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Beauty at what cost?

March 30th, 2009

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

That old saw “Beauty at all costs” got flipped on its perfectly coiffed head at a salon convention in Chicago where some 60,000 beauty professionals gathered over the weekend at America’s Beauty Show. There, some organizers took a moment to ask, “Beauty at what cost?”

The question broadly encompassed the economic concerns facing salon workers, how to improve environmental sustainability, and also reduce the environmental risks of acute and chronic exposure to the chemicals in beauty products.

These concerns are still be working their way to the top of the industry, but the whiff of trouble is evident in any busy salon, where hairspray particles aggravate the nose and the pungent scents of bleaches and dyes can slice through the indoor atmosphere like chlorine at a chemical spill — at least on Saturdays.

In connection with the Chicago show, which ends today, Dr. Samuel Epstein, professor emeritus of Environmental & Occupational Medicine
at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health, released a statement about these often smelly, but unvetted, “hidden dangers” wafting about most beauty establishments and coming home on our hair and in our lungs.

His list of concerns rivals the list of products stocked by your average hairdresser:

  • Bulk containers that dispense products with the label no longer present, leaving practitioners and clients in the dark about ingredients
  • Poor ventilation, especially in smaller salons; a serious concern for salon workers
  • Hairspray aerosols that can settle into the lungs and may contain a carcinogen, vinyl chloride, a propellant linked to liver cancer
  • Hair dyes, especially those containing phenylenediamines which have been shown to cause cancer
  • Phthalates, compounds typically used as preservatives in scented products and known to be endocrine disruptors, linked to breast cancer and the hormonal health effects, especially on boys

In a press statement, Dr. Epstein warned that hair dyes pose special concerns. “About 35 percent of women and 10 percent of men are regularly exposed to these dyes in salons or by personal use,” he said in a statement. “Black and dark brown permanent and semi-permanent dyes contain carcinogens, particularly those known as phenylenediamines. These have been shown to cause cancers, particularly non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease, and multiple myeloma, besides breast and bladder cancers.”

Europe has banned these types of dyes, but in the U.S. most hairdressers and clients remain blithely unaware of their potential dangers, he said.

The remedy to this toxic roulette? Epstein, who also is head of the Chicago-based Cancer Prevention Coalition, is calling for better ventilation of salons and also for a ban on pressurized sprays.

He also says that the government-produced Material Safety Data Sheets (known as MSDS reports) should be made available and kept on site at salons so employees can take precautions.

And for those of us who serve as client guinea pigs in the pursuit of a finished veneer – there’s Epstein’s new book (March 2009): Toxic Beauty: How Cosmetics and Personal Care Products Endanger Your Health…and What you Can Do About It.

Copyright © 2009 Green Right Now | Distributed by Noofangle Media

Beauty and the Beastly Dangers

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