Home Beauty How Worried Should You Be About the Chemicals in Your Beauty Products After Watching ‘Not So Pretty’?

How Worried Should You Be About the Chemicals in Your Beauty Products After Watching ‘Not So Pretty’?

How Worried Should You Be About the Chemicals in Your Beauty Products After Watching ‘Not So Pretty’?


It would be great to have another part [of the show] where they’re interviewing the people who are actually doing the clinical practice [seeing patients], like the dermatologists, especially people who are specialized in hair disorders and contact dermatitis [who can] give the fair and balanced, nuanced view about what’s going on. They had one 30 second interview with a Harvard dermatologist who specializes in hair disorders, but it was one soundbite.

Everybody’s aligned in not wanting people to get sick and to have adverse effects from hair care or skin care or makeup.

A lot of the things that show toxicity in one species cannot necessarily be extrapolated to humans, and it’s impossible to do that study in humans because it would be highly unethical. It’s not an easy topic. It’s one where there’s a lot of nuance and where we’re never going to clearly get the answer because we can’t do the testing like we want to do.”

“Overwhelmingly, the products on the market are safe.”

Jen Novakovich is a cosmetic chemist. She runs The Eco Well, a platform that focuses on science literacy and communication, and has been working as a cosmetic formulator since 2016.

I liked some of the focus of episode two [Nails]. The need for better ventilation and worker safety for people who work as nail artists, that’s a very important topic — they are exposed to volatile compounds, like acetone, that can be mitigated with ventilation. Known health issues from this exposure include nausea, nose irritation, headache, and shortness of breath. Ventilation is important, particularly for nail salon workers that are exposed regularly. [But you shouldn’t] conflate that with [thinking all nail polishes have harmful] ingredients – [volatile organic compounds] are problematic when there is not good ventilation. Dibutyl phthalate [which is highlighted in the series] is not volatile and is rarely used at this point. There is a lot of evidence showing that as used in nail polish, dermal penetration and total risk is negligible. Even still, the industry made a conservative shift from removing [dibutyl phthalate] from products.

Episode one looked at asbestos in talc, and that is a really important issue. The industry has been doing a lot to improve standards and to ensure quality as specific assessment studies are done. The FDA just put out standards for the beauty industry to comply with for talc [including utilizing advanced methods to identify asbestos in talc, requiring documentation of findings, and establishing procedures and protocols for testing facilities to ensure they are qualified and reviewed on those qualifications regularly.] We’ve come a long way. Talc is not inherently contaminated with asbestos, and we have evidence that it is not from Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM). The FDA just did a surveillance study published late in 2021: of 50 talc-containing cosmetics products sampled, all 50 were negative for asbestos. This is a pretty big deal from the FDA.

I liked episode four’s attention to the Crown Act, [a California law prohibiting discrimination based on hair texture and hair style,] but I think they might be confused about what’s in relaxers. There are legitimate risks to professional relaxers, but these risks aren’t applicable to at-home products. Formaldehyde is definitely a concern with treatments in salons [because formaldehyde is potentially carcinogenic], and it is a risk to the people who are [both administering and using] using these products. And it sucks that people feel that they need to use these products to meet [Eurocentric beauty] standards. Formaldehyde is not going to be in [at-home hair treatments], and [what is known as] formaldehyde-donor preservatives such as DMDM Hydantoin [found in hair products you’d use at home] don’t have the same impact as formaldehyde. The [concentration levels] present with formaldehyde donor preservatives will not result in the same risk — the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates safety. The main issue is exposure via inhalation. These products expose you to trace levels of formaldehyde that are comparable to what you get from eating a pear, for the full jar of the product.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here