Know your make-up bag

2012-05-04 11:50

Formaldehyde. If anyone had to tell me it exists in mundane products used daily, I’d probably roll my eyes and carry on with my life.

It sounds fancy and unless you’re a science buff, there’s really no need to bother with making it part of your vocabulary.

Except that it should be, if you value your health.

Formaldehyde is a toxin commonly known as formalin and is used as a disinfectant and to preserve products.

At room temperature, it is a colourless gas and is known for its pungent smell.

It also helps prevent bacteria from growing on products, explains Joburg-based clinical toxicologist Carin Smit.

According to Smit, the bad part is that it’s a carcinogen, a substance known to cause cancer, as identified by the World Health Organisation.

“It’s highly toxic. As little as 30ml of formaldehyde in any form penetrating the body through inhalation or by applying topically can increase the chances of cancer,” she says.

The chemical is used to embalm cadavers and helps preserve some consumer products such as paints, explosives and carpeting.

Closer to our bodies, formaldehyde has been used in anti-wart and urinary tract infection medications, hand creams, nail hardeners, polishes and glues, eyelash glues, hair gels and many other personal care products to extend their shelf life. What’s more?
There are even some products for children, such as baby shampoos, bubble baths and baby lotions that contain it.

Smit adds that long-term exposure to the chemical can lead to asthma, miscarriage, disruption of menstrual cycles, eczema as well as extreme dermatitis.

Last year, the US Department of Labour’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued a warning alert for hair salon owners and workers about the dangers of formaldehyde from using hair straightening treatments like the popular keratin treatment Brazilian Blowout.

Fortunately, there are now safer options to straighten hair that are free of formaldehyde.

The Journal of Immigration and Minority Health published a study by a Columbia University epidemologist, Dr Mary Beth Terry, who found that African-American and Caribbean women were at risk of getting cancer from “hormonally active chemicals” found in hair relaxers.

“These products are often used daily and over the course of many years.

A number of these commonly used products contain endocrine disruptors and placenta.

Exposure to these could cause women to be more susceptible to hormone-sensitive diseases like aggressive breast cancer,” wrote Terry.

Formaldehyde is not the only hazardous chemical you will find in everyday cosmetic products.

Recently, non-profit research organisation Environmental Working Group also found that many salons in California used nail polish that contained three toxic substances – one of them being formaldehyde.

Other current public outcries in the cosmetic sectors revolve around mercury found in some face cream brands and lead in lipsticks.

» If you have complaints, contact the Consumer Council 0 086 124 2000

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