6 Toxic Beauty Treatments You Should Avoid

These toxic beauty treatments are pretty popular, but should be minimised…or even totally avoided!

By Jody McCutcheon

Going to extremes for beauty is nothing new.

The ancient Greeks valued blonde hair, so women would lighten theirs with plant extracts. Oh, and arsenic! During the rein of Elizabeth I and beyond, pale complexions were considered so sexy, men and women alike would powder themselves with thick layers of pulverised bone and talc. And lead, leading to – surprise – lead poisoning. This often made the teeth turn black or fall out (as Elizabeth’s did), or killed the fashion victim outright.

But have we come a long way from that? Nope. Far from it. We live in an age of silicone implants, plastic surgery, hair, nail and eyelash extensions. Not to mention myriad high tech ‘treatments’ involving anything from chemical formulations to lasers and radio frequency. The point has come where we must be more aware of the potential dangers of our favourite toxic beauty treatments, and ask ourselves what we’re willing to sacrifice in our attempts to restore what age has stolen.

Here’s a list of what we think are some of the most toxic beauty treatments most of us do.

Of course, you may not have done them all. But admit it. If you haven’t tried one of these toxic beauty treatments, you’ve probably at least thought about it!

6 Beauty Treatments Than Can Be Harmful

woman moisturizing legs

1. Tooth Whitening

The first of our toxic beauty treatments is all about tooth whitening.

Like skin whitening, cosmetic tooth whitening is an ancient practice. A solution of urine and goat milk did the trick for the Romans, for example. Nowadays, whiteners commonly employ hydrogen peroxide to penetrate the porous tooth enamel and bleach the stain deposits in the dentin. Moderate application isn’t a problem. The real trouble starts with what’s known as ‘bleachorexia’.

With age, adult teeth darken as mineral structure changes. Add in stains from everyday wear-and-tear, and the fact that the effects of a single whitening treatment might not last a week. So it’s almost understandable how some people could get addicted to bleaching. Especially those quick-fix whitening strips. But whiten too much, and excess bleach can erode the tooth’s protective enamel. And once it’s damaged, the tooth is extremely vulnerable to stains, and will in fact turn yellow. The teeth also become more brittle and sensitive.

In addition, if the whitening gel has too strong a concentration of hydrogen peroxide and comes into extended contact with the gums, it can cause burning of the soft tissue and irreversible gum recession. This exposes the tooth’s root, and it hurts!

As if that’s not bad enough, ingestion of hydrogen peroxide can burn the throat and GI tract. And even worse, there’s concern about the potentially carcinogenic nature of hydrogen peroxide.

The long-term effects of bleaching agents like peroxide aren’t known. In the meantime, moderate use is optimal.

Natural Alternatives

Since tooth whitening is something undertaken by many people in many cultures, several natural methods that actually work have been discovered. These include chewing on certain kinds of wood, eating certain foods, and brushing with different materials. Learn more here.

Toxic Beauty Treatments You Should Avoid

2. Getting Gel Manicures

Although gel manicures are increasingly popular, they’re also one of the most toxic beauty treatments . That’s especially true considering a recent New York University Department of Dermatology study suggesting they increase the risk of skin cancer.

Why? Well, each coat of gel polish – up to three per session – is dried under ultraviolet light for as long as three minutes. And there’s no regulation of the UV drying machines used for gel manicures. Consequently, consumers have no idea how much UV exposure they’re receiving during treatment.

Long-term UV exposure can definitely increase cancer risk and age the skin. A 2009 study found that two middle-aged women with no family history of cancer and minimal sunlight exposure developed hand tumours after exposure to UV light in gel manicures. Based on this study, opponents compare the inherent UV risk of gel manicures to that associated with tanning bed treatments.

That said, some experts insist UV exposure from gel manicures falls well within acceptable levels, and is in fact equivalent to a day of exposure to fluorescent light.

So, let’s give the final word to the Skin Cancer Foundation. They say that although the cancer risk from gel manicure UV exposure may be low, “it is not insignificant”.

But even if UV machines were totally safe (and we’re not sure they are), gel manicure products are also far from organic. In fact, they contain formaldehyde, phthalates, acetone, toluene, methacrylates and other volatile compounds. These have been associated with diseases ranging from asthma to cancer.

Natural Alternatives

Traditional manicures using 5-or-more-free nail polish brands are best. But if you must get a gel manicure, do so in moderation, with hands covered in strong SPF protection.

Also remember that providers using LED lights instead of UV lights minimise UV exposure, as LED lights dry the gel treatment more quickly.

toxic beauty treatments

3. Hair Dyeing

The practice of hair dying is another of those toxic beauty treatments  that goes way back. In fact, to ancient Egypt, in this case, when extracts from plants like henna were used. Today, about a third of women over 18 and ten percent of men over 40 are changing the colour of their hair.

Permanent dyes contain over 5000 chemicals, including toxins with disconcerting names that combine unpronounceable words and numbers. These include:

  • 4-chloro-m-phenylenediamine
  • 2,4-toluenediamine
  • 2-nitro-p-phenylenediamine
  • diaminotoulene

…and many others. These chemicals are associated with all kinds of diseases, including cancer. In fact, hair-dye users may be two to four times more likely than non-users of contracting non-Hodgkins lymphoma and multiple myeloma. And the risk for those who dye more than nine times a year goes up to 60%!

Just as troubling is the danger of hair dyes to male hairdressers and barbers. A meta-analysis of 42 studies shows male hairdressers are at a higher risk for bladder cancer. That’s especially true for those who’ve worked with dyes for ten-years plus. No wonder that in 2010, the European Commission banned 22 dyes whose ingredients exposed long-term consumers to bladder cancer risks. But the same can’t be said for the USA and other countries.

Natural Alternatives

No permanent hair dye is 100% free of nasties. However, there are several alternatives that are effective and far, far less toxic than drugstore hair dye brands.

To learn more about more natural hair dyes and which organic dye brands are safest, click here.

Toxic Beauty Treatments You Should Avoid

4. Using Botox

One of the most toxic beauty treatments is also one of the newest. Since the early 1990s, injections of botulinum toxin – which also causes botulism – have been popular. Botox prevents wrinkles, paralysing the muscles responsible for frown lines, especially in the forehead. It has been declared safe due to the extremely low doses used medicinally.

However, Botox can distort the natural look of the face. Side effects range from drooping eyelids and headaches, to flu-like symptoms and blurred vision. However, side effects can also be potentially fatal, though such cases are extremely rare. This happens because Botox sometimes migrates from the injection site to other areas of the body, affecting those muscles. In this way, it can paralyse respiratory muscles, leading to difficulty breathing, while also crippling the ability to swallow (dysphagia).

Sure, the number of adverse reactions to Botox is relatively small compared to the number of surgeries performed overall. But it is quite a bit greater than zero. According to US Food and Drug Administration data, between 1997 and 2006, 180 Americans experienced Botox-related aspiration, dysphagia and/or pneumonia. This resulted in 87 hospitalisations and 16 deaths. This is probably a conservative estimate, as FDA data only include voluntary reports, which account for about 10 percent of actual cases.

Unfortunately, the popularity of Botox has culminated in “plumping parties” in the US and UK. Here, people get together for an evening of facial injections. The scary thing is, anyone can administer them. No medical training necessary. And the results can sometimes be disastrous. In addition, studies have yet to be done on the long-term neurological and physiological effects of Botox injections. Who knows that they could be?

Natural Alternatives

Luckily, there are several natural alternatives to Botox that include everything from facial yoga and creams to stick-on products that are left on overnight. Want to learn more? Click here for the full article.

toxic beauty treatments

5. Fake Tanning

All of us are aware that too much sun can cause skin cancer. So those in search of a bronzed glow often turn to ‘fake bakes’, a.k.a. tanning creams and sprays. Unfortunately, research now shows that their key ingredient, DHA (dihydroxyacetone) may be toxic. How so? Well, DHA reacts with amino acids in dead skin cells to produce the brown ‘suntan’ colour. It is also this compound that gives fake bakes their characteristic ‘biscuity’ smell. Unfortunately, that means fake baking is now one of the most toxic beauty treatments.

The evidence? American medical experts reported that tests on live animal cells had shown the chemical could cause DNA damage, which is linked to cancer. DHA is present in not only tanning creams and mousses, but spray tans as well.

There are three main types of spray tan:

  1. The manual turbine spray, an ‘airbrush’ held by the beautician
  2. A closed compartment in which three rows of nozzles spray a product on to the entire body
  3. The open booth that contains two vertical rows of nozzles. The customer stands and turns around to allow the other side of the body to be sprayed.

These techniques give a faster, more even result. But they also increase the risk of absorbing more DHA through inhalation and by contact with mucous membranes in the eyes and mouth. Definitely not good for your health.

Natural Alternatives

If you’re looking for a bronzed look without the sun – or without the toxic chemicals – you’re in luck! There are not only a plethora of great DIY methods you can try with stuff easily found in your kitchen, but there are also increasing numbers of clean beauty brands offering organic tans. Learn more about these methods here.

leopard bikini

6. Skin Lightening

On the opposite side of the skin-tone spectrum are those who are aiming for a lighter complexion via skin lightening. And many do so with seriously harmful chemicals. The most common of these is hydroquinone.

In the U.S.A, hydroquinone is classified as an over-the-counter (OTC) drug that may be used in concentrations of up to 2%. Most prescription-strength hydroquinone formulations contain 3 – 4%, but concentrations as high as 10% may be available through compounding pharmacies.

It’s not really known how this ingredient works to lighten skin, but some researchers claim that it denatures the melanin-protein that causes brown spots. Others claim it inhibits the tyrosinase enzyme, as well as the synthesis of the protein associated with melanin. However, it is said to disrupt basic cellular processes, including DNA and RNA synthesis.1-4. And of course, anything that interrupts normal DNA and RNA processes could be cancerous. In fact, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in the U.S. stated “hydroquinone is mutagenic and has cancer-causing potential.”

Other studies have shown that the ingredient can cause dermatitis, hyperpigmentation, skin rashes, allergies and black spots. In short, lightening the skin with hydroquinone qualifies as one of the most toxic beauty treatments.

Natural Alternatives

There are more natural ways to lighten skin that may take more time, but are far safer over the long run. These include simple things, like lemon juice. But there are loads of organic skincare products for lightening the skin, too.

Throughout human history, we’ve always wanted to look better, longer, and have gone to extremes to do it. Today, through moderation, education and substitution, we can work at minimising potential sacrifices while purifying the beautification process and perhaps curbing some of those ruthless, uncompromising vanity impulses.

skin lightening

But ultimately, ain’t nothing more beautiful than accepting the gradual, inexorable advance of age with grace and dignity.


1 thought on “6 Toxic Beauty Treatments You Should Avoid”

  1. Pingback: 5 Tips For Choosing Safe Skin Care Products During Pregnancy – Expecting Mother's Blog

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