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Nail care products are displayed at a beauty supply shop in San Francisco, Monday, April 9, 2012. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)
Nail care products are displayed at a beauty supply shop in San Francisco, Monday, April 9, 2012. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)

Are toxins and 'whale vomit' in your cosmetics? Add to ...

A California report revealing that some nail polishes labelled as “non-toxic” actually contain high levels of harmful chemicals has provoked reactions of horror and disgust.

According to the Associated Press, California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control has found that several brands of nail polishes commonly used in salons contain what’s known as the “toxic trio”: toluene, dibutyl phthalate (DBP) and formaldehyde. Exposure to large amounts of the chemicals have been linked to birth defects, developmental problems and illnesses, AP reported.

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Salon customers, manicurists and legislators have voiced shock and concern over the findings.

“It’s disappointing. It’s disgusting and misleading. But I feel like companies lie about everything, especially nowadays when it sells to be ‘organic,’” customer Dawn Boyce told the Associated Press.

Added California state senator Leland Yee: “While we have made great strides in ensuring sanitary conditions at salons, the presence of dangerous chemicals still persists. There are no excuses for manufacturers to mislabel their products.”

The mislabeling of toxic polish is certainly alarming – but other common cosmetics contain plenty of substances that, if not downright dangerous, might make people think twice about using them.

Ambergris – excretions of male sperm whales, also known as “whale vomit” – is used as a fixative in certain high-end perfumes. University of British Columbia researchers have recently discovered that a gene in balsam fir trees could be used instead, the CBC reported. After all, who likes the idea of spraying animal excretions on their skin (from an endangered species, no less)?

And if you thought Starbucks’s use of cochineal extract, made from crushed bugs, to colour its beverages was gross, the coffee company’s chief executive offered some perspective: “Most women in America wearing red lipstick have this ingredient,” Howard Schultz told CBS This Morning. “It’s everywhere, it’s all-natural.”

And far more disconcerting than whale vomit and crushed bugs are the high amounts of formaldehyde found in hair straightening treatments, commonly known as Brazilian blowouts or keratin solutions.

Do you know what’s in your cosmetics and skin care? Would risky, or even icky, ingredients make you switch products?

Follow on Twitter: @wencyleung

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