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Beware of pretty poison!

Fashion and Beauty
 Beware of pretty poison (Photo: iStock)

Inside those pretty, gleaming bottles and tubes lying on our dresser could be lurking a cocktail of dangerous chemicals that can cause skin problems or even more serious health problems like allergies, infertility, and even cancer.

How do you know that the products you are using are safe? This guide will help you avoid some of the most common harmful ingredients in products and treatments:

Hair dye

Who doesn't love a good dye job? Changing your hair colour or artificially enhancing it can make you feel like a new woman-one who is ready for anything that life throws at her. However, most hair dyes contain paraphenylenediamine (PPD), a hair colourant which has been tagged as one of the root causes of contact dermatitis.

Contact dermatitis is a form of skin inflammation related to eczema. You will probably notice skin inflammation in areas of your face which are constantly in contact with your hair such as the forehead and ears.

Fix: If you dye your hair frequently, go for natural dyes such as henna or pure vegetable dyes extracted from plants such as saffron, camomile, black myrtle leaves, and green walnuts.

Keratin straighteners

Keratin straighteners receive a lot of praise, especially from black women. They leave the hair silky, bone straight and lustrous for months. Although often marketed as formaldehyde-free, studies have shown that most of them do contain harmful chemicals. Others contain ingredients like methylene glycol or formalin, which become formaldehyde gas when heated or dried. Exposure to formaldehyde can lead to irritation of the skin and eyes and upper respiratory tract. In the long term, it can lead to cancer.

Fix: Avoid being exposed to formaldehyde by avoiding keratin treatments altogether. Keep your hair properly moisturised and naturally smooth and silky with natural oils such as olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado oil.

Nail Polish

With hands being such a conspicuous part of the body, a pretty manicure makes a lady look effortlessly fabulous. However, manicure products contain a wide range of chemicals including formaldehyde, phthalates, acetone, and toluene. Fumes from these chemicals can cause irritation to the eyes, skin, nose, and upper respiratory tract.

Fix: Go for nail polish and other manicure products which are free from harmful chemicals. Also, avoid touching your face or running your face with your fingers when you have a fresh manicure. Have your manicure done at reputable nail salons to avoid infections.

Skin lighteners

Even with frequent warnings about the dangers of most skin-lightening products in the market, many African women still buy them in the quest for lighter complexions. Many over-the-counter skin lighteners contain hydroquinone, which is often prescribed by dermatologists to reduce age spots or dark patches. However, ironically, overuse of hydroquinone can lead to permanent discolouration and is even linked to cancer.

Fix: Instead of harmful creams containing hydroquinone, go for products containing vitamin C, which is known as a natural skin lightener. With a good diet, a proper beauty care routine, and exercise, you will get radiant skin without having to resort to harsh chemicals.


Are you a fan of deodorants and antiperspirants? Make sure you're not slowly poisoning yourself! Many deodorants in the market contain parabens, a group of widely used preservatives. Studies have shown that parabens can imitate oestrogen on cells. Oestrogen is known to play a part in the onset and progression of cancer.

The fact that you're applying deodorants and antiperspirants near breast tissue, the parabens can easily adhere to DNA and encourage the development of damaged cells. Applying these products on freshly shaved skin makes it even easier for parabens to go deep into skin cells.

Aluminium salts, also often found in high concentrations in deodorants, can lead to cancer.

Fix: Read the product label carefully to make sure that it's free from parabens and aluminium. Alternatively, make your own deodorant at home with apple cider vinegar.

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