Genotoxic Hazards of Makeup

By Batsheva Kuhr
On March 6, 2012

"I love the confidence that makeup gives me," said media personality, supermodel, author and business woman Tyra Banks. Many women couldn't agree with her more. Females often enjoy their ‘enhanced look', which they feel makes them prettier, and can often draw a little extra attention to their features. However, makeup often includes ingredients that pose a danger  to humans, which casts doubts on the benefit of makeup as compared to its potential hazard.

Titanium dioxide (TiO2)is a common makeup ingredient. Given its reputation as a genotoxic agent and carcinogen, this is somewhat surprising. Specifically, TiO2 is known to cause cancer in rats (Roller 2009). Furthermore, in a study by Sycheva et al. (2011), the genotoxicity and carcinogenicity of TiO2 were investigated by exposing mice to varying dosages of TiO2 for one week. The study found that TiO2 had differing effects on the various cells and concluded that the results point to a potential health danger associated with TiO2 nanoparticle contact. On the other hand, it is noteworthy that another study found that chronic exposure of Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cells to TiO2 was not found to be conclusively genotoxicor  cytotoxic (Wang et al., 2011). However, as noted in that study, it is possible that CHO cells are somehow able to detoxify and thus adapt to the chronic exposure of nano TiO2 particles. Thus, the evidence of the severity of TiO2 genotoxicity is debated.

Parabens, one of the most notorious ingredients in cosmetics, has rightfully earned such a reputation. Parabens serve as preservatives in makeup and come in the form of methyl-, ethyl-, propyl-, butyl-, etc. and are deemed "highly toxic" by the Organic Consumers Association (OCA). In a report by Crinnion, parabens are potentially causative of breast cancer because they are estrogenic and accumulate in tissue for a short period of time (2010).

 Crinnion (2010) also cites that phthalates, also a common ingredient in cosmetics, are associated with problems such as infertility, specifically testicular dysgenesis (which results in male infertility), obesity, asthma, allergies, leiomyomas (a smooth muscle mass) and breast cancer. In the same study, it is noted that in uteroexposure to phthalates causes decreased attention span and increased frequency of mood disorders, premature sexual development in females. These toxic ingredients should surely be avoided by purchasing makeup that is free of phthalates and parabens, especially while pregnant.

According to the OCA, the top synthetic ingredients to avoid in makeup are the formaldehyde-releasing chemicals imidazolidinyl urea, dimethylol urea and diazolidinyl urea. They are second only to parabens in their usage as preservatives or additives in makeup. A study found that both imidazolidinyl urea and diazolidinyl  urea should be categorized as genotoxic in vitro.

Since these chemicals release formaldehyde, it is important to look at the potential genotoxic effects of formaldehyde as well. In the Twelfth Report on Carcinogens (2011), Formaldehyde is "known to be a human carcinogen" because epidemiological studies have consistently shown how formaldehyde is carcinogenic in humans, specifically causative of nasopharyngeal cancer, sinonasal cancer and lymphohematopoietic cancer among individuals with higher measures of exposure to formaldehyde. The Report cites formaldehyde's usage in industrials resins, adhesives for wood products, tissue preservative for embalmers, laundry detergent and as a biocide as well as its use as a preservative in makeup, of course as means of exposure to the chemical. In a study that looked at the genotoxic effects in occupational exposure to formaldehyde, a significant increased frequency of specific genotoxic damage such as micronuclei were found in the group with long-term formaldehyde exposure (Viegas et al.,2010). Such genotoxicity makes a compelling argument to avoid formaldehyde-producing agents in one's makeup routine.

Oxyquinoline and oxyquinoline sulfate are also ingredients used in cosmetics. Previously, these chemicals were not studied enough to determine whether safety measures were necessary in the incorporation of the chemical into cosmetics. However, there has been evidence of more frequent chromosomal aberrations in an in vitrostudy (Anderson 2006). 

To test how prevalent these chemicals are in "every-day" cosmetics, I did a cursory check of the ingredients in my own personal makeup. I found that Revlon Custom Creations foundation as well as a combined blush/bronzer by Revlon Beyond Natural each contained methyl-, ethyl-, and propyl- paraben as well as titanium dioxide. L'Oreal Paris HIP ColorTruth eyeliner contained propyl – and butyl – paraben as well as titanium dioxide. Zoe & Zac Naturals mineral blush, Beauty Rush minty lip shine, and Maybelline New York FIT me! Pressed powder contained titanium dioxide as well. All of my makeup with the list of ingredients available on the package, from lip gloss to blush, contained at least one of the ingredients mentioned in this article. Though this is not conclusive proof that almost all common drugstore makeup includes one of these aforementioned ingredients, it is surely indicative of the relevancy of this topic to those that use makeup on a somewhat regular basis.

Regulation of cosmetics is directed by the Food and Drug Administration. Though the FDA is constantly under scrutiny, they are constantly making progress to making cosmetics, among other things, safer for the public (Sharfstein 2011). In the words of Rosalind Russell, a famous movie star of the mid-1900s, "taking joy in living is a woman's best cosmetic." In light of this article, perhaps an alternate interpretation to this statement is that the best way to truly enjoy one's life, instead of potentially risking it, is by avoiding the use of harmful cosmetics.


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