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Are Your Cosmetics Poisoning You?

“Women absorb up to 5 pounds of damaging chemicals a year from their beauty products.”

I saw this newspaper headline and was amazed, astonished, and perplexed. I just couldn’t believe it. Being a skeptical Brain, I figured the article was just a typical “scare” piece designed to spook us into fearing chemicals, but they actually provide a reference to their headline and quotes from a biochemist. So, this Beauty Brain was intrigued. Are we really absorbing pounds of chemicals through our skin? I had to see their proof. The actual quote from the article is as follows:

“The average woman absorbs 4lb 6oz of chemicals from toiletries and make-up every year, the industry magazine In-Cosmetics recently reported.”

Here’s where it gets interesting. First of all, In-Cosmetics is not a peer-reviewed scientific journal, it’s a magazine published in conjunction with an annual trade show where companies that sell cosmetic ingredients go to show off their newest products. Secondly, the quote appeared in this article “Trends in natural and organic cosmetics and toiletries.”

It turns out, the notion that women absorb 5 pounds of chemicals from cosmetics comes from a scientist who runs a natural company called Spiezia Organics. According to Dr. Mariano Spiezia and his wife Loredana “everything we need to be fulfilled and healthy is provided by nature. Today’s research suggests that the human body will absorb most of what is applied to the skin, meaning that up to 2kg (5 pounds) of chemicals a year from toiletries and skincare preparations used daily.”

There is no other reference provided. No studies are cited. Dr. Spiezia makes this assertion without any data at all. Then the reporter completely believes the statement and quotes it as fact.

It is not fact. It is nonsense. It is the kind of junk science that some Natural or Organic companies try to dupe you with so you won’t feel bad about spending your hard earned money on their over-priced products.

Do you absorb 5 lbs of cosmetic chemicals through your skin?

Based on our knowledge of the barrier properties of skin, this claim seems ridiculous. It suggests skin is a sponge that absorbs any chemical it’s exposed to. In fact, skin is the opposite. It is actually a barrier that prevents chemicals from getting inside your body.

It’s not a perfect barrier because some compounds do pass through the skin like some sunscreens (eg. benzophenone-3) and drugs like Nicotine. Even caffeine can enter your blood stream through your skin. So scientists are concerned about chemicals on the skin. But safety studies are conducted chemicals all the time and the vast majority don’t behave as such.

For the most part, cosmetic raw materials do not penetrate the skin so deep that they are absorbed into the blood stream. They typically absorb into only the top layer of skin (stratum corneum) and are naturally removed over time.

Beauty Brains bottom line

No, your cosmetics are not poisoning you. While chemicals can absorb into your skin, but it is true of only a small number of them and these have not been shown to cause problems. You certainly don’t absorb 5 lbs of chemicals through your skin; we’ll try to assess how much you really do absorb and report back after a bit more research. But the important thing is when you hear claims like this in the media, be sure to check the source Occasionally, it’s backed up by science, but usually it is propaganda by a biased source. Proof is found in scientific studies not in the opinions of natural-product selling “experts”.