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Beauty's more than skin deep

BRUSH WITH DANGER? Cosmetics may transform drab looks, but they could contain harmful ingredients.

BRUSH WITH DANGER? Cosmetics may transform drab looks, but they could contain harmful ingredients.   | Photo Credit: FRANCOIS GUILLOT

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Chemicals in cosmetics, wearing the wrong footwear or synthetic fabrics...Hema Vijay alerts women to the health hazards they are exposed to in their quest for beauty

Most of us are aware that women give comfort and wellness a toss in their quest for beauty. The extent they go to for this is something that can barely be imagined! The image women have of a perfect body challenges their sense of self.

While today, women's liberation may encompass everything from the right to recite the Vedas to the right to visit a discotheque, the need to conform to society's standards of beauty is something many women would not challenge.

Somehow, beauty is equated with looks, not personality. “It is a pity that our young women — and older ones too — are influenced by the dictates of beauty. More so, when the concept of beauty is itself manipulated by so many factors, including market forces,” points out Lakshmi Vijaykumar, clinical psychiatrist and founder, Sneha.

High risk

Compared to threading, waxing and other such processes, which are at the most painful or cause a rash, physical beauty aids such as high-heeled footwear pose a risk far worse than an embarrassing fall. “They can cause chronic heel pain, lower back pain and discomfort, besides postural change,” says Madhu Thottappillil, orthopaedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist. He goes on to add, “Every week, I see four to five cases of high heel-related ankle injury — which is a huge number. To wear high heels, one needs to have a high degree of fitness and sense of balance”. Since it can take two or three weeks for the injury to heal, the wearer is immobilised for quite some time.

Not a wise option

Likewise, tight-fitting clothes, especially synthetic ones, are not a wise option. “They prevent air circulation, raise humidity and pave the way for vaginal and urinary infections. Some oestrogen-progesterone pills prescribed for getting rid of pimples and making the skin glow can result in pigmentation or an increase in weight,” says Alpa Khakhar, consultant uro-gynaecologist, Apollo Hospitals.

Many cosmetics contain toxic chemicals that include not just pesticides, but also carcinogens, and ingredients that disrupt endocrine and other body functions. Just as our skin absorbs these ingredients our bodies too would absorb them if we were to swallow them. In fact, this toxic intake is a cause for more concern than the trace contaminants found in food and water because the chemicals in cosmetics are the basic ingredients. Sometimes, the key ingredients in a concoction may be harmless, but the solvent or preservative used in it could make it dangerous. One can imagine the state of affairs in the Indian cosmetics scenario, considering that even in the so-called regulated markets such as the U.S., cosmetics and their ingredients are not subject to FDA regulation (U.S. Food and Drug Administration), with the exception of colour additives. In fact, the U.S.'s Environmental Working Group (EWG) has stated in its Skin Deep Cosmetics Safety Database: 6 that ‘More than one-third of all personal care products contains at least one ingredient linked to cancer'.

A safer alternative would be to use time-tested cosmetics developed in the kitchen — curd as a cleanser; a milk-honey mixture as a moisturiser; coconut water and aloe vera sap as a skin nourisher; fenugreek powder/shikakai-moong dal powder in water as a shampoo gel, and moong dal powder in water as a bath scrub, fresh fruit packs, or drinking 10-12 glasses of warm water for better circulation and skin.

Some toxic ingredients in cosmetics:

* Formaldehyde (methylene glycol) used in hair straightening/ smoothening creams is carcinogenic and can cause asthma-like symptoms and dermatitis

* Preservatives such as BHA can be cancerous and impact developmental, reproductive and endocrine function.

* Lithium hydroxide, a pH adjuster, affects developmental, neural and reproductive tissues.

* P-phenylenediamine in hair colorants can be carcinogenic.

* Carcinogenic coal tar ingredients in dark hair dyes

* Kohl, kajal, al-kahl, or surma in eye cosmetics is often contaminated with lead, aluminium and antimony, and can lead to neurological damage, learning and behaviour problems, seizures, anaemia, kidney problems and more.

* Dibutyl phthalate (DBP), a plasticiser used in nail care products, can cause birth defects and reproductive problems.

* Solvent toluene and phthalates (in nail polish, fragrances and personal care products) may cause reproductive and developmental problems.

* Cancer-causing 1,4-dioxane, found in baby shampoo.

* Hydroquinone, a skin-bleaching ingredient, can be carcinogenic and cause ochronosis, a skin disease.

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Printable version | Dec 11, 2019 6:35:34 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/beautys-more-than-skin-deep/article2984786.ece

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