While researching material for an Alzheimer’s blog that I wrote in November of 2019, I came across a piece of information that I have never forgotten because it was astoundingly surprising. Worldwide, women with dementia outnumber men 2 to 1. Brain scans tell us that the rate at which brain cells are dying in women is faster than in men.
My initial research into this imbalance came up empty-handed. In the J Alzheimers Dis., it is stated that, “Two-thirds of clinically diagnosed cases of dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) are women, according to U.S. and most European reports. The primary reason offered for this gender difference is women’s greater longevity as risk of developing dementia increases with age. In spite of this proposed explanation, the extent to which gender differences are primarily a matter of the increasing number of women relative to men at older ages remains to be resolved.”
Because this disparity is not clarified, I began to think of the possible causes that could be contributing to this silent crisis. The causes that I have formulated have not been proven by the scientific community. They are the result of my own logical reasoning and analytical thinking. I realize that there are MANY potential causes, but I have chosen to focus on the major lifestyle differences between women and men that impact health.
This information is intended for all peoples, but it is especially geared toward the female youth of our planet. I wish I was aware of this information when I was in my teens or 20’s because the sooner you are empowered with life changing knowledge, the sooner you can start making wiser decisions.
The Potential Causes
When I first read the statistic that dementia was more common in women, I began to think of the major lifestyle differences between men and women that could potentially explain this anomaly. After deliberation and thoughtful consideration, I came up with 3 possibilities which could be the culprits: perfume, makeup, and hair dye treatments.
1. Synthetic Perfume
Neurotoxic Effects of Perfume
We will first explore the detrimental effects of synthetic fragrances and the possible correlation between women’s perfume and the subsequent rise in dementia within this population. Natural fragrances from plants and animals were predominantly used until the end of the 19th century. At present, synthetic fragrances are increasingly applied due to the consistent and reproducible quality over natural fragrances.
However, the benefits gained from using synthetic fragrances appear to be offset by the physical consequences to our human biological system.
A document entitled, Fragrance alters mood and brain chemistry, states that, “perfumes contain neurotoxins, which have a causal link to central nervous system disorders, headaches, confusion, dizziness, short-term memory loss, anxiety, depression, disorientation, and mood swings.”
According to a report by Health Care Without Harm, “exposure to fragrance chemicals can cause headaches; eye, nose, and throat irritation; nausea; forgetfulness; loss of coordination; and other respiratory and/or neurotoxic symptoms.”
In Toxic Chemicals Found in Fragrance, researchers found that, “the current system for fragrance safety is run entirely by the fragrance industry — and this self-regulating program is greenlighting chemicals that reputable authoritative bodies and government agencies have restricted, banned or deemed hazardous.”
The Toxic Chemicals Found in Fragrance research was cited by the Women’s Voices for the Earth (WVE) which is an organization run by women who are devoted to steering the feminine care marketplace toward safer products in order to protect women’s health. Their findings are impressive. I highly recommend that you explore their website.
Perfume – Market Usage By Gender
The next question that needs to be addressed involves the perfume market size by gender. In other words, do more women wear perfume as compared to the percentage of men who use cologne? The data shows that the answer is yes.
According to the Perfume Market Size, Share, Industry Trends Report, 2019-2025, “Women accounted for the largest share of 60.1% in 2018. It is observed that women in U.S. purchase a new perfume as often as once a month, in comparison to men who buy it on an average of 1-2 times per year, mainly for the purpose of replenishment. As per a survey, around 41% of the females in U.S. use perfumes everyday as compared to men. In U.K., perfume sales are expected to rise up among women irrespective of its high price points, as they consider it to be an essential part of personal care.”
The data from the Industry Trends Report shows that a higher percentage of women use fragrances as compared to the percentage of men. Also, women use perfumes more often and they also use a greater variety of fragrances. Statista Research Department found that, “87 percent of female respondents said they use two or more fragrances weekly.”
It is obvious that societal expectations impact why women perceive perfume as a regular part of their self-care routine. Men do not seem to hold this same viewpoint regarding cologne.
Perfume – Age Usage by Gender
According to an article citing the Best Baby Perfumes of 2020, it is clear that the perfume industry supports the manufacturing of fragrances to be worn by babies, both female and male.
An article written by Vogue states that most girls in the United States try perfume for the first time around the age of 12. In Europe and Latin America, this can happen much earlier.
For males, according to the 2013 Men’s Fragrance Track Study by NPD, ”Seventy-two percent of adult male fragrance wearers in the U.S. started using fragrance when they were 17 years old or younger.”
Judging by the research data, it is surmised that the average female in the U.S. begins to wear perfume about five years earlier than males begin to wear cologne. These figures are estimated averages and, as always, there will be outliers at both ends of the spectrum.
The key ingredients in most cosmetics include water, emulsifiers, preservatives, thickeners, moisturizers, colors and fragrances. These ingredients can be natural or synthetic.
In this excellent video by Dena Takruri, an American Journalist, she highlights the ugly truth about makeup.
- Over 10,000 industrial chemicals are used in makeup
- Blush can contain parabens and talc
- Foundation, lipstick, eye shadow, and eye liner may all contain heavy metals.
“As much as 60% of topical skin-care products are absorbed through the skin and into the bloodstream. They should be consumed with the same prudence that we use to choose our breakfast cereal.” – Dr. Nancy Lonsdorf, April 2006 Issue of Women’s Health Magazine.
How Do Heavy Metals Get In Makeup?
According to this informative article, makeup color additives are derived from either petroleum or minerals, both of which originate from the Earth’s crust. Hence, trace amounts of heavy metals are found in dyes and pigments used in cosmetics. The trace amounts of heavy metals get absorbed through our skin and bioaccumulate which means that every heavy metal exposure adds up. Our bones store heavy metals and they stay in our bodies for decades.
The bioaccumulation of heavy metals is a very important factor that will impact the health of a woman who’s been using chemical-laden makeup for years.
Neurotoxic Effect of Heavy Metals
Science has proven that chronic exposure to heavy metals can lead to a gradual decline in physical and neurological processes and cause conditions such as multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, or Alzheimer’s disease.
This toxicity element is very relevant to females today, especially since most girls start wearing makeup while in their teenage years. Heavy metals will accumulate in the body over time which is why it is imperative to decrease exposure to these toxins at the earliest age possible.
Makeup – Market Usage by Gender
Females: The NPD Group’s 2018 Makeup In-Depth Consumer Report claims that 90 percent of women in the U.S. wear makeup. As compared to 2016, more women are using makeup, and they are using more products in a typical day.
Males: According to statistics, 75 percent of men ages 18 and up are not currently using facial skin care products. Of the men who are using makeup, here is the 2014 breakdown: 11 percent bronzer, 10 percent concealer, 9 percent foundation.
Morning Consult summarizes the situation nicely, “Women grew up with makeup — it’s a multibillion-dollar industry. Whereas men, they haven’t grown up with it. They haven’t had it on the counter. Their fathers never used it. They don’t have it in the bathroom.”
Makeup – Age Usage by Gender
Females: The average age that a girl starts to wear makeup is 12-14 years.
Males: Per a survey done by Morning Consult, the younger generation of males is more accepting to the idea of trying makeup. So much so that in 2018, Chanel debuted a line of men’s makeup called Boy de Chanel.
3. Hair Dye
The hair dying industry is an estimated $7 billion industry worldwide. Hair dyes remove the natural color and add new color to the hair which can be synthetic or natural. There are temporary, semi-permanent, and permanent dyes with the latter being associated with the most health risks.
Every two months, Barclay Cunningham goes through a process that begins with taking an antihistamine tablet. After a few hours, she smears a thick layer of antihistamine cream across her forehead…It didn’t start out this bad. Cunningham colored her hair for a decade without any problems. – The Atlantic
Neurotoxic Effects of Hair Dye Treatment
According to the National Capital Poison Center permanent hair dyes, “typically include an alkalizing agent like ammonia, an oxidizing agent like hydrogen peroxide, a primary intermediate such as paraphenylenediamine (PPD), and coupler molecules like resorcinol.”
There is data showing the neurotoxic effects of ammonia, toluene, and lead acetate which are common ingredients that can be found in hair color products.
Ammonia in hair dyes is applied directly to the human scalp where it will be absorbed through the skin and eventually enter the bloodstream. Chronic exposure to ammonia may have a detrimental impact upon the central nervous system. In a 2018 research study, it is noted that ammonia has strong neurotoxicity, and several initial studies declared a possible association between Alzheimer’s Disease and blood ammonia level.
Toluene is in many hair dyes and considered to be a well-established neurotoxin. In the J Neuropathol Exp Neurol, it was found that, “long-term and intense exposure to toluene vapors in humans…has led to the recognition that toluene has a severe impact on central nervous system myelin. Chronic toluene abuse produces a devastating neurological disorder, of which dementia is the most disabling component.”
Lead acetate, another common ingredient found in hair dyes, is linked to neurotoxicity. Research has confirmed that exposures to lead have adverse effects on the central nervous system, that environmental factors augment lead susceptibility, and that exposures in early life can cause neurodegeneration in later life.
According to Consumer Reports, lead acetate was officially listed by the FDA as an unsafe ingredient in hair dye products in 2018. Old inventory may still be on the market so I suggest reading the labels and confirming that your salon is now using lead-free hair dye treatments.
Lead Acetate Summary
- 1980 – FDA lists lead acetate as SAFE; U.S. begins using lead in hair dye products.
- 2008 – Canada bans lead acetate from hair dye products.
- 2018 – FDA lists lead acetate as UNSAFE; U.S. bans lead acetate from hair dye products.
The United States had been using lead in hair dye treatments for approximately 40 years before the FDA banned its use. Lead is a heavy metal neurotoxin which is known to bioaccumulate in the body over time. As our body stores more and more lead, there is a greater risk of having an adverse effect to the biology, especially in the central nervous system.
Hair Dye Usage by Gender
Altering the natural color of hair is done by both men and women but there are differences in the frequency of use and the age at which each gender begins to experiment. Data sources include Multi-Sponsor Surveys and Mintel’s Hair Colourant Report.
- U.S. Women Hair Color Usage
1950s – 7%, 1970s – 40%, 2015 – 70%, 2019 – 87%
- U.S. Men Hair Color Usage
Ages 16-24: 2018 – 38%, 2019 – 46%
Ages 50-64: 1999 – 2%, 2010 – 7%, 2019 – 11%
In order to get a better picture of this situation, I spoke with a good friend of mine, Elaine, who owns her own hair salon in a suburban town in the state of Massachusetts. Elaine has been a hairdresser in the cosmetic industry for 32 years.
She provided the following information based upon her salon’s activity exclusively. It is recognized that usage statistics will vary depending upon the salon’s location and clientele numbers.
Female Usage in Elaine’s Salon
- Middle Childhood: Start using direct dyes between 8-9 years old
- Teenagers: Start using foil highlights
- Women in 20’s: Start using at-home hair color
- Women in 30’s: Start professional permanent coloring on a regular basis and continue into old age.
Male Usage in Elaine’s Salon
- Elaine has NO male clients that get permanent hair color treatments. She does have a small percentage of male clients that receive camouflage color which consists of combing a semi-permanent color through the hair, leaving it for 5 minutes, then rinsing it out. It is a similar process that is used with the popular product, Just For Men.
There Are Natural Alternative Choices
- Perfume Alternative: Essentials oils are a great alternative to perfume. High-quality essential oils have a wonderful scent without exposing you to toxins. My personal favorites are lavender and sandalwood.
- Makeup Alternative: There are makeup brands that are vegan, use organic ingredients, and their products are free from synthetic chemicals, parabens, sulfates, harsh detergents, artificial fragrances or colors.
- Hair Dye Alternatives: Search for organic hair colors that are approved with the MADE SAFE certification. Confirm that the hair dyes are a “six-free” formula meaning that the product is free of ammonia, resorcinol, parabens, phthalates, PPD, and lead.
Positive Trends and Helpful Resources
There is a promising trend among the younger generation that they like natural fragrances over synthetic based. The data is showing that, “approximately 75% of millennial women prefer buying natural products, wherein more than 45% of them favor natural based healthy perfumes” – Perfume Market Size, Share, Industry Trends Report, 2019-2025.
The consumer demand for natural skin care products continues to show an increase in the makeup industry too. Skin care brands with organic and vegan ingredients are fueling the billion-dollar natural beauty movement as more consumers question what exactly is in their makeup. – NPD Group
In the global hair market, the latest trend gaining momentum is the availability of natural hair colorants. People are generally aware that artificial hair coloring products are associated with various harmful effects. Therefore, “customers are switching from artificial hair colors to natural or herbal hair colors which have no side effects on the human body.” – Global Hair Color Market, 2017-2021.
Overall sales of skincare products in 2019 climbed 5%, fragrance rose 2%, hair jumped 16%, but makeup, the largest category at $7.6 billion, fell 7%. – NPD Group
EWG Cosmetic Database was created by The Environmental Working Group. You can search for an ingredient, brand, or product to find out about their potential hazards and health concerns.
MADE SAFE (Made With Safe Ingredients) is America’s first certification to screen out known toxic chemicals in consumer personal care products.
There is an insidious epidemic that continues to develop among the female population in which the statistics show that the incidence of cognitive decline happens twice as much in women as compared to the male population. There are three major lifestyle differences between males and females that may be contributing factors to this disparity – how each gender uses synthetic perfume, makeup, and hair dye treatments in their daily lives.
Certain chemicals found in perfume, makeup, and hair dye products have neurotoxic effects upon human biology, especially when compounded over time. The female population utilizes perfume, makeup, and hair dye treatments to a much greater extent than the male population.
Authored by Susan Kapatoes, founder of Inspire Your Journey.
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