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How beauty, skincare products induce cancer, birth defect, organ damage

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Photo: Elle South Africa


Scientists have decried the rising health implications resulting from chemical exposures of cosmetics and personal care products in the country.They noted that these beauty and skincare products contain toxic chemicals that could leave lasting damaging effect on the health of individuals, noting that Nigerians are known as the only black race with the highest number of bleached skins around the world.

Presenting her paper on “An Overview of the Impact of Chemical Exposure from Cosmetics and Personal Care Products” at the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR), Public Health Physician, Gab-Okafor Chidinma noted that Nigerians absorb up to 60 per cent of what they put on their body, with children absorbing 40-50 per cent more than adults, which puts them at a higher risk of chronic diseases later in life.

She said some of the toxic and carcinogenic compounds found in beauty and skin care products to look out for include, Diethanolamine, Monoethanolamine, Parabens, Benzoyl, Sodium Lauryl/Laureth Sulfate, Triethanolamine, Benzoyl peroxide, Triclosan, Fragrance, Propylene glycol, Sunscreen chemicals, Phthalates, Dioxin, Imidazolidinyl, Polyethylene glycol, Parabens (Methyl, Butyl, Ethylnand Propyl), Butylene glycol, Acrylates, Benzophenone, polyacrylamide, p-pheneylendiamine, formaldehyde-releasing preservatives, aroma, coal tar, lead acetate, styrene, mercury salt and hydroquinone among others.

These chemicals, the Public Health Physician, said are contained in products such as, skin lighteners, shampoo, soap, conditioner, body wash, wipes, lotion, bubble bath, baby oil, sunscreen, phthalates, hair dyes and gels, hair styling products, body spray and cologne, aftershave, anti-perspirants deodorants, lip stick, nail polish, lotion, anti-aging products, blush, eye shadow, face powder, talc powder, lip balm, moisturizers and foundation, Concealer, eye liner, eye pencil, among other products.

She said the vulnerable population include, men, women, pregnant women, infants and fetus, as some of these products, which are banned in the United Kingdom causes cancer of the stomach, esophagus, liver and bladder, asthma, damaged the respiratory tract, breast tumor, endocrine disruptor, infertility, developmental complications of the fetus, problems in the brain, heart, liver and eyes, including cataracts and development in the young, toxicity to immune system, tumours, damages DNA, and other mammalian cells, skin and respiratory irritants, birth defects, reproductive problems, learning disabilities, skin allergies, cellular and neurological damage, among other health issues.

Chidinma noted that babies first three years of life are the most critical for development, as they are at least 10 times vulnerable to the chemicals in these products than adults, adding that it is important to limit their exposure to toxic chemicals, as many of the products are easily absorption through the skin into the blood stream, which damages their health.

Speaking on the health effects on pregnant women, Chidinma noted that women put roughly 500 chemicals on her body every day, adding that research shows that pregnant women’s exposure to chemicals, particularly hormones disrupting compounds, can negatively affect normal development and may increase their child’s risk for later life disease, as the chemicals can be transferred to the baby in the womb.

She noted that men are as prone to marketing prowess as women, as these unsafe chemicals in the products they use on their hair and body leave them vulnerable to a variety of toxic ingredients.

The Public Health Physician, however, advised that these beauty and skin care products should be avoided or reduced, noting that Nigerians should go natural, while they ensure the labels on each of the products are carefully read to find out the chemicals used in producing such products.She also advised pregnant women to be careful with the chemicals and beauty enhancers they apply to their faces, as it contains heavy chemicals, while they look for safer alternative products to use.

The Director General, Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR), Prof. Babatunde Salako, stressed that issues like this, when researched on and published, is to reawaken the interest of the regulatory agencies in charge of ensuring standard in the production of these cosmetic items, in order to ensure that the contaminants or chemicals used are either at the minimum acceptable level or are not there.He said the regulatory bodies are not efficient, as they don’t regulate the chemicals used in making these products, adding that most of the cosmetic companies are self-regulating what the use.

He said the effects of these toxic products on the health of the country’s population is severe and huge, while he urged researchers to focus more on researches that are based on public health issues, which have not be given attention to in terms of research.He said the result of the research would then be passed to the manufacturers of such products to see the dangers posed on the health of individuals, who only seek to beautify themselves.

“Most of the skin care products people use may contain unsafe substances, either as a contaminant or as part of chemicals used to put them together, which people are not aware of. They can be dangerous to the body, in some situation they can cause direct skin diseases that could sometimes be as bad as cancers, kidney diseases among others.“These are things that may not occur immediately at the early stage of using the products, but its cumulative effects may show up over the years,” he added.

Also, Professor of Community Medicine and Public Health, College of Medicine University of Lagos/Lagos University Teaching Hospital, (LUTH), Prof. Bayo Onojole, stressed that checkmating the problems caused by the use of these cosmetic products on humans is multidimensional, adding that it involves the individuals, media, major stakeholders, community leaders and the government.

He said the users needed to be aware of what they are using and the effect on their health, as most individuals idolise celebrities who are into the act of changing their skin colours to beautify themselves.On the part of the government, Onojole said government has the responsibility to regulate, monitor and evaluate what is happening, as well as monitor producers and manufacturers of these cosmetic products, both foreign and local products.

He said: “We need to conduct an end-product research by looking at people who have been exposed to these chemicals and see what health effects has occurred to them, by doing that we have evidence to prove that by getting involved in this kind of thing, this might be the end result.”

Meanwhile, health services must integrate a stronger focus on ensuring optimum nutrition at each stage of a person’s life, according to a new report released by the World Health Organization (WHO). It is estimated that the right investment in nutrition could save 3.7 million lives by 2025.
Assistant Director-General at WHO, Dr. Naoko Yamamoto, said: “In order to provide quality health services and achieve Universal Health Coverage, nutrition should be positioned as one of the cornerstones of essential health packages. We also need better food environments which allow all people to consume healthy diets.”

Essential health packages in all settings need to contain robust nutrition components but countries will need to decide which interventions best support their national health policies, strategies and plans.Key interventions include: providing iron and folic acid supplements as part of antenatal care; delaying umbilical cord clamping to ensure babies receive important nutrients they need after birth; promoting, protecting and supporting breastfeeding; providing advice on diet such as limiting the intake of free sugars in adults and children and limiting salt intake to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Investment in nutrition actions will help countries get closer to their goal of achieving universal health coverage and the Sustainable Development Goals. It can also help the economy, with every US$1 spent by donors on basic nutrition programmes returning US$ 16 to the local economy.

The world has made progress in nutrition but major challenges still exist. There has been a global decline in stunting (low height-for-age ratio): between 1990 and 2018, the prevalence of stunting in children aged under five years declined from 39.2 per cent to 21.9 per cent, or from 252.5 million to 149.0 million children, though progress has been much slower in Africa and South-East Asia.

Obesity, however, is on the rise. The prevalence of children considered overweight rose from 4.8 per cent to 5.9 per cent between 1990 and 2018, an increase of over nine million children. Adult overweight and obesity are also rising in nearly every region and country, with 1.3 billion people overweight in 2016, of which 650 million (13 per cent of the world’s population) are obese.

Obesity is a major risk factor for diabetes; cardiovascular diseases (mainly heart disease and stroke); musculoskeletal disorders (especially osteoarthritis – a highly disabling degenerative disease of the joints); and some cancers (including endometrial, breast, ovarian, prostate, liver, gallbladder, kidney, and colon).

An increased focus on nutrition by the health services is key to addressing both aspects of the “double-burden” of malnutrition. The Essential Nutrition Actions publication is a compilation of nutrition actions to address this “double burden” of underweight and overweight and provide a tool for countries to integrate nutrition interventions into their national health and development policies.Free sugars include monosaccharides and disaccharides added to foods and beverages by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, and sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates


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