The Pros And Cons Of Cosmetics

By Tiffany Tseng. May 7th 2016

Since lotions, deodorants, and makeup are used daily by trillions of consumers worldwide, people may start questioning the safety of cosmetics on skin. Read on to learn more about this topic and the potential dangers and benefits of cosmetics.

What Products Are Considered Cosmetics?

According to the Food and Drug Administration, cosmetics are defined as "articles intended to be rubbed, poured, sprinkled, or sprayed on, introduced into, or otherwise applied to the human body... for cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness, or altering the appearance." Hence, cosmetics include any enhancers such as lotions, deodorants, soaps, shampoo, and topical makeup such as eye shadow, nail polish, and more. Since almost all cosmetic items deals directly with the skin, this organ receives the most impact (whether beneficial or detrimental) when cosmetics are used. Cosmetics are not to be confused with drugs, as drugs are intended to treat or alter functions of the body. However, some items, such as anti-dandruff shampoos, can be considered as a cosmetic and a drug.

Pros Of Cosmetics: Beneficial uses

Before you decide to abandon all cosmetics and go completely natural, you should also know that some benefits of cosmetics can outweigh the risks. While these benefits can be endless, some include:

  • Sun protection. While most sunscreens are of a man-made nature, the benefits of using it to prevent skin cancer greatly outweigh potential risks. Besides, there have not been any human studies that show sunscreen ingredients to be harmful to the human body.
  • Self-esteem. Skin-enhancing cosmetics such as makeup and hair-coloring can help increase one’s self esteem, which can translate to a happier outlook on life and social aspects.
  • Anti-aging properties. Lotions and creams that hydrate the skin and boasts peptides and retinols can help reverse oxidative and environmental skin aging. It can also strengthen the skin’s natural barrier by providing emollients that enhances elasticity.
  • Reduce infections and sickness. Soaps, shampoos and cleansers can help reduce the chances of infection that can cause other sickness and illness. For example, toothpaste can help protect the teeth from gingivitis, and regularly showering with bath soap can improve hygiene quality overall.

Cons Of Cosmetics: They Are Potentially Harmful

Perhaps the most commonly used ingredients in cosmetics that may cause harm to the health are fragrance and preservatives. Added fragrance is the number one cause of skin irritants in cosmetics, followed closely by preservatives.

Preservatives are chemicals added to the cosmetic to prolong its shelf life and inhibit bacterial growth. Some examples of include:

  • Paraben
  • Imidazolidinyl urea
  • Quaternium-15
  • DMDM hydantoin
  • Phenoxyethanol
  • Formaldehyde

While such preservatives can be toxic or harmful to the body in large doses, the FDA regulations limit the levels of these chemicals so that they are safe for human use. However, some people may still be cautious and wants to err on the safe side. People with sensitive skin can also react adversely to preservatives in products, so be sure to choose “preservative free” and “fragrance free” products when shopping for cosmetics or if unsure.

Tips To Stay

The Food and Drug Administration are constantly reviewing new products for their safety and having newer and better labels to keep consumers updated. Other grassroots organizations have also established websites that review common consumer products with peer-reviewed literature as backup.

Here are some labels that can guide consumers to choosing the right product:

  • “Fragrance free” or “preservative free.” Since fragrance and preservatives are two common causes of skin irritation in cosmetics, many products today are made sans fragrance or preservatives. This may be suitable for people with sensitive skin.
  • Hypoallergenic. Products labeled as hypoallergenic signify that the ingredients cause fewer allergic reactions and are friendlier towards sensitive skin. It does not necessarily mean that the ingredients are organic or natural, as some natural ingredients can also cause allergic reactions.
  • Non-comedogenic. This label signifies that the product does not obstruct skin pores, and are generally friendly for acne-prone skin. This term is most commonly found in makeup and face lotions and creams.
  • Alpha hydroxy acids. Products that contain alpha hydroxy acids (AHA) act as an exfoliator and can increase the skin’s sensitivity to the sun. It can also cause irritation to sensitive skin. Hence, when using products with AHA, be sure to either avoid the sun or use plenty of sunscreen to avoid sunburns.

Since all cosmetic products have the potential to be abused, be sure to always read instruction labels on how to correctly use the products. For example, aerosol sprays can be abused as inhalants when used incorrectly, but can be a fantastic hairspray or sunscreen when used correctly. Be sure to also note expiration dates to ensure safety.

Now that you are well-informed on cosmetics, go ahead and use them as appropriate!


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