How can cosmetics affect our health?

Cosmetics aids us in taking care of our bodies, hiding any flaws in our appearance, or highlighting our attractive features. It used to be considered an exclusively female domain, but nowadays it is also used by men and children, to a varying degree and in various forms. However, cosmetic products of all kinds aren't always beneficial to us - sometimes they can cause complications or even harm. There are certain substances frequently used in cosmetics, like for example foaming agents, silicones or alcohol, that we should be wary of, paying close attention to how our body responds to them. Badly stored cosmetic products or cosmetic products past their expiry date can harm us, too.

Whether we like it or not, we need cosmetics – but these days we can choose what type of products we are going to use. There are many possible approaches to obtaining cosmetic products. We can buy them in drugstores, pharmacies or perfumeries, or in shops that specialize in healthy lifestyle. We can go to regular shops or shop online. We can also get some natural ingredients and try to make our own products at home. It all depends on what we actually want from our cosmetics.

Potentially harmful ingredients in cosmetics

We can sort cosmetic products by their intended use, i.e. body care products, skin care products, decorative cosmetics, etc., but we may also differentiate between them based on the manufacturing method or used ingredients. While buying cosmetics, it is always a good idea to pay attention to the ingredients listed on the label, as they are the first factor that can negatively affect our health.

Foaming agents: Do we really need so much foam?

One of the ingredient types not everyone can tolerate well are the tensides, or foaming agents. Sodium lauryl ether sulphate (SLES) and sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) are among the best known and most commonly used foaming agents in cosmetic industry. It is these substances that make your shampoo or shower gel lather.

But rich froth produced by some cosmetic products doesn't always bring just pleasure. Some people's scalp is quite senistive and it doesn't respond well to the use of foamers. This may cause very unpleasant itching in milder cases and dandruff or even rash in the more serious ones.

Tensides are also often used in toothpastes. Their usage can contribute to the occurence of aphthae in people who are prone to it. Therefore, if you often suffer from aphthae, the problem might not necessarily be in the lack of B vitamin or your weakened immunity, but in such a relatively inconspicuous cosmetic product as a regular toothpaste. Any pharmacist, assistant in a specialzed shop or dentist should be able to offer some advice regarding these ingredients in cosmetic products.

      What do the foaming agents in cosmetics do?        

How can the foaming agents in cosmetic products harm us?

+ producing rich foam

+ creating a sensation on cleanliness

- irritating skin

- drying skin

- cause aphthae

 Silicones in cosmetics can be both beneficial and harmful

Another type of ingredient used in cosmetics that has been widely discussed, particularly on various health and beauty webs, are silicones (or polysiloxanes). They have been introduced relatively recently. They are produced synthetically and form one of the basic components in most shampoos and hair styling products but also in cold creams or decorative cosmetics. Unlike tensides, which are supposed to create foam, the main purpose of silicones in cosmetics is to smooth surfaces.

Manufacturers add them to hair products because silicones smooth the surface of the hair, which not only makes combing a lot easier, but also makes your hair look and feel healthy, shiny and strong. Silicones in cold creams and other skin care products make the skin feel smooth and soft. Silicones are also typically added to decorative cosmetic products, like for example concealers, makeup primers or foundations. Their purpose is to conceal small wrinkles and pores by filling them.

But while they make us more attractive, silicones used in cosmetics can also complicate our lives in some cases. According to some opinions, we shouldn't use them directly on the scalp for any prolonged period of time. They can cause its increased greasiness or, in some cases, clog the pores, which results in hair loss. As a component in skin care and decorative products they might clog the skin and block the pores, causing unpleasant skin breakouts.

How to tell whether a cosmetic product contains silicones?

There are many silicones used in cosmetic industry and their names can be quite difficult for an average consumer (unless they have a degree in chemistry). However, telling whether a specific product contains silicones is quite easy. You simply need to look for the following word endings when you read the ingredients list.

The names of silicones end in:

- cone

- thicone

- thiconol

- siloxane

- silane

Collagen in cosmetics has a similar purpose as silicones, it has a smoothing effect on skin and hair. But, like silicones, it can also clog the pores of our skin, making it difficult for it “to breathe”.

Beneficial effects of silicones

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  + smoothing the surface of the skin or hair

+ making skin and hair look healthy and flawless

- blocking of the skin pores

- clogging of the skin

- weakening of the hair, hair loss

Alcohol on your skin – yes or no?

Another ingredient you might want to watch out for is alcohol. Products containing alcohol used to be frequently prescribed by dermatologists for affections associated with oily skin, such as acne. This was because alcohol can dry the skin. However, this trend is being abandoned. Alcohol does degrease the skin but after prologned use it dries it up to such degree that the skin will counter by overproduction of its own oils and the effect is exactly the opposite to the intended one. The skin then alternates between states of extreme dehydration and extreme oiliness, which is not natural.

Alcohol is often contained in such products as skin toners. These can be easily substituted by their alcohol-free variants which are nowadays widely available in every drugstore. Alcohol in cosmetics should be only applied every so often and locally, on the afflicted spots only. Even those, however, need to be properly hydrated in the following stages of the treatment process. This will prevent subsequent formation of unsightly scars.

Alcohol in cosmetics - DON'Ts

Alcohol in cosmetics - DOs

- using it in high concentrations

- using it on your whole face

- everyday use

+ using it locally on the afflicted spots

+ occasional use

We are all originals

We are all different, with different skin and different hair, so it only makes sense that different people need different hair, skin care, and decorative products. Therefore you need to try and see which products are the ones that best suit you. It is necessary to pay attention to how your body responds to various kinds of cosmetics. If you find out that a certain product, whether bought in a drugstore or purely natural, doesn't suit you or causes problems, you shouldn't keep using it. That doesn't necessarily mean you have to bin it. It might still suit one of your friends or family members, provided it isn't expired or spoilt. How then should we treat our cosmetic products to minimize health risks?

Know the age of your cosmetic products

With the cosmetics we already have at home, it is necessary to know its age. An expired skin cream might do as much harm as an expired aspirin. This is of course a bit of an overstatement, but the age of cosmetic products is often underestimated.

It is, however, very important, especially in case of products that have already been opened or those that come into any prolonged direct contact with skin, such as skin creams or facial masks. Our face complexion is especially sensitive in this regard. That is where the bad effects of using expired cosmetics will show first, usually as burning and itching, or worse, in the form of a rash or eczema.

Keeping track of the expiry date of cosmetics is easy, you can read it on the packaging of any commercial product. Some of them even have a pictogram that tells you how many months will the product last after you open it. If you make your cosmetics yourself, you need to remember what ingredients you used and be aware of their shelf life, though you might have to rely on your nose in some cases. There is no need to go overboard with this, you don't have to bin your toothpaste as soon as the clock strikes midnight on the expiry day. But an eye cream that expired five years ago probably won't do your complexion any good.

What to look out for:

  • Best-before date.
  • How long has the product been opened?
  • Any changes in colour, consistency or smell

How we store our cosmetics is also important

Not only the product's age but also how we store it is very important for its shelf life – and our health. “Store in a cool, dry and dark place” is no mere cliché. In case of cosmetics it is actually a valuable piece of advice, especially with those products that come into direct contact with the skin, particularly the sensitive complexion of our face. Most cosmetic products should be kept in the cooler areas of our flat, out of direct sunlight and as far as possible from the heating.

Excessive humidity might also pose a problem, so you shouldn't store dry products (like powder) in your bathroom, unless it is well ventilated. With short shelf-life cosmetic products, like fresh natural cosmetics, the safest bet is to store them in the fridge. This also applies in case of those products which you keep for later use or which you only use sporadically. Skin creams, lotions, liquid decorative cosmetics or lip balms are particularly sensitive to temperature. You need to be careful with any product that contains oils or fats, since they spoil very fast. You shouldn't for example leave them anywhere that's exposed to direct sunlight the whole day.

Where to store the cosmetics

 Where NOT to store the cosmetics

+ the cooler part of the room

+ ideally in a box or a cabinet

+ stocks and short shelf-life products should be kept in the fridge

- near the heating

- in direct sunlight (by the window)

- dry products shouldn't be kept in a badly ventilated bathroom


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