Cosmetics is big, big business, cashing in people wanting to look more beautiful and glamorous, but indiscriminate use of lotions, lipsticks, creams, nail polish, hair dyes and even perfume can have the opposite of the intended effect.
Doctors warn that these beauty aids can have severe impacts on the skin, eyes and lungs.
The Ho Chi Minh City Dermatology Hospital has received more cosmetics victims over the past decade, with most suffering from discolored or oozing skin on the head due to hair dyes, inflammation of the nail fold from nail polish and itchy, scaly skin or a red rash from lotions, lipstick or cream.
Dr. Truong Quoc Hung of the hospital said he has dealt with many women who have come with damaged, distraught faces because the skin cannot fully recover in some parts.
Hung said cosmetics is a "double-edged sword," that one small mistake can cost a woman dear.
He said many patients at the hospital have had to delay their wedding after they used many kinds of cosmetics to make their skin look perfect on the big day.
Broadly, reactions to cosmetics are of two kinds irritant contact dermatitis and allergic contact dermatitis.
The former is the more common kind which occurs when an irritating or harsh substance actually damages the skin. It begins with itchy, scaly skin or a red rash, but can develop into blisters that ooze.
Allergic contact dermatitis happens to people who are allergic to specific ingredients in a product, with symptoms including redness, swelling, itching, and hive-like breakouts.
The irritant reactions occur mostly in areas where the outermost layer of skin is thin, such as the eyelids, or where the skin is dry and cracked, while allergies commonly show up on the face, lips, eyes, ears and neck.
Hung said certain ingredients used in cosmetics, such as fragrances and preservatives, can act as antigens, substances that trigger allergic reactions.
He said the first mild reactions will be gone after several days when women stop using the cosmetics right away, but many women do not know that.
Ngoc Nhung, a recent patient at the hospital, was admitted with a swollen face full of pimples, many of them oozing pus.
Nhung said she only used big brand products and therefore did not think her problem had anything to do with the cosmetics.
She said when she had the first pimples, she began to put on more make-up to cover the spots.
Nhung was prescribed long-term treatment, but not guaranteed complete recovery.
Hung said severe allergic reactions do not only include swelling and acnes, but also conjunctivitis which is the inflammation of the membrane under the eyelid; swelling of the eyelid; and anaphylactic shock which is a sudden and potentially fatal reaction marked by a drop in blood pressure and difficulty in breathing.
The doctor said women should be very alert and careful about their use of cosmetics. They should stop using a product immediately if they suffer from red rashes and itchy skin.
Lipsticks and other make-up tools should be kept personal as sharing them can spread pimples as well as other external diseases from one person to another. Tools should be cleaned and replaced regularly, and tweezers used to trim eyebrows need to be sterilized, he said.
He said many women also often forget to check the cosmetics' expiry dates or wash their hands before applying make-up.
The doctor said regular users also expose themselves to the harmful phthalates which are used as solvents in many mainstream cosmetics, including hair sprays, deodorants, nail polishes and perfumes.
He said the chemical compounds, which animal studies have proved can damage the liver, kidneys, lungs and reproductive systems, are present in 70 percent of personal external care products including shampoo.
Phthalates can be absorbed through the skin to the blood, or inhaled into the lungs. They are banned in cosmetics sold in Europe since 2003, and scientists in the US and Canada have also agreed that exposure to the chemicals could cause a wide range of health and reproductive problems in people.
Hung said every person that uses cosmetics should, at the very least, avoid overusing them.
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