Surprisingly dangerous beauty practices

Written by antonia blyth
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Scary beauty treatments and their safer alternatives

Surprisingly dangerous beauty practices
Don't be afraid, there are safer alternatives to some dangerous treatments (Cindy Ord/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images)

A lot of companies are boasting that they have formaldehyde-free products but when you apply heat with a flatiron, you’re still getting dangerous fumes.

— Jenn MacDonald, hairstylist

You may have heard the expression "beauty is pain," but what if it means skin cancer or nerve damage? And while the French may say, "one must suffer to be beautiful," surely there's a line that you should never cross in the pursuit of looking fabulous. With chemical and technological advancements, the beauty industry offers you longer lashes; smooth, glossy hair; and long, strong nails. But with reports emerging that the Brazilian Blowout is hazardous to your health and lash serum can turn your baby blues a muddy colour, how do you know what's safe? Understanding the risks involved and the sensible safety measures you can take is key.

Brazilian blowout

Surprisingly dangerous beauty practices
Straight hair doesn't have to come at a high cost. (Getty Images)

If you've got frizzy, unruly hair, you've likely tried a myriad of smoothing serums and leave-in conditioners. You also probably wrestle with a blow-dryer and regularly fry your hair with a flatiron. However, with all this work, a treatment like the Brazilian Blowout that promises smooth hair for months at a time, might seem like a miracle. But at what price?

In the original Brazilian Blowout process, a solution containing formaldehyde was painted onto the hair, which was then dried and flatironed at a high temperature. The result was smoother, straighter hair for two to three months.

However, reports about the dangers of formaldehyde -- an active ingredient in the process – soon made headlines. Used as a body preservative by undertakers, formaldehyde is a toxic chemical. Inhaling its fumes can cause lung damage -- and long-term exposure can increase the risk of cancer.

After warnings, most salons switched to products with low or zero formaldehyde content. These zero formulas are often branded as a “keratin blowout.”

Yet, Jenn MacDonald, celebrity hair stylist, says: “A lot of companies are boasting that they have formaldehyde-free products, but when you apply heat with a flatiron, you’re still getting dangerous fumes.”

So, even if you’ve checked that your salon isn’t using a formaldehyde formula, it’s vital to ensure that you’re not inhaling noxious gasses.

MacDonald uses a formaldehyde-free formula for her keratin blowouts, but says that she is extra cautious about fumes too, using both a fume extractor and performing the process in a well-ventilated space. She says she hasn’t experienced any problems or fumes in the salon.

In addition, she offers a treatment she calls the "vegan blowout," an entirely natural product created by Zerran. “I knew that some people were concerned about the harsh chemicals in some of the smoothing treatments,” she said in an interview. “I wanted a treatment that was free from chemicals and safe for use on my pregnant or nursing clients.”

The results have been impressive. “The vegan blowout reduces 70 to 100 percent of frizz,” said MacDonald, “while the keratin treatment reduces 100 percent of frizz --- just like the scary old Brazilian blowout did. “

Gel manicures

Surprisingly dangerous beauty practices
Avoid UV lamps when drying nail polish. Keep nails short to prevent chipping. (Getty Images)

With singers such as Rihanna and Adele sporting flawlessly long talons, gel nails have become the rage.

Treatment involves lightly buffing the nail surface, applying a brush-on gel to the natural nail -- and letting it set under a UV lamp. The resulting rock-hard polish promises chip-free, well-protected nails for two to three weeks.

However, in June 2010, ABC News reported on the dangers of gel manicures, noting that some salons are giving fake gel manicures by creating their own dangerous mix of glue and powder rather than using actual gels. The use of unknown chemicals, as well as improper technique, present hazards to unsuspecting clients.

The ABC News report included the story of Jane Ubell-Meyer, who experienced electric-shock-like sensations and muscle spasms, following a faux gel manicure. After a lengthy search for a diagnosis, Ubell-Meyer saw neurologist Dr. Orly Avitzur, who said she believes the manicure to be the cause of Ubell-Meyer's symptoms. Ubell-Meyer said the electric file slipped and scuffed her fingers during her manicure. The technician then dipped her fingers into a pot of chemicals. Avitzur said the chemicals in the powder likely migrated through the cut, causing nerve damage.

Kimmie Kyees, a celebrity manicurist, who works with Rihanna, Pink and Katy Perry, says that to avoid fake gel manicures. “Familiarise yourself with the brands of gel polish," she explained in an interview. "Know how it’s packaged and how the treatment should be performed. If they’re bringing something out of a jar that you don’t recognise, don’t do it.”

Kyees also says it’s vital to choose a reputable salon. You can even call the office of a brand you want to ask what local salons they recommend.

Cleanliness is also important when doing any sort of manicures and pedicures.

“Make sure the towel on the station is clean and fresh,” said Kyees. “Also make sure the tools are sanitised either in an autoclave or a clean solution of Barbicide that isn’t at all murky. Some salons bring their clean tools out of a sealed bag each time, which is ideal.”

There is some talk among dermatologists that the UV nail lights used to set gel manicures could be a risk factor for skin cancer. An April 2009 article in the "Archives of Dermatology" discusses the cases of two middle-aged women with no family history of cancer who developed skin cancer on their hands. Both reported exposure to UV nail lights.

If you really want gel nails but want to avoid the risk involved with UV lamps, Kyees says there are lots of new brands that set using LED lights. Curing under LED light is quicker than under UV light.

Lash enhancers

Surprisingly dangerous beauty practices
Lengthening mascaras and false lashes are a safe alternative if you're concerned about side effects. (Getty Images)

At £60 to £100 a bottle, which lasts about 45 days for the first application, Latisse eyelash enhancer may seem exorbitantly priced. But it really works. Derived from a treatment originally intended for glaucoma sufferers, this product grows your lashes dramatically. After eight weeks of painting a drop of the solution on your upper lashes, they are at least twice as thick, longer and darker in colour. However, some consumers are concerned that one of the listed side effects for those with light-coloured eyes is a possible darkening of the iris.

Dr. Garo Kasabian, a double board-certified plastic surgeon was the first to offer the much in-demand Latisse at his Lift MD Aesthetics practice; he says the colour-changing side effect in most instances is unlikely.

“Latisse is created using the active ingredient Lumigan," Kassabian said in an interview. "The side effect was seen in another glaucoma medication when it was dropped directly on the eyeball. Latisse is not placed on the eyeball; it’s swiped on the skin of the upper eyelid. Each swipe contains around five percent of a single drop, which is not going directly in your eye anyway.”

However, if you're not sold on Latisse, there are alternative ways to enhance your lashes.

Eyelash extensions are effective. For the most natural appearance, look for a salon offering single-lash attachment, rather than one that simply glues on strips. These can last several weeks and you can even coat them with mascara for an extra kick.

While several companies market lash conditioning serums with claims that they will grow your lashes longer, these mostly contain no active ingredients proven to grow lashes. While conditioning your lashes will probably make them appear glossier and darker, be aware that they will likely not grow significantly longer unless your serum contains a proven active ingredient.

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