6 harmful beauty treatments to ditch now

Brazilian blow-outs
CC BY 2.0 Carlos Montesdeoca

Makeup isn’t the only thing that can tax women’s health in the quest for beauty. Many common beauty treatments can have some serious negative effects on your health, from severe allergic reactions to an elevated risk of cancer.

1. Keratin treatments

We all know that formaldehyde is nasty stuff, which can cause eye, throat, and respiratory problems and is also linked to a higher risk of cancer. Yet Brazilian blow-outs, also called Keratin smoothing or straightening treatments, have been found to have high levels of formaldehyde. A number of these products were recalled internationally, but remain for sale in the U.S.

According to the Environmental Working Group, 15 out of 16 common Brazilian blowout products contained a “substantial amount” of formaldehyde. They also say that salons and manufacturers often downplay the risks, and claim to use formulations with minimal amounts of harmful chemicals. Back in 2010, the California Attorney General successfully sued one Brazilian Blowout manufacturer for falsely claiming its product is formaldehyde-free. The untrue claims have been removed, but the product remains on the market.

2. Eyelash extensions

Many people feel that putting on fake eyelashes is best left to the professionals, but even going to a salon doesn’t guarantee that you won’t encounter eye problems stemming from this beauty treatment. The glues used to apply false eyelashes often contain worrisome chemicals, like cyano acrylate and formaldehyde.

One study found that potentially harmful volatile organic compounds were present during the application of lash extension glue. Another study from Japan found that eyelash extension procedures could cause eye problems like keratoconjunctivitis (inflammation of the cornea) and allergic reaction on the eyelid.

3. Gel manicures

Gel manicures have rapidly become preferred to acrylic nails, because they look more like regular nail polish and can last for weeks without chipping. But this nail treatment’s use of UV-light is worrisome, because UV radiation is known to be associated with skin cancer. On one hand (I imagine this one with a pristine french manicure), salon clients are dipping just their fingertips into the light of UV-lamps, a pretty small exposure. On the other hand (this one is totally polish-free), those lamps are completely unregulated and the wattage can vary greatly. Last year, a report published in JAMA Dermatology called for more investigation of the skin cancer risks associated with gel manis.

Then, there’s the great tidbit from Nancy Shute at NPR: “My nails might look great now, but extra UV exposure speeds my hands toward wizened lizard status.” That’s right, gel manicures can make your hands look old sooner.

Lastly, there are all the other chemicals associated with a nail salon—in polishes, paint removers, and powders needed to craft acrylic nails. These may pose relatively little risk to customers, but can add up to some very serious health risks, including asthma, reproductive problems, and skin problems for the people who work in nail salons.

4. Black henna temporary tattoos

Although it is plant-based, henna is only approved for use as a hair dye in the U.S. by the Food and Drug Administration. But the bigger problem is other chemicals that may be mixed in as dyes to make darker temporary skin adornments, particularly for black and blue colors. “Black henna” may contain coal tar color, also known as p-phenylenediamine, which can lead to severe allergic reactions in some people.

5. Tanning beds

In 2009, the World Health Organization classified UV radiation as carcinogenic, due to the increased risk of deadly skin cancer. Since then, the Food and Drug Administration has been considering new regulations for tanning beds in the U.S., and the Surgeon General released a report urging people to stop using tanning beds altogether.

6. Spray tans

If you think a spray tan is a better route than a tanning bed, you might want to reconsider. Spray tans use a chemical called dihydroxyacetone (DHA), which was approved by the FDA back in the 1970s for use in tanning lotion. Those rules are pretty explicit about the chemical only being used for external use, but when used in spray-on tanning products it’s nearly impossible to avoid inhaling. Health concerns associated with DHA include mutagenic effects on genes and a higher risk of lung cancer.

6 harmful beauty treatments to ditch now
Many common beauty treatments can have some serious negative effects on your health, from severe allergic reactions to an elevated risk of cancer.

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