Looking fabulous often comes with a pretty hefty price tag: Salon, spa and dermatologist bills can quickly add up, then there are those shopping sprees at the cosmetics counter and drugstore. But the cost of some dangerous beauty treatments can be too high to pay. Each of these five services carries certain health risks that are important to keep in mind when contemplating their beautifying benefits.
1. Tanning bed sessions
We shouldn’t have to tell you about the safety issues surrounding spending time in a tanning bed. “Tanning beds are thought to emit ultraviolet radiation several fold higher than one receives from the sun,” according to San Diego dermatologist Dr. Susan Stuart. “Studies indicate that tanning bed use can result in increased incidence of premature skin aging and the development of skin cancers, especially melanoma, which is potentially deadly.” According to the National Cancer Institute, female tanning bed users are 55 percent more likely to develop malignant melanoma.
Advice and alternatives: There are plenty of effective ways to get bronzed skin without subjecting your skin to dangerous rays at the tanning salon. Sunless tanning lotions—which contain a natural sugar that darkens the color of surface skin cells—have come a long way since the first ones hit the market and are now extremely easy to use and leave the skin with a subtle, natural glow. For buildable color, try Jergens Natural Glow Foaming Daily Moisturizer ($8.50, drugstores and mass retailers). Don’t want to DIY? Opt for a sunless spray tan at a spa or salon in your area.
2. Chemical peels
A chemical peel is just what it sounds like: Chemicals are used to peel away surface skin, helping to improve the appearance of sunspots and revealing fresh, healthy skin below. In the wrong hands, though, the use of these chemicals can cause complications like burning, scarring, hyperpigmentation, hypopigmentation, and skin eruptions.
Advice and alternatives: “Training and experience are everything, especially when it comes to the application of the peel to one’s face,” says Stuart, who believes peels are safe and very effective when they’re performed under the direction of a board-certified dermatologist or a licensed medical esthetician. At-home peels are not as strong as those done by professionals, but most are safe and provide results over time. One to try: Peter Thomas Roth Un-Wrinkle Peel Pads ($45, www.sephora.com).
3. Laser hair removal
Never having to shave again sounds too good to be true. And if you choose the wrong facility in which to receive laser hair removal treatments, it is. “The primary complications which can occur are laser skin burns, scars, abnormal or irregular pigmentation and ineffective hair removal,” according to Stuart.
Advice and alternatives: Under the guidance of a board-certified dermatologist, this treatment is very safe, says Stuart. Unfortunately, many clinics operate without proper supervision or training and attract patients because of their low prices. Be wary of rock-bottom deals and always check the credentials of the dermatologist who is overseeing and training anyone who will be administering the laser treatments. Of course there are also plenty of less expensive and safer hair-removal options, including shaving, waxing, threading and depilatories.
4. Fusion hair extensions
During this salon service, small bundles of hair are attached to the client’s natural hair using a keratin bonding agent and heat. If the extensions are improperly removed, women can experience shedding and breakage. Plus, if the bundle of hair is not bonded to enough natural hair or is too heavy, the natural hair can break. “This constant tugging can damage the follicle at the root and result in permanent hair loss,” says William George, founder of the James Joseph salon in Boston.
Advice and alternatives: When these extensions are applied correctly, they cause very little damage to the hair, according to George. Plus, the keratin bonding agent is considered to be safe, as hair is also made of keratin. That said, extensions that are not held in place by glue are even gentler on your hair. Clip-in hair extensions (like those from Put On Pieces, www.hairuwear.com) won’t last as long, but they can be applied at home without putting stress on your tresses.
5. Keratin hair straightening
You’ve probably read the news about how certain forms of the “Brazilian Blowout” and other long-lasting keratin straightening treatments come with a dose of formaldehyde: The solution used to smooth and straighten strands for weeks at a time releases formaldehyde—a known carcinogen—into the air, which when inhaled can cause dizziness, nose bleeds and/or blurred vision, plus there’s a chance prolonged exposure could cause cancer.
Advice and alternatives: In-salon and at-home straightening options abound, all of which won’t up your risk of cancer. At the salon, check out the Opti Smooth service from Matrix, which won’t expose you to formaldehyde, and at home, just pick up your blowdryer and straightening iron and get to work.