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How harmful are the ingredients in my cosmetics?

Why do some skin creams contain so-called parabens? What is the effect of silicones or kerosenes in skin care products and can the additives possibly be harmful to health? Tikbow asked experts what we should know about the various ingredients in cosmetics.

To improve the effect or shelf life of skin, hair and dental care products, (often chemical) additives are added to them. Some of these are suspected of causing diseases or at least allergies. It is often difficult for laypersons to judge which substances are ultimately problematic.

1. aluminum chloride is an ingredient in cosmetics.

What is it? Aluminum chloride is formed by dissolving the light metal aluminum in hydrochloric acid, and is considered a neurotoxin.

Where’s in it? In anti-transpirants, i.e. deodorants that not only reduce odor, but also close the pores and thus reduce perspiration.

The problem: aluminum salts are among the most controversial ingredients in cosmetics. The suspicion is that too high a concentration of aluminum in the body increases the risk of breast cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. In 2014, the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) concluded in a study that aluminum salts from deodorants could possibly contribute to health impairments over decades. Corresponding cosmetics are nevertheless still not banned.

What the expert says: Tikbow interviewed pharmacist and health expert Steffen Kuhnert. Even if a certain uncertainty exists, hysteria is exaggerated after its estimate ützung, particularly since "the tolerable wöchentliche supply of aluminum, which is indicated with 1mg/kg body weight, üover a balanced nutrition usually überschreit wird not".

Conclusion: There is apparently no real risk of illness from the use of anti-perspirant deodorants with aluminum chloride. However, if you still have a bad feeling, you can find numerous guaranteed harmless alternatives in the shops.

2. silicones

What is it? The collective term for a large group of synthetic substances consisting of compounds of silicon and oxygen.

Where’s it in? In hair care products or skin creams with an anti-aging effect.

The problem: Unwanted consequences are more of an optical nature: The ingredient, contained in cosmetics such as shampoo, is permanently deposited on the hair and weighs it down. Contained in creams, silicone is said to clog pores.

This is what the hair expert says: "Attacked hair can visually rebuild a silicone shampoo by smoothing the stressed surface", explains Michael Manthei, hairdresser from Berlin. It is important to emphasize: The ingredient does not bring a long-lasting effect, unlike actual care additives. Here it is only a quick, apparent Verschönerung. Silicone shampoos are unnecessary for healthy hair, and generally unsuitable for fine hair, as they would weigh it down too much.

The skin expert says: “Silicones leave a fine film on the skin for an immediately smoothing effect,” says Dr. med Sabine Zenker, a dermatologist from Munich. If this is desired, there is no reason not to use such cosmetics – "provided the skin is healthy;

Conclusion: Silicone is a kind of express beauty cure for stressed-looking hair and wrinkled skin, albeit a chemical one.

In any case, you should pay attention to the high quality of the products when buying them. If additives that end in "-icone" or "-iloxane" are at the top of the list of ingredients, the product should stay in the store: There is too much silicone here! Provided there is no allergy, this does not harm health. Skin or hair can, however, quickly überpflegt, which reduces the desired, verschönernden effect.

3. parabens

What it is. Parabens are preservatives, a chemical bond of para-hydroxybenzoicäure.

Where’s it in? As a cosmetic ingredient, parabens are supposed to make skin creams durable, for example.

The problem: They are supposed to cause allergies.

The expert says:  "Preservatives in cosmetics are very important: Without them, a cream would become unsightly and unusable in a very short time", explains Dr. med. Sabine Zenker. The frequently used methyl parabens are relatively well tolerated. In her Munich practice, however, the dermatologist also treats allergic reactions. Isopropyl, isobutyl, pentyl and phenyl parabens are rarely used, and there is only limited expertise on them;

This can also be read in a corresponding letter from the BfR: According to this, benzyl paraben, for example, is not permitted in cosmetics, but in principle the BfR also considers the use of parabens as preservatives in care products to be sensible.

Conclusion: Parabens are not fundamentally bad, but everyone reacts differently. With an epicutaneous test, the dermatologist can assess whether rashes or other flare-ups are allergic. It is better to avoid cosmetics that contain ingredients that are critical according to Dr. Zenker (isopropyl parabens and others).

4. fluorides

What it is. Fluorides are the salts of hydrofluoric acid. They are related to the toxic gas fluorine, but not identical.

Where’s it in? In most commercial toothpastes.

The problem: It is said to poison the body.

The expert says: "If you overdose it, fluoride is actually toxic", admits Berlin oral surgeon Priv. Doz. Andreas Schwitalla. But: "Tooth enamel needs fluoride, ideally amino fluoride, in order to be more resistant to acid." Without a good protective layer, caries bacteria would have free rein, the tooth enamel would be vulnerable and would decay. Once it is degraded, the pain-sensitive dentin is left unprotected.

Conclusion: Several clinical studies show that formulations without fluorides do not provide caries prophylaxis. When it comes to fluoride toothpaste, we therefore heed Schwitalla’s recommendation: "A centimeter-long strip is sufficient – and please don’t swallow it!"

5. paraffin/minerals’le

What is it? Mostly distilled from earth Öl.

Where’s it in? As a moisturizer in lotions for dry skin.

The problem: They are supposed to seal the skin so that it cannot breathe.

The expert says: "Minerals"are frequently components of dermatological creams for the treatment of extremely dry areas", explains Dr. Dirk Meyer-Rogge, dermatologist from Cologne. Advantage: Unlike vegetable oil, whose quality can vary depending on origin and supplier, kerosene waxes are consistently good. The fact that minerals are produced synthetically is not a problem, according to Meyer-Rogge. On the contrary: "It is rather natural ingredients to which people with sensitive skin react allergically."

Conclusion: Minerals do not pose a risk of serious diseases and also have only a low allergenic potential. It is therefore not necessary to exclude them from the beauty routine as a matter of principle, but it is also a question of personal opinion on the subject of minerals.

6. formaldehyde

What it is. The common name for the chemical compound methanal.

Where’s it in? In a number of cosmetics, such as shampoo, nail polish, nail polish, hair growth products, hair dyes and self-burning lotions.

The problem: Formaldehyde is suspected of causing allergies, asthma, changes in consciousness, headaches and joint pain. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies formaldehyde as a carcinogen. In the European Community, the ingredient must therefore be clearly labeled.

This is what the expert says: "Formaldehyde is contained in fewer and fewer cosmetics", says in conversation with Tikbow the München dermatologist Dr. med. Timm Golüke. This is also only permitted up to a content of 0.2 percent. The use of nail polishes containing formaldehyde, for example, which often has a pungent odor for a reason, can lead directly to headaches. In principle, the physician sees no reason to use cosmetics with this ingredient.

Conclusion: A clear case: Beauty products containing "formalin", "formol" or questionable mixtures of ingredients belong in the (chemical) garbage can!

7. glycerin

What is it? The compound propane-1,2,3-triol, better known by its trivial name glycerin, is a sugar alcohol.

Where’s it in? In soaps, shower gels or shampoos, but also in face creams and body lotions.

The problem: Glycerin is supposed to extract water from the deeper layers of the skin.

The expert says: "Glycerin binds the water in the cream", explains Prof. Dr. Uwe Trefzer, head of the Dermatologikum Berlin. It thus ensures a smooth texture and prevents the product from drying out. More importantly, he says, glycerin – has a strong hydrating effect on the skin in particular, contrary to its reputation –. "Especially for dry skin and combination skin, I strongly advise the use of glycerin-containing cosmetics."

Conclusion: Glycerin is used in the beauty, food and medical industries, and the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment classifies the sugar alcohol as harmless.

8. acetone

What is it? The trivial name for the organic chemical compound propanone, a solvent, and also belongs to the category of ingredients in cosmetics.

Where’s in it? In many nail polish removers.

The problem: Acetone is said to dry out the skin and irritate the respiratory tract, even damaging blood and bone marrow in the long run.

The expert says: "Acetone removes moisture from the skin", explains dermatologist Dr. Golüke. So if you use acetone-containing nail polish remover, it dries out the region around the nail. This can promote the development of skin eczema in the nail bed. In fact, the dampness is not completely harmless.

Conclusion: There are now a number of acetone-free nail polish removers. You can therefore avoid the strong-smelling solvent without any problems. If you occasionally come across one containing acetone, however, that is not a bad thing. After use, wash your hands thoroughly and then apply cream to prevent the skin and nails from drying out.

9. collagen

What is it? A structural protein of connective tissue found in multicellular organisms, including humans. As a cosmetic additive, it is usually extracted from animal tissues.

Where’s it in? In cosmetics with an anti-aging effect, the ingredient is supposed to be able to plump up wrinkles.

The problem: products containing collagen are said to be completely ineffective when used externally. And this, although corresponding creams are usually quite expensive.

The expert says: "In the skin, the body’s own collagen contributes to the formation of skin structure and is responsible for elasticity and firmness", explains Sabine Zenker, MD. However, the collagen molecules in cosmetic products are too large to penetrate the skin. As a skin care additive, they only have a moisturizing effect and make the skin look smoother and fresher, but only for a short time. "The often promised wrinkle smoothing and tightening are über creams not möglich", so Dr. Zenker.

Conclusion: Collagen can indeed have a lifting effect, provided it is injected into the skin. In creams, the additive is not harmful, but practically ineffective, i.e.: money wasted.

10. alcohol

What is it? In common parlance, the term for the chemical compound ethanol.

Where’s it in? In deodorants, perf’ms, facial toners, anti-pimple sticks…

The problem: Alcohol in care products is said to dry out the skin.

This is what the expert says: Alcohol is a very useful ingredient, especially in deodorants, explains Prof. Dr. Trefzer: "It kills the bacteria that are otherwise responsible for unpleasant odors in the armpits. " Alcohol is also used in other cosmetics for its antibacterial effect, for example in cleansing tonics for the face: It has a disinfecting effect, for example on clogged pores that can otherwise lead to pimples or blackheads.

At the same time, it serves as a preservative: "creams would spoil quickly or go rancid without added alcohol." However, people with dry skin should reach for products that contain only a little alcohol: It removes the already insufficient oil from the skin and can dry it out even more.

Conclusion: Consumers quickly notice for themselves whether beauty products containing ethanol have negative effects: In the case of irritated, dry or severely dehydrated skin, the facial toner or deodorant should simply be replaced by one labeled “alcohol-free”, of which there are plenty.

Übrigens: With an App of the für nature protection and environment (BUND) can consumers health-harmful contents materials in Kosmetika even aufspüren. ToxFox, the cosmetics check, uses a product’s bar code to identify chemical names and translates them into layman’s terms.