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Effects of Cosmetic Agents on Skin Health

Cosmetics, now very popularly used products, are used around the world “to clean, improve or change the appearance of the skin, hair, nails and teeth” [1]. These products come in a variety of different forms, such as “face and body care preparations (creams, lotions, deodorants, soaps, etc.), color cosmetics (lipsticks, mascaras, eye shadows, nail polishes, etc.), and hair products (shampoos, colors, sprays, gels, etc.)” [1]. With all these different products that are often put directly on or in the body, there are certain guidelines that manufacturers have to abide by and certain rules that they don’t. To clarify, there have been several instances where “dangerous chemical substances of accidental origin” are found in cosmetics [1].

In the United States, “the U.S. Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938 designated the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as the agency responsible for the safety of PCP/cosmetics” [2]. I will break down the six principles to the Consumer Commitment Code (CCC) that must be followed regarding cosmetic products [2]:

●A company can begin to market their cosmetic product “only after ensuring that every ingredient and finished product has been substantiated for safety” [2]. This can only happen if each ingredient is run through the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel and approved.

●If a product contains an ingredient with a higher concentration than regulated, the company selling the product must be able to defend the product’s level of safety for the consumer, and make all ingredients “available for inspection by the Food and Drug Administration” [2].

●For products that are marketed within the United States, there should be reports about manufacturing conditions and ingredient usage, and the company should comply with FDA guidelines.

●If a product that is released causes serious/unexpected harm to the consumer, the FDA must be notified as soon as possible. The FDA will begin an inspection of the product and any experiences with the product.

It is extremely important to follow these guidelines in order to ensure the safety of producers and consumers.

One particularly dangerous ingredient found in cosmetics is metal, specifically toxic metals such as “lead (Pb), cadmium (Cd), nickel (Ni), arsenic (As), and mercury (Hg). Apart from these toxic trace metals, elements such as chromium (Cr), iron (Fe), copper (Cu), and cobalt (Co)” [1]. If these metals are present within the FDA guidelines, they don’t pose a threat, but in excessive amounts, these metals can be very dangerous.

Some of the products that contain more of these toxic metals include “preparations which are applied to the mucous membranes, such as lipsticks and lip glosses” [1]. These also pose more of a threat because they are usually worn for hours at a time, and they can be ingested orally (by licking your lips, or getting onto the food you eat). These can also be found in skincare products, which can be quite harmful, as they “remain on the skin for a longer period of time and can cause harmful effects like allergic reactions” [4]. Women who are pregnant and children are at higher risk of increasing the level of lead in their blood. This is because it can either travel through the placenta of the pregnant woman or through her breast milk when feeding infants. Some very serious indications of lead exposure include: “miscarriage, hormonal changes, reduced fertility in men and women, menstrual irregularities, and delays in puberty onset in girls.” [4].

Skin lightening products can also have harmful effects, as they contain harmful chemicals. Hydroquinone, found in these skin lightening products, can cause “irritation, redness, and burning” [4].

Henna is also a product that is becoming more well-known, mostly because it is advertised as natural dye. However, it is shown that black henna tattoos are caused by a chemical stain, due to p-phenylenediamine (PPD). “PPD is added to henna to accelerate the dyeing and drying process (to only 30 min), to strengthen and darken the color, to enhance the design pattern of the tattoo, and to make the tattoo last longer” [4]. However, it is still a chemical, and with chemicals come side effects. With PPD, those side effects look like “blisters, surface oozing, swelling and erythematous rashes on the skin” [4]. On top of that, henna dyes can also cause “sneezing, runny nose, cough and shortness of breath” [4].

Sunscreen is another cosmetic product that can cause “irritant, allergic, phototoxic or photo-allergic reactions” due to certain acids in the product. Fragrances within these products (which are also found in items such as deodorant), can also cause “headaches, dizziness, fatigue, irritation to eyes, nose and throat, forgetfulness and other symptoms” because they are absorbed or breathed into the nose, throat, and lungs. The same rules apply to perfume and cologne. If you have allergies or are asthmatic, it is best to stay away from scented products like these.

So, how can we prevent any allergies of metal poisoning that cosmetics may bring? Well, making sure that the products you use are absorbed properly into the skin, and they do not irritate your nose or skin because of fragrance, is a first step. The next step is to know your skin! You will react differently to different products because some may work with your skin type while others won't. Be especially cautious if you have sensitive skin or are prone to acne. Doing a skin test on a small patch of skin is a lower risk way to see how you may react to certain products.

Something that you can also do to avoid allergies or irritations is to read the ingredients. It sounds simple, but it is much easier to buy into the hype of whatever product is being advertised rather than poring over the small details. Still, it is important to know what to avoid. Some of the ingredients that you should actively avoid include: fragrances, sulfates, parabens, and formaldehydes. As we spoke about before, fragrances that are strong can cause certain allergies and irritations to the skin. What are the other ingredients listed, though?

Sulfates are usually found in body washes and certain shampoos, but they actually can take away the natural oils that your scalp produces, leaving you with irritation. Parabens are a chemical that make products last longer, but they’re not necessarily good for your skin. They can actually disrupt the balance of your hormones, and this can be very problematic for the body in general. Last are formaldehydes, which as of recent, are starting to disappear from the cosmetic industry. Formaldehydes are actually carcinogens, and carcinogens are substances that can cause cancer. If you ask me, it’s definitely worth taking some extra time to read the label before you head to the check-out counter or add something to your cart online!

So, hopefully this has informed you on the dangers that can come with wearing/using cosmetics. A lot of brands will bank on the fact that many people, even in the progress of today’s society, will still put beauty before their health and they won’t necessarily take the time to actually understand what’s going into products they are using. Even some products that are marketed as good for you or your skin can contain some ingredients that are not really good for you. Although this doesn’t mean that you have to completely stop using different cosmetic products, take this as a sign to read the label and take care to learn what you are putting on and into your body.


1. Borowska, S., & Brzoska, M. M. (2015, January 13). Metals in cosmetics: Implications for human health - borowska - 2015 Wiley Online Library. Retrieved March 7, 2023, from

2. Nohynek, G. J., Antignac, E., Re, T., & Toutain, H. (2009, December 21). Safety Assessment of Personal Care Products/cosmetics and their ingredients. Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology. Retrieved March 7, 2023, from

3. Nohynek, G. J., Dufour, E. K., Roberts, M. S. (2008, June 3). Nanotechnology, cosmetics and the skin: Is there a health risk? Skin pharmacology and physiology. Retrieved March 7, 2023, from

4. Khan, A. D., & Alam, M. N. (2019). Cosmetics and their associated adverse effects: A review. Journal of Applied Pharmaceutical Sciences and Research, 1-6.



Author: Kayjah Taylor

Editor: Lauryn Agron

Health scientist: Chantelle Moore

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