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The Art of Beauty

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Many of the ingredients in our body and beauty care products originate from the same petroleum that runs our cars and heats our homes. While most of us wouldn't sip engine oil, we often lick it from our lipsticks, rub it into our eyes, and soak in it in the bathtub.

I confess. Like many women, I love makeup. I love the artistry of it, the fantasy of it, and the fun of it. While this fascination seems harmless, real dangers lurk in every potion that lines department store shelves-dangers that can lead to skin problems and diseases like cancer.

Many of the ingredients in our body and beauty care products originate from the same petroleum that runs our cars and heats our homes. While most of us wouldn't sip engine oil, we often lick it from our lipsticks, rub it into our eyes, and soak in it in the bathtub. The long-term effects of petroleum chemicals in our bodies have only recently become apparent.

False Estrogens and Cancer

Petroleum-derived chemicals are known to be xenoestrogens, which act as false estrogens that our bodies don't distinguish from the real thing. These false hormones bind with the estrogen receptor sites on our cells, changing cellular functions and causing hormonal balance shifts in favour of estrogen. Too much estrogen has been linked to PMS, problems with menopause, many female reproductive problems, and various forms of cancer.

The parabens comprise a group of xenoestrogenic chemicals used extensively as preservatives in everything from shampoos to moisturizers. (We distinguish them by their first names: butyl, ethyl, methyl, and propyl.) Parabens are readily absorbed into our bodies from the skin and the intestinal tract, and typically do not cause skin sensitivities or allergic reaction. Multiple studies show that parabens exert a weak estrogenic activity and are linked to breast cancer in women and problems with sperm production in men.

Another petrochemical product, mineral oil, is used as a lubricant and emollient because it's cheap and plentiful. It has been classified as a carcinogen according to the US Department of Health and Human Services 10th Report on Carcinogens (2002) and can be contaminated with xenoestrogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH). Studies show that PAH cause tumours in laboratory animals through inhalation, via food, or following prolonged contact with skin. Some PAH are known to activate estrogen receptors, and a 2004 study found that PAH stimulated proliferation of certain breast cancer cells.

Celebrity Makeup Artist Speaks

We go to great lengths to radiate health and beauty by eating properly and exercising regularly. Why undo all that hard work by coating our bodies in chemicals that can make us sick? According to Rose-Marie Swift, a celebrity makeup artist living and working in New York City, we can achieve our beauty goals without sabotaging our health. Hailing from Vancouver, Rose-Marie has beautified C?ne Dion and Kim Cattrall, as well as Sheryl Crow, Mandy Moore, and Isabella Rossellini. Moving away from toxic products in her own career, Swift has discovered some clean makeup tricks.

"First of all," says Swift, "ditch the foundation." A light powdering with a natural rice powder will even out most skin tones. Look for translucent rice powder in the cosmetic section of your health food store.

To open up your eye, forgo mascara and invest in a good eyelash curler. Prevent L-shaped lashes by curling the lash in stages, starting at the root of the lashes and finishing at the tip.

It's also important to have a clean brow-line. Book an appointment with an expert who can tweeze your brows into shape. You won't believe the difference it will make to your face.

Instead of eye shadow, keep eyelids looking youthful with a swipe of natural oil, such as jojoba oil. The oil catches the light, giving your eyes an alluring sparkle.

If you love colour, forget the belief that lipstick is only good for the lips. Blend some along the cheekbone or eyelid for an extra dash of colour. Choose a lipstick that uses only organic natural waxes, herbal extracts, and plant oils such as hemp. Essential oils and vitamin E are often included for their soothing and preservative qualities. You'll be happy knowing that your quest for colour is toxin free.

At day's end, take off your eye makeup with nontoxic cleansers available at the health products store. Or try solvent-and-chemical-free organic jojoba oil. You'll remove all trace of makeup and treat your lids and lashes to some nourishment as well.

When it comes to makeup, it's okay to be daring. Just don't be daring with your health.

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