Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Beauty and the Beasts

Cosmetics might not be as safe as we like to think.
By Maggie Koerth-Baker for MSN Health & Fitness

Roman women slowly poisoned themselves with generous slatherings of white lead foundation. Medieval Italians sensuously dilated their pupils—and blinded themselves—with an extract of belladonna. And the ladies of Queen Elizabeth’s court wore thick layers of red lip color made from toxic mercury compounds. All apparently were under the impression that their daily beauty regimen was 100 percent safe. Which begs the question: Are we similarly deluded today?

Cosmetic Conflict
Even if you don’t wear much makeup, chances are that you’re washing your hair with shampoo and conditioner, toning down your underarm stink with deodorant, and attempting to stave off old age with moisturizer. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a watchdog organization that monitors the use of chemicals in everyday life, those simple actions add up fast. A survey the organization conducted in 2004 showed that American women use an average of 12 hygiene products each day. By the EWG’s count, that translates to more than 150 ingredients being absorbed through the skin, inhaled through the nose or inadvertently licked off the lips.

As far as the EWG is concerned, all this represents a massive risk to public health. “Essentially, we’re conducting a giant experiment,” says Jane Houlihan, the organization’s vice president for research. “People are being exposed to hundreds of chemicals. Every person is full of complex mixtures and the health consequences are completely unknown.” Particularly of concern to the EWG and other activist groups are two families of chemicals known as phthalates and parabens.
Phthalates are a common ingredient in things like hairsprays, nail polish and perfume, where they function as a plasticizer—keeping the mixtures flexible while also helping them remain sticky. Parabens are preservatives that keep fungus and bacteria at bay in a wide variety of cosmetics and hygiene products.

The EWG points out that research on rats has shown both chemical families to be carcinogens. A 2004 study published in the journal Reproductive Technology linked phthalates with reproductive anomalies, and a study published that same year in the Journal of Applied Toxicology detected parabens in breast cancer tissue. In fact, parabens and phthalates were among the chemicals banned by the European Union in 2003. A quick Web search will turn up a number of organizations that have extrapolated this research into warnings that makeup or deodorant are the cause behind breast cancer.

Naturally, this makes the cosmetics aisle seem pretty scary. But not all scientists agree that the danger is so great. The Food and Drug Administration officially classifies parabens and phthalates as safe, because the research has yet to prove a causal link between the chemicals and diseases in humans. As it turns out, rats, while convenient for research, don’t actually process chemicals the same way we do. So what’s deadly to them could easily be harmless in us. Other organizations—like the industry-run Cosmetics Ingredient Review board and the independent American Council on Science and Health—agree, pointing out that the amounts of phthalates and parabens used in cosmetics are far, far lower than even the amount needed to induce cancer in rats.
Pretty Is as Pretty Does
So, who’s right? The answer probably falls somewhere in between. “There’s a lot of people talking black and white, this is good or this is bad,” says Urvashi Rangan, an environmental health scientist who works with Consumer Reports magazine and its parent organization, the Consumers Union. “But a lot of the ingredients in cosmetics come down into a very gray zone.”
To Rangan, the fact that cosmetics use very low levels of chemicals doesn’t mean there’s zero risk. Instead, it means that we need more research to understand the effects of chronic, long-term exposure. On the other hand, chemicals aren’t inherently bad and Rangan thinks it’s inaccurate to say that using certain cosmetic products could be deadly.

“We don’t know all the reasons cancer happens,” she says. This means it’s impossible to identify a certain chemical as the precise—and sole—cause of a cancer. "To say these products are going to kill you is an overstatement. It's not likely that there's going to be a single reason behind why someone gets cancer."

Instead, Rangan says, the real problem lies in how we currently address the potential dangers associated with these chemicals. “Europe tends to operate on the precautionary principle and they tend not to make things legal until there’s a proof of safety,” she says. “Here, it’s the opposite. In order for the FDA to ban a chemical used in cosmetics it has to be proven harmful.”
And proving harm is tough. Usually, it requires thousands of people to develop a problem that can be linked definitively to a specific product or ingredient. Currently, the FDA has no authority to review cosmetics before they go to market and can only ban ingredients after problems arise. So, while most cosmetic products have been tested for short-term safety, their long-term effects are almost completely unknown. “There’s very little data to suggest safety or harm,” Rangan says. “There’s just a big question mark there.”

For now, whether or not you should keep using your favorite products depends a lot on how you use them and how much risk you’re comfortable with. For instance, occasionally using eyeliner with a questionable ingredient probably isn’t dangerous, but if you’re applying heavy amounts of a suspect lotion every day, you might want to consider taking steps to reduce your exposure.
One way to help gauge your risk is by looking up your brands on Skin Deep, the Environmental Working Group’s online database, which analyzes all the various risk factors associated with specific products.

Under Suspicion: 4 Ingredients to Keep an Eye On

What They Are: Preservatives that keep products bacteria-free.
Where You’ll Find Them: Cleanser, hand soap, moisturizers and toothpaste
Names They Go By: Methylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben.
What’s the Concern: Parabens can mimic natural hormones, including estrogen. Disruption of sex hormones increases the risk of certain cancers.

What They Are: Plasticizers that increase flexibility and strength.
Where You’ll Find Them: Hair spray, nail polish and perfumes.
Names They Go By: Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate and diethyl phthalate are common in fragrances, while dibutyl phthalate appears in many nail polishes.
What’s the Concern: Can also mimic sex hormones and may be able to affect growth of reproductive systems in fetuses. Used in hundreds of non-cosmetic plastic products, so exposure is increased.

Coal Tar
What It Is: The liquid by-product of coal distillation.
Where You’ll Find It: Shampoos aimed at killing head lice or reducing dandruff and some dark hair dyes.
What’s the Concern: Extremely carcinogenic in rodents. Might also be linked to liver disease.
What It Is: A solvent, basically a liquid that dissolves other liquids or solids.
Where You’ll Find It: Nail polish and nail polish remover.
Name It Goes By: It might appear under the names methylbenzene or phenylmethane.
What’s the Concern: Breathing in the fumes can damage kidneys and cause birth defects. People who work frequently with nail products are at most risk

Friday, September 21, 2007

Summer Damage

Did you spend a little too much time in the sun this summer? Here's a pain-free way to undo some of the damage: Moisturize. That's right. Research shows it really does help improve the condition of your skin. After 25 weeks of regular use by women in a study, 3-D texture measurements revealed less photo damage and blotchiness and fewer fine lines and coarse wrinkles. And this kind of moisturizer may have an edge.

Waning Wrinkles. Any moisturizer can help improve your skin. But a moisturizer that contains an antiaging ingredient can be particularly effective. Antiaging ingredients typically found in moisturizers include glycolic acid, lactic acid, citric acid, and salicylic acid. Women who used a cream with glycolic acid for 25 weeks saw even better results than the regular moisturizer group.

Monday, July 9, 2007

8 Steps to Smaller Pores

8 Steps to Smaller Pores

Even patients with easy skin often come to me with one complaint - large pores!

What causes large pores? With age and frequent stretching from being clogged with dead skin cells and oil, the pores start to sag. When they fill up with sebum (oil), the sebum oxidizes and turns dark which makes the pores more obvious.

I'll be honest with you, there are actually no ways to permanently shrink pores once they have stretched. There are, however, lots of things that you can do to minimize the appearance of your pores and to prevent them from getting large:

1. The first step is to use skin care products that increase levels of collagen and elastin which will prevent the pores from stretching. Look for ingredients such as Vitamin C, retinol that increase collagen production and products that increase elastin levels.

2. It is also important to keep skin clear of oil and dead skin cells, which will only stretch your pores and make them appear larger. Use products with alpha hydroxy acids (like glycolic acid and phytic acid) and chestnut extract which will exfoliate your skin, thus improving its texture.

3. Salicylic acid is another good bet, particularly for oily or acne-prone types, as it's the best ingredient out there for targeting and clearing out oil in the pores. (When oil, or sebum, clogs pores, blackheads appear - making pores that much more prominent.) Salicylic acid can penetrate the fats in sebum much better than glycolic acid, which makes it an ideal treatment to improve the appearance of pores.

4. Decreasing sebum production is also a way to prevent clogged and stretched pores. One ingredient that is said to have the to ability to reduce sebum production is NDGA (Nordihydraguaiaretic Acid).

5. Prescription-strength retinoids and over-the-counter products with retinol will decrease oil production, increase collagen and elastin production, and hasten your skin's cell-turnover - giving dead skin cells even fewer opportunities to clog and stretch your pores, while strengthening pore walls.

6. Another trick to minimizing the appearance of your pores is to cause the skin around them to swell slightly; as it does, the pores will appear to contract. Apply topical vitamin C to your skin (you can find it in a variety of facial serums) or try a professional light procedure like IPL (Intense pulsed Light). IPL provides an immediate benefit and is worth every penny!

7. The final steps to smaller pores simply require good skin care habits. First and foremost: Wash makeup and sunscreen off every night.

8. And if you do develop pimples, avoid popping or picking at them. That will only stretch your pores further and can lead to scarring.

Wishing you great skin!

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Dr. Baumann is author of the best-selling book, "The Skin Type Solution." To learn more about her revolutionary skin typing system, visit her Web site. Many of Dr. Baumann's recommended skin care products are available there, and a portion of proceeds goes to The Dermatology Foundation.