You are on page 1of 7

Melvin Ford

Professor Waldman

ENG 200 – 55046

October 15, 2017

Harmful Chemical Effects of Cosmetics in Human Body

The use of cosmetics to enhance our appearance and improve health can be dated back to

the ancient Egyptians. Cosmetics have played a significant role in the lives of our ancestors.

They use cosmetics to adorn their bodies with varying colors for the purpose of religious rituals,

ceremonies, or as a demarcation of societal status. With the advancement of science and

technology, beauty products and cosmetic surgery dominated the modern society. There are

many reasons why a person opts for using cosmetics such as to enhance appearance, avoid

discrimination, or fear of aging. According to Statistica’s article, skin care products make up

the largest part of cosmetic markets. In 2015, the United States was considered the most valuable

beauty and personal care market in the world (Cosmetic Industry in the U.S., 2016). That year,

the American beauty and personal care business reached a market value of 80 billion US dollars

(Cosmetic Industry in the U.S., 2016). Despite of cosmetics popularity to public and its

beneficial effects to enhance ones beauty, it also posses potentially harmful health risk. Thus, a

safety assessment should be routinely performed to a finish product before placing it on the
market and consumer should be aware of the effects of the ingredients included in the labeling of

these products.

In the journal published by Public Health Research written by Siti Zulaikha R.,

Sharifah Norkhadijah S.I., and Praveena S.M. entitled Hazardous Ingredients in Cosmetics

and Personal Care Products and Health Concers: A Review, defined cosmetics as “any

substance or preparation intended to be placed in contact with the external parts of human body

or either the teeth and the mucous membranes of the oral cavity with the view exclusively or

mainly for cleaning them, perfuming them, changing their appearance, and/or correcting body

odours and/or protecting or keeping them in good condition” (Siti Zulaikha, 2015). The main

purpose is to care for and clean the human skin and make it more beautiful. Cosmetic products

are a mixture of chemical compounds with some being derived from natural sources (as

manufacturer claimed to have) and some being synthetics (chemicals that are man-made). These

include products that can be: applied to face such as skin-care creams, lipsticks, eye and facial

makeups, shave creams, and towelettes; applied in the body such as deodorants, lotions,

powders, perfumes, bath oils, and body washes; applied to hands and hair such as hand sanitizer,

nail polish, hair colors, hair sprays, and hair gels. Generally, cosmetics products are of daily

used by men and women regardless of age. The intentions of using cosmetics products is to

maintain the body in a good condition, protect it from the effect of the environment and aging

processes, change appearance, and make the body smell good (Siti Zulaikha, 2015).

In the Philippines alone, every supermarkets, groceries, and malls display skin whitening

products. Majority of Filipinos are obsessed with getting fairer skin - a whiter skin. According to

Professor Margaret Hunter, in her research published in the journal Sociology Compass,
she said that light skin tone is valued by Filipinos due to their European and American colonial

history (Hunter, 2007). When Spain colonized the Philippines for more than three centuries,

they brought with them the idea of skin color hierarchy. Dark skin was associated with poor

laborers working in farms, constructions, and other low-level jobs, and they call them as “Indio”,

a social type during Spanish colonization. Those with lighter skin was associated to wealthy

people, belongs to upper class who have enough to not work under the sun. And when the

Americans came the obsession of being with lighter skin and having a nicer body became higher

as most corporates are looking for them during job interviews. The idea that having lighter skin

color brought by these colonizers in the culture of the Philippines and people adopted this idea

that having a natural skin color were inferior to theirs.

The issue of beauty using cosmetics are not only exclusive to females, even males have

the urge to look good and in recent years they have become increasingly willing to splurge on

beauty products. That’s why the demand of cosmetics around the world are increasing,

manufacturers are racing to produce products to meet the demand. In North America alone, led

by the United States, made a total of 24.7 percent of the global cosmetic market which controlled

by handful multinational corporations like L’Oreal, Unilever, Proctor & Gamble, Estee Lauder,

Shiseido, and many others (The Statistic Portal, 2016). Within the cosmetic category in the

U.S., the foundation was the most profitable segment, followed by mascara and lipstick (The

Statistic Portal, 2016). Foundation is a cosmetic product that used to smooth out the face by

covering spots, acne, blemishes or uneven skin coloration. The mascara is used to darken,

lengthen, and thicken eyelashes. While lipsticks are intended to add color and texture to the lips.

However, are these products approved by the Food and Drug Administration or FDA? In their

website, FDA U.S. Food and Drug Administration states that: “FDA does not approve
cosmetics, although we do approve color additives used in cosmetics. It is the responsibility of

cosmetic manufacturers to ensure, before marketing their products, that the products are safe

when used as directed in their label or under customary conditions of use” (Center for Food

Safety and Applied Nutrition, n.d.). If hazardous chemical compounds and metals are included

in the products, companies are not obliged to report this kind of impurities and so consumers

have no way of knowing about their own risk. So, the burden is still on the consumer because

let’s face it, manufacturers are eyeing for profit.

Nowadays, cosmetic products are all-over TVs, cellphones, magazines, supermarkets,

and even major streets with billboards that promises of smother skin. Telling people, the

effectiveness of their formulated products of getting rid of acnes, erasing wrinkles, lifting and

firming skin on our face and body, and many others. But as consumers, do we even ask ourselves

about the chemical compounds that are present in these products? Or are we blinded of the

promises they portray? According to Organic facts website, there are handful of hazardous

chemicals incorporated in cosmetic products. It listed 22 of these types such as coal tar,

diethanolamine, formaldehyde, glycol ethers, lead, mercury, glucocorticoids, parabens,

paraphenylenediamine, cocamidopropyl betaine, kohl stone, fragrance, mineral oil,

imidazolidinyl and diazolidinyl urea, sodium lauryl sulfate, synthetic colors, triethanolamine,

polyvinylpyrrolidone copolymer, lanolin, benzyldimenthystearylammonium chloride, propylene

glycol, and phthalates (22 Harmful Chemicals in Personal Care Products, 2017). These

chemicals should be avoided if possible because it to linked to cancer and other problems like

learning disabilities, asthma, skin discoloration, and even damaged to sperm cells (The story of

cosmetics, 2010). In the journal of Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology entitled Toxic

metals contained in cosmetics: A status report listed eight metals that should be avoided when
looking personal care products in the market and they are: antimony (Sb), arsenic (As), cadmium

(Cd), chromium (Cr), cobalt (Co), mercury (Mg), nickel (Ni), and lead (Pb) (Bocca, 2014).

These metals are already banned internationally for using in cosmetic products as these are

harmful to human health (Bocca, 2014). Now, that we know that personal care products and

cosmetics are laced with chemically harmful ingredients that can cause adverse effects and

reactions to our health, it is advisable that when buying remember to look on the label first or

consult professionals before using it. Better for, use organic products as organic can easily

washed out in our system.

We live in a society obsessed with beauty. We are taught by the culture around us that

beauty associated with happiness, prosperity, and wellness, and that beauty is everything.

However, as we strive for this elusive perfection, we must ask ourselves what it truly means to

have beauty, and are we willing to sacrifice our health for it? It is so disturbing when health is

sacrificed right, because of beauty. If manufacturers are blinded with profit at least we should

educate ourselves on the effects of these chemicals found in personal care products. We may

have different understanding about beauty, but one thing for sure, true beauty transcends the

limits of what any cosmetic can do, by keeping ourselves and our environments clean and

pollutant free, we can build a more beautiful world. And for those Filipinos who are still

embracing the idea of lighter skin is superior. Remember this, whiter skin doesn’t always mean

better. More often than not, the idea of “white is beauty” is not the driver to empower you, but to

let skin whitening companies profit. Be proud of your skin, Westerners are spending a lot of

money just to achieve your God-given natural brown color. And for manufacturers, I will

challenge you to provide good quality products with low cost at the same time environmental
friendly and that is using natural and of organic compounds. Together, we can create a better

quality of life.

22 Harmful Chemicals in Personal Care Products. (2017, August 23). Organic Facts. Website.

Retrieved October 07, 2017, from


Bocca, B., Pino, A., Alimonti, A., & Forte, G. (2014). Toxic metals contained in cosmetics: A

status report: Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology 68(3), 447-467.


Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. (n.d.). FDA Basics - Are cosmetics approved by

FDA? Retrieved October 14, 2017, from

Cosmetic Industry in the U.S., (2016). Statistica


Hunter, M. (2007). The persistent Problems of Colorism: Skin Tone, Status and Inequality.

Sociology Compass,1(1),pp.237-254

Leonard, A., Sachs, J., Fox, L., (2017, February 23). Story of Cosmetics: The story of Stuff

Project. Retrieved October 07, 2017, from

Siti Zulaikha, R., Norkhadijah, S., & Praveena, S. M. (2015). Hazardous Ingredients in

Cosmetics and Personal Care Products and Health Concern: A Review. Public Health Research,

5(1), 7-15. Retrieved on October 8, 2017. doi:10.5923/j.phr.20150501.02