Can the Skin Absorb Cosmetic Chemicals?


In the past year, I’ve read several articles debunking assumptions that cosmetic chemicals such as phthalates and parabens can be absorbed into the skin.

Believe it or not, I recently read a blog post by an anesthetician arguing that cosmetic chemicals have molecules too large to penetrate skin and enter the bloodstream. And she’s not alone.

But, their arguments fall apart in the face of reputable research. So, in case you have your doubts, here are a few facts

  1. Hair relaxers can cause fibroids. The American Journal of Epidemiology in 2012 reported African American women suffer a higher rate of uterine leiomyoma — benign uterine tumors — than European American women. In fact, the incident occurs staggeringly high — 80% of the time and 2 to 3 times more than experienced by European American women,
  2. Phthalates alter hormones. That same study identifies phthalates as a major culprit: “Phthalates from cosmetic products can be absorbed by the skin or inhaled (2225), and they have been shown to have estrogenic effects in cell models and experimental animals ” Phthalates are often listed in the ingredients as “fragrance.”
  3. Formaldehyde and Formaldehyde-Releasing Preservatives cause skin irritation and cancer. According to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, formaldehyde is a known carcinogen. It’s also easily found in nail polish, nail glue, baby shampoo and hair smoothing and straightening products.
  4. Parabens can cause breast cancer. Again, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics reports that traces of parabens were found in breast cancer tissue in studies conducted in the UK. Parabens alter hormones by obstructing endocrine function. They’re a common ingredient — listed in various forms — in shampoos, conditioners, lotions, facial cleansers, shower cleansers and skin scrubs.
  5. Hair dyes are notorious carcinogens. Both the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society report studies that reveal a correlation between long-term use of hair dyes and cancers such as bladder, breast, leukemia and lymphomas.

Naysayers use the same guerrilla tactics as opponents of global warming: they argue the evidence is the work of alarmists within the natural cosmetic industry.

I say let ’em whine. As for me, I’ll stick to mixing my no-poo cleanser in the kitchen the old fashioned way, thank you.