Is your make-up killing you? The deadly poisons lurking in your handbag

The British cosmetic, toiletry and perfumery industry is worth more than £6.5 billion a year.

Yet just this week, research was published showing that common chemicals used in toiletries may make women more likely to be infertile.

Indeed, inside all those gleaming bottles and tubes we take for granted lurks a cocktail of dangerous synthetic chemicals that research suggests may be responsible for everything from reproductive complications to allergies and cancer.

BAD HAIR DAY

Contact dermatitis is a form of skin inflammation related to eczema that is caused by external substances coming into contact with the skin.

One incredibly potent source of allergic contact dermatitis in humans is the hair colourant paraphenylenediamine (PPD), also referred to as p-phenylenediamine.

PPD is still used in some permanent hair dyes in Britain and the U.S. - despite being prohibited for use in hair dyes in Germany, France and Sweden many years ago because concerns developed about its damaging health effects.

PPD is not approved for direct application to the skin, yet when hair dye is applied it usually does come into contact with the scalp and often the forehead and ears.

A survey of one London contact-dermatitis clinic, where eczema patients were tested for reactions to PPD, found that allergy to the substance had risen from 4.2 per cent in January 1999 to 7.1 per cent in December 2004.

The study's authors state that the 'disturbing' increase in positive reactions to PPD 'may be due to subjects dyeing hair in increasing numbers and at an earlier age'.

One recent study of 55 people with adverse reactions to hair colours concluded that PPD presents a significant health risk for people, yet it is still authorised in hair dyes in concentrations of up to 6 per cent in the EU and 4 per cent in the U.S.

ALTERNATIVES TO CONVENTIONAL HAIR DYES

If you colour your hair regularly, try natural dyes. Dark hair dyes in particular seem to have more question marks about their safety, so consider a lighter shade or learn to love your natural colour.

Vegetable dyes are a far safer option than those packed with synthetic chemicals - and are much less likely to cause allergic reactions.

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