes, toluene has been linked with short-term neurological effects such as dizziness, euphoria, hallucinations and headaches – it’s what gives a “high” from glue and petrol sniffing. There are also concerns that high concentrations may affect a developing foetus in pregnancy. However, the typical levels of exposure aren’t considered dangerous, although manicurists working in poorly ventilated salons may be susceptible to higher levels of exposure.

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