Naturally dangerous?

It has been claimed that chemicals in beauty products can harm our health. But, say experts, going barefaced may be a far greater hazard.

Lured by the promise of a permanent youthful bloom and blemish-free complexion, we can’t get enough of the “miracle” products peddled at every cosmetics counter in the countrys.
During her lifetime, the average British woman is likely to spend £186,000 on cosmetics, contributing to the coffers of an industry worth an estimated £6.4 billion a year.
But are we wasting our money or, worse, harming our skin by slathering on products that claim to restore and rejuvenate our appearance?
Richard Bence, a chemist, is the latest to suggest that hundreds of chemicals in everyday beauty products could damage rather than protect the skin. After three years of research into the ingredients of popular cosmetics – including foundations, mascaras, moisturisers and even baby lotions – he concluded that many of the man-made compounds they contain can not only irritate skin but even cause it to age prematurely.
His findings come after a report in the industry magazine In-Cosmetics revealed that the average woman absorbs 4lb 6oz (2kg) of chemicals through her skin every year.
Bence (who, it should be noted, founded a website for organic beauty products last year), lists as skin irritants such ingredients as sodium lauryl sulphate (used to make shampoos and shaving foams lather); parabens (added as preservatives to skin and hair products but thought to mimic the effects of oestrogen and linked by some campaigning bodies to breast cancer); and cocamide MEA (which binds ingredients in many moisturisers).

For the skin to absorb such chemicals is, he says, potentially more dangerous than swallowing them. “If your lipstick gets into your mouth it is broken down by the enzymes in saliva,” he says, “but if the chemicals get into your blood-stream there is no protection.”
But some dermatologists dismiss these suggestions as scaremongering, suggesting instead that it is probably better to wear cosmetics than to go barefaced. In fact, they claim, the chemicals in many products – especially moisturisers and night creams – can do much to prevent skin damage caused by exposure to harmful substances in the environment.

Numerous studies have looked at how urban life affects the skin. One, at the University of California, found that air pollution could lead to conditions such as atopic dermatitis, psoriasis and other ailments characterised by red and scaly skin.
Hairless mice exposed to high ozone levels experienced a 25 per cent drop in levels of vitamin E from the stratum corneum (a thin layer of skin that stops pollutants and other chemicals from entering the body). Although the mice were exposed to greater amounts of ozone than most city dwellers, the length of exposure was only two hours a day for six days, so the overall effect might be similar.

Dr Nick Lowe, a consultant dermatologist at the Cranley Clinic in Harley Street and a professor of dermatology at UCLA School of Medicine, says there is no comparison between the potentially damaging effects of the environment and those of chemicals in make-up and cosmetics. “Pollution, sun exposure and smoking wreak far more havoc on the appearance than any skin product ever could,” he says.

Source - Times