Toxic beauty


The average woman uses 12 different beauty products every day — cleansers, conditioners, hair dyes, fragrances, skin care products, scented lotions, nail polish, and makeup, to name a few. Take a quick glance at the labels, and you’ll see a cocktail of chemical components.

You might assume that all these ingredients have been tested to ensure that they’re safe for long-term use. That’s not the case.

At least on the federal level, no one is checking to make sure that the chemicals you’re putting on your body are harmless. “Products are tested to make sure they don’t cause short-term problems, such as skin irritation. But they’re not tested for long-term safety,” says Dr. Kathryn M. Rexrode, associate professor of medicine and chief of the Division of Women’s Health at Harvard Medical School. The FDA steps in only if people actually complain about a product because they suspect it harmed them. Prior to that, the onus is on the company alone.

“Just because it’s on your shelf doesn’t mean that it’s safe,” says Tamarra James-Todd, the Mark and Catherine Winkler Assistant Professor of Environmental Reproductive and Perinatal Epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. With this in mind, women should take some time to consider what they’re putting on their bodies each day and how it could potentially affect their health, she says.

Hair dye and breast cancer

There’s reason for concern about many of the chemicals in popular personal care products on the market today. Case in point: a study published online Dec. 3, 2019, by the International Journal of Cancer found a link between hair dye and breast cancer.

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