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Is your lipstick toxic?
Could wearing your favourite lipstick really give you heart problems? The Daily Mail has reported that a chemical ingredient found in hundreds of household products "causes heart problems" - so how concerned should we be?
Barely a week goes by without another alarming health story hitting the headlines - it's what sells papers after all - and this week, it's the dangers lurking in our lippy.
The main suspect ingredient in lipstick - along with hundreds of other beauty and household products - is an antibacterial agent called triclosan. Originally developed as a surgical scrub for medical professionals, triclosan has been added to all kinds of products in recent years, from toothpastes to kitchen chopping boards and shoes, to kill bacteria and prevent odours.
While cosmetic regulators say it is safe for human use, the chemical has come under fire from health and environment action groups in the past - and new research has re-ignited the debate, provoking the Mail's latest attention-grabbing headline.
New research findings
The latest study, carried out by researchers from the Universities of California and Colorado, certainly makes for worrying reading. According to their findings, triclosan can hinder the process by which muscles, including the heart, receive signals from the brain.
In tests on mice, researchers found a 25 per cent reduction in heart function within 20 minutes of exposure, while swimming distances were reduced in a certain type of fish.
Lead researcher Isaac Pessah suggests that the findings "provide strong evidence that the chemical is of concern to both human and environmental health."
"For someone who is healthy, a 10 per cent drop in heart function may not have an effect, but if you have heart disease it could make a big difference," he adds.
So is it safe?
As you might imagine, the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association (CTPA) has been quick to squash the study findings - pointing out that tests on animals cannot be applied to humans and that the doses used were higher than people would normally be exposed to.
In a recent statement, they also remind consumers that triclosan has passed stringent European safety testing.
One group who are not easily assured is the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. According to the pressure group, the chemical has been linked to hormone disruption and may impact thyroid function.
In addition, they claim that since 2000, a number of studies have found microorganisms that are resistant to triclosan and it could lead to the development of super bugs, even at the low concentrations found in many regulated products and cosmetics.
Given how ubiquitous triclosan is (studies have found a wide occurrence in drinking water), most of us - whether we wear lipstick or not - would like to see further studies carried out.
Even more nasties...
Triclosan isn't the only potential nasty lurking in our lippy, though. The Mail also suggests that parabens, which are used as a preservative in some lipsticks, could act like the female hormone oestrogen and interfere with a women's ¬menstrual cycle - and, according to one study, could even lead to an increased risk of breast cancer.
The paper also cites a 2008 study, which found a link between lipstick use and lupus - a chronic and severe arthritis-type of auto¬immune disease where the sufferer's body produces antibodies which attack healthy ¬tissue, leading to inflammation and damage.
And if you favour intense, brightly coloured lipsticks that last a long time, they are likely to contain lead (though still in relatively low amounts) which is naturally present in the minerals used in bright pigments.
Dr Marilyn Glenville, (marilynglenville.com), a nutritionist specialising in women's health, also has concerns about the toxic ingredients in cosmetics and toiletries.
"Women can ingest over four pounds of lipstick over our lifetime and 70 per cent of anything we put on our skin, such as moisturisers, is going to be absorbed into our bodies," she says.
"The nasties mentioned above are just the tip of the iceberg. Butyl benzyl phthalate (BBP) found in lipsticks and nail varnish is part of a group of chemicals that mimic the female hormone oestrogen and may interfere with the healthy development of breast tissue and can affect fertility.
"My advice is to read the labels on your cosmetics, just as you would with the food you eat."
So what lipstick can you wear?
If you're a woman who loves bright lipstick, and re-applies it several times a day, it's only natural to be concerned by the negative headlines. Thankfully, there are many natural cosmetics brands, such as Dr Hauschka (drhauschka.co.uk), which offers lipsticks and other cosmetics that are free from parabens and other additives.
Johnson & Johnson also recently announced plans to phase out potentially harmful chemicals from their products, even those that are deemed "safe" in certain levels by the European and American regulators - such as triclosan and parabens - so it's likely to be only a matter of time before others follow suit.