Personal care products (nail polish, polish removal, hair products, skin creams, etc.) are found in every American home, and most are perfectly safe if used as intended. There are, however, situations in which these can be dangerous and even deadly.
The most obvious concern is accidental use by small children. An article published on-line in Clinical Pediatrics estimated that between 2002 and 2016, almost 65,000 children under 5 were treated in US emergency departments for poisoning by cosmetics. Toddlers are naturally curious, and as soon as they begin to walk begin to investigate their world, often by putting what they find in their mouths. Products that are perfectly safe when applied to the hair or nails may be dangerous when swallowed. By far the most common cosmetic-associated injuries were poisonings, and this was particularly common in children under 2. About 20% were burns or other contact injuries, and often involved the eyes. It does not help that many of these products are brightly colored and attractively packaged. What entices adults to pick them out on crowded shelves also attracts the attention of exploring toddlers.
Another issue is endocrine-disrupting chemicals, particularly parabens and phthalates that are commonly used as preservatives in cosmetics (and other household products). Researchers found that when women used these extensively during pregnancy, their daughters had significantly earlier onset of puberty. This can be psychologically difficult for the girls and has also be linked to higher risk of breast cancer.
Least common but truly deadly is the finding that many skin-lightening creams bought from other countries or over the Internet are contaminated by mercury. Inorganic mercury IS effective at lightening skin and a widely used contaminant. A California woman was recently hospitalized with severe neurologic damage that was found to be due to mercury poisoning. A cream she bought from friends was imported from Mexico and found to contain high levels of organic mercury, even more dangerous than the inorganic kind.
1. If you have toddlers or small children at home, treat cosmetics the way you should treat medicines: keep them out of sight and out of reach, preferably in locked cabinets.
2. If you are pregnant, try to avoid skin products containing parabens or phthalates; these should be easily identified by reading the label.
3. Do not use any skin-lightening product from any but a reputable local store. Clearly do not use any imported products, and I would not use any bought over the Internet based on recent revelations about how poorly Amazon vets some of its third-party sellers.
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