“Killer Cosmetics,” Shannon Glancy (2013) — Inquiry 3

Writer’s Reflection 

The exercise of fully developing my Inquiry Three and Inquiry Four assignments was a time-consuming process that challenged both my thinking and writing skills. The concept of specificity was stressed throughout the entire process for both assignments. I would think, even when I was not doing my homework, of ways in which I could make my written Inquiry Three essay more specific. How do I narrow my topic? What is the purpose of this topic and the argument I am trying to make? What exactly is my argument? If I were a professional, what would I do to expand on my ideas and reach my audience? I understood that the topic must be narrow, that the topic and argument must be strong, that the audience must be clear, and that the audience must understand why they need to listen to my side of the argument. However, translating all my ideas into actual words in a research-based essay and then a visual presentation was a challenge. Perhaps this was because I think of research-based essays that as unbiased and very formal. In fact, I realized that I thought of them as too formal after Professor Cummings pointed out that he could really hear “my voice” in the paragraph of my essay that begins, “At this point you may be wondering….” I tried to make “my voice” more heard throughout my essay, but I honestly do not know entirely how to effectively incorporate “my voice” or opinion into formal writing yet.

I tried to include all the “must haves” into my written Inquiry Three essay mainly through the use of the Miami Library. I also practiced including the “must haves” through all the blogger assignments from Professor Cummings. The research blogs in particular taught me how to use the Miami Library. I discovered that the Miami Library provides online help from a librarian. I also discovered all the different ways in which to search through the Miami Library. There are many different ways to search for information. You can search for periodicals, newspapers, academic journals, and other information sources with key words, by author, or by title. By simply doing this type of searching, I found that I was narrowing my topic, audience, and purpose. I had to think, “What type of information do I really need? Should I find specific types of chemical ingredients in cosmetics, or should I find specific types of effects from these chemicals? Do I just need information or actual statistics? Should I just find articles in popular magazines or search academic journals?” As I thought of all these questions and their possible answers, I began to think of how I would organize my essay. I also spent a lot of time looking back at my research blogs, the reflections I wrote about all my sources, and my thoughts and ideas on how to use them for my Inquiry Four project.


It is said that women use an average of twelve different beauty products per day and that men use an average of six different personal hygiene products per day. This means that women, on average, absorb about 200 different chemicals into their bodies on a daily basis. Compared to men who absorb only about 85 different chemicals into their bodies daily, this seems as if it could be a health hazard, does it not (Bird, et al.)? Yes, applying hundreds of chemicals to the body each day can greatly affect a person’s health over time. Toxic chemicals such as allergens, human carcinogens, reproductive or developmental toxins, and more are often unbalanced and transform into other harmful compounds. Such ingredients and their unintended byproducts can cause further health problems such as dermatitis, cancer, and birth defects — impacts felt predominantly by women. The continuous consumption of chemical ingredients through the use of cosmetics can permanently affect a woman’s life as well as the life of her child.

According to Karyn Siegel-Maier in her article, “Coming Clean,” a cosmetic is legally defined as “any product used for the purpose of ‘cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness, or altering appearance’ without affecting bodily function.” However, many products commonly considered to be cosmetics such as lotions, oils, hair sprays and dyes, body washes, shampoos, makeup, and antibacterial soap actually affect bodily function in a negative way. For example, antibacterial soaps usually contain ingredients such as A-pinene which can cause damage to the immune system, benzaldehyde which can cause vomiting, dizziness, and a drop in blood pressure, benzyl actate which can irritate the lungs and eyes and is associated with pancreatic cancer, and triclosan which can cause liver damage (Siegel-Maier). Antibacterial soaps are only one example of a cosmetic that contains harmful ingredients. Anything considered a cosmetic may contain these same ingredients. In fact, even organic products contain chemical ingredients, just not as many.

The use of antibacterial soaps alone can cause life threatening effects to organs and organ systems. A person’s entire bodily function can be disrupted by one chemical in one beauty product. Imagine all of the different ingredients of all cosmetic products. Then imagine the potential effects of all those chemicals accumulating inside your body over time. People can have allergic reactions that last a short period of time or diseases that last a lifetime. Women in particular are susceptible to these negative effects because, statistically, women use a larger number of cosmetic materials per day than men which allows for a more significant build-up of chemicals inside the body.

In one specific case, a 37-year-old woman experienced the harmful effects of chemical ingredients in cosmetics first hand. She developed hand dermatitis as the result of an allergic reaction. The woman in this situation fell victim to cosmetics through her occupation as a hairdresser. She packed creams and oils into small glass bottles, small plastic bottles, and small plastic tubes for a month before noticing the reaction she was having on her hands. Doctors performed patch testing in order to determine the root cause of her reaction. According to the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, the woman came into contact with 21 different raw materials. Two of these, benzyl salicylate and geraniol, interact with ylang-ylang oil which is “an essential oil extended from the fragrant yellow flowers of the tree Cananga odorata, growing in southern India, Java, the Philippines, the Malay archipelago and many islands of the tropical Pacific.” The doctors came to the conclusion that she was “occupationally sensitized to ylang-ylang oil and her skin disease was duly compensated” (Kenerva, et al.). Her condition temporarily cleared while she took leave from working as a hairdresser, but it returned once she resumed working with the raw materials. The woman’s skin condition will never completely disappear.

The woman in this story came into contact with over a dozen raw materials used to produce cosmetic ingredients and developed a lifelong skin condition within only one month of working as a hairdresser. Do you want to be in a similar situation for a lifetime? No, this demonstrates that working with cosmetics can be considered an occupational hazard, and hairdressing is not the only occupation likely to experience cases such as this. Anyone who works in a hair salon, nail salon, day spa, makeup company, cosmetic-related factory, etc. can experience similar allergic reactions as those of the woman in this scenario. Once a woman contracts a disease from any type of reaction, it is there for everyone to see, and it changes her life forever. This woman will never be able to continue her job as a hairdresser if she wants the dermatitis on her hands to clear at all. However, allergic reactions are not the only side effects of chemical ingredients. Another potential lifelong disease caused by the chemical ingredients embedded into beauty products is cancer.

About one in every three women develops cancer. According to Madeleine Bird and Sandra Madray in their article “The Toxic Treatment,” women of color have about a 20 percent higher death rate than Caucasians. Women of all ethnicities who use cosmetics can develop cancer. Scientists from both the Thermo Electron Research Center in Waltham, Massachusetts, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that N-nitrosodiethanolatnine (NDELA), commonly found in cosmetics, is associated with liver cancer in rats. Because of this, they are certain that the compound will also allow for an increased penetration in humans of chemicals into the bloodstream through the cutaneous membrane (skin). This compound is considered to be a human carcinogen and can be found primarily in eyeliners, mascaras, and shampoos. These are all beauty products that are commonly used by women everywhere. Places such as Germany and the Netherlands have recently started to recall products containing NDELA because of its tendency to contribute to the development of cancer (Risk of NDELA…). If you are a woman who applies eyeliner and mascara every morning, exposure to cosmetics containing chemicals during pregnancy will put both you and your child at risk for cancer.

Pregnant women go to the doctor regularly to make sure that they are healthy and that their developing child is healthy as well. Unfortunately, doctors do not inform women of the danger of using cosmetics. The compound referenced earlier, NDELA, has been found to be most abundant in Johnson’s Baby Lotion (Beauty Products Cause Cancer?). This is surprising because this lotion is made specifically for the skin care of babies. However, NDELA is known to be a carcinogen. This is important for mothers to know so that they keep their babies safe from an increased risk of cancer. Other toxic chemicals called phthalates are often found in cosmetics and have been spotted in the blood of the umbilical cord that nourishes a fetus. This proves that chemical ingredients absorb directly into the bloodstream and, if pregnant, directly to the developing child. It is reasonable to say that pregnant women, if they truly care about their children, should be especially concerned with the ingredients of beauty products and should be requesting more information and warning labels from doctors and companies, respectively. The harmful effects of chemical ingredients do not happen to everyone, but it can still happen to you, your child, or both.

There are other negative effects of using beauty products besides contracting dermatitis and developing cancer. The toxic chemicals mentioned earlier, phthalates, are often found in nail polish and perfume. Exposure to these chemicals can cause cancer in a developing fetus and has the potential to cause birth defects. According to Madeleine Bird and Sandra Madray, for baby boys in particular, phthalates can cause “smaller penises, shorter distance between their anus and penis, and incomplete testicular descent.” Unborn children are unable to make choices and to tell their mothers not to use beauty products containing harmful chemicals. This is just one more example of how the use of cosmetics can unintentionally change the lives of millions forever.

At this point, you may be wondering, “If the chemical ingredients used to produce cosmetic materials are harmful to women and their children, then why are they being used, and why are consumers not warned by the companies making them?” This is a good question that I cannot easily answer. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is not required to approve cosmetics and their individual ingredients before they appear on the market. Once a product appears on the market, the FDA has to prove that the product is directly harmful to human health (Siegel-Maier). In “Coming Clean” by Karyn Siegel-Maier, she says that the FDA has tested only about 16 percent of cosmetics for toxicity. Although companies are required to have consumer warning labels for products that have been determined to have toxic chemicals, only 16 percent of all labels have correct information. With so few cosmetics being tested for toxicity, and with deceptive labeling being the norm, it is no wonder that consumer awareness of this problem is so low.

Currently, the only solution to this lack of testing and regulation is to lessen your intake of cosmetics, educate yourself, and demand that products be tested by the FDA before coming to market. When shopping for natural and healthy cosmetic products, Siegel-Maier suggests to opt for vegetable-based oils instead of animal products and products with no synthetic dyes or perfumes. This goes especially for pregnant women because their unborn babies can be affected by chemical substances. Your doctor may be able to educate you about this health threat of which so many people are unaware.

Women all over the world, of different races, with different schedules, different wants and needs, and different lifestyles use beauty products daily. The products they use contain dozens of chemical ingredients that can negatively affect their health. These chemical ingredients are often unbalanced and, therefore, may transform into harmful compounds that can damage vital organs and cause allergic reactions, cancer, and birth defects. These effects are unexpected and can last a lifetime. Exposure to cosmetics is almost inevitable, so please educate yourself on harmful ingredients, lessen your use of cosmetics, and demand warning labels. These are the only ways in which women can protect themselves and their children from the dangerous chemicals lurking in the cosmetics they use daily.

Works Cited

“Beauty Products Cause Cancer?” Science News 111.14 (1977): 213-214. Academic Search Complete. Web. 19 July 2012.

Bird, Madeleine, and Sandra Madray. “The Toxic Treatment.” Women & Environments International Magazine 76/77 (2008): 9-12.Academic Search Complete. Web. 17 July 2012.

Carmen Socaciu, et al. “Complex Technological System Of Crushing — Fine Grinding — Pneumatic Sizing For Industrial Minerals With Low And Medium Hardness For The Manufacturing Of Cosmetic Products And Food — Supplements.” Revista Minelor / Mining Revue 17.1 (2011): 34-36. Academic Search Complete. Web. 18 July 2012.

“Greek and Latin Roots of English:  Dermatitis.” blogspot.com. 19 Dec. 2010. Web. 25 July 2012.

Kenerva, Lasse, Tuula Estlander, and Riita Jolanki. “Occupational Allergic Contact Dermatitis Caused By Ylang-Ylang Oil.” Contact Dermatitis (01051873) 33.3 (1995): 198-199. Academic Search Complete. Web. 18 July 2012.

M. Heenen, et al. “Impact Of Cosmetic Care On Quality Of Life In Breast Cancer Patients During Chemotherapy And Radiotherapy: An Initial Randomized Controlled Study.” Journal Of The European Academy Of Dermatology & Venereology 21.6 (2007): 771-776. Academic Search Complete. Web. 19 July 2012.

“Organic or Not?” naturepurity.com. Web. 15 July 2012.

“Risk of NDELA in Cosmetic Products.” Sgs.com. 16 Sept. 2008. Web. 25 July 2012.

Siegel-Maier, Karyn. “Coming Clean.” Better Nutrition 63.2 (2001): 56. Academic Search Complete. Web. 17 July 2012.

Virender Kumar, et al. “Successful Intervention In A Child With Toxic Methemoglobinemia Due To Nail Polish Remover Poisoning.” Indian Journal Of Occupational & Environmental Medicine 15.3 (2011): 137-138. Academic Search Complete. Web. 19 July 2012.