Toxic Ingredients In Makeup: What You Should Know

Last updated on : June 27 2021

Makeup brushes and powder

Article Summary

In the past century, our society has realized the health implications of toxins in makeup, including what they are and the acute medical conditions that could follow after years of using makeup that is not clean.

Click on the links to learn more about toxins in makeup. 

Harmful Makeup

Harmful Ingredients Commonly Found In Makeup

Why Are These Toxic Chemicals Still Included In Cosmetics?

FDA's Role in Cosmetic Regulations

How to Find Non-Toxic Makeup


Harmful Makeup 

Makeup has been around for centuries, all the way back to the Egyptians. Women have been elongating their eyes, reddening their lips, and highlighting their facial features with various pigments, creams, and powders. 

But, what you may not know is that not all makeup is created equally.  

Throughout history, cosmetics were not always made up of safe and healthy ingredients. When the ancient Egyptians rimmed their eyes with kohl, they were probably unaware of the dangerous toxins they were putting on their faces, such as lead, metals, and ash. 

In the past century, our society has realized the health implications of toxins in makeup, including what they are and the acute medical conditions that could follow after years of using makeup that is not clean. 

Still, there are some harsh chemicals, carcinogens, and toxins that pollute our makeup. Recent news coverage has been in headlines for exposing and revealing hazardous beauty products. In 2019, the JoJo Siwa makeup set brand sold at Claire's tested positive for asbestos traces.

Harmful Ingredients Commonly Found In Makeup

We know that hazards such as lead and mercury cause diseases and harmful symptoms. If you find any of these chemicals in your skincare or makeup, discard these products and look for safe alternatives. 

There are many types of toxins, and below are some that could be in your cosmetic products and the effects they have on your body:

Mercury in Makeup

Found in some skincare products, including creams, mercury can reduce wrinkles, clear blemishes, and lighten uneven skin tone.  

You could experience a prickling sensation, such as pins and needles, on your face. The symptoms could be a loss of motor function, movement, speaking or hearing, and muscle fatigue.

Asbestos and Talc in Makeup

To achieve a silky texture and absorb oil, talcum is added to beauty powders.

This mineral is often mined near asbestos, which can increase the potential for cross-contamination. As mentioned with the JoJo Siwa brand, asbestos has been found in makeup and is a major health hazard. 

Asbestos can cause severe lung complications, respiratory failures, and cancer development from asbestos embedding onto internal organs. 

Makeup that has Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde is an additive in makeup and beauty products from eyelash glues to hair gels and even shampoos, lotions, and nail polishes to stop bacteria growth. 

This chemical is linked to cancer but can have short-term symptoms too. Wheezing, nausea, irritated skin, burning nose, throat, and eyes are symptoms that can affect you if you are sensitive to formaldehyde

Why Are These Toxic Chemicals Still Included In Cosmetics?  

If the above-listed toxins can be dangerous and cause severe health issues if used topically, why has there been continued use? 

Some ingredients are more affordable and easier to obtain. Due to this, if the ingredient is under a certain percentage, one that follows the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) guidelines, there is no incentive to replace it with a safer alternative. 

Additionally, many of these toxins have practical use--besides the fact that they can potentially cause acute diseases and, in severe cases, cancer. They can boost a product's shelf-life, create the desired texture, fight bacteria, or enhance the skincare or makeup's overall feel. 

The FDA's Role in Cosmetic Regulations

The FDA, which is in charge of regulating public health and safety through monitoring products, has some limitations when it comes to toxins in makeup. Their authority regarding beauty products is that cosmetics are FDA-regulated but do not have to be FDA-approved.

Unfortunately, this can leave room for some toxins to slip into products. There are two things for you to keep in mind:

The FDA adheres to the law, and there is no requirement for cosmetics to be approved before going on the market for consumers. Although if the FDA sees a product to violate such standards imposed, the FDA can investigate 

Alarmingly, brands and manufacturers do not have to report everything about their products to the FDA. Due to this, there is some discretion regarding the ingredients--but they still must be listed 

Recalls are voluntary, but the FDA can pursue a manufacturer if a product does not comply with the health and safety codes.  

This is an example of how a substance like asbestos, where any number of tiny fibers can enter the body and result in the development of malignant tumors, is still allowed.

Even though asbestos has been recognized as a carcinogen, primarily causing mesothelioma, one percent is permitted in manufacturing. When asbestos is in makeup, it is typically because of trace amounts of asbestos-contaminated talc deposits. 

How To Find Non-Toxic Makeup

Looking at the ingredient list is a good place to start. The percentage or level of toxicity can be determined by where the chemical is listed. Normally, the ingredients listed at the beginning are higher amounts than the bottom ingredients. 

For most chemicals, they are clearly listed, such as with parabens. Any ingredient ending in "paraben," like ethylparaben or butylparaben, contains this substance.

Even though parabens do not have the same health effects as a toxin like formaldehyde, they are still ingredients to be wary of as studies have suggested parabens disrupt hormones, harm fertility and reproductive organs, and increase the risk of cancer. 

How To Buy Clean Beauty

Another precaution you can take is purchasing strictly clean beauty products. Now more than ever, eco-friendly, animal cruelty-free, natural, and safer choices are available. Do your research on better brands for better products. 

However, one article points to the meaning of clean beauty, and that organic and green do not equal clean. They also recommend starting with one or two products to switch to and gradually change up your routine. Starting with just a few beauty switches can incorporate toxin-free makeup that will become easier to commit to overtime fully. 

You may have been using the same lipstick since you were 17, but it is a good idea to look at alternatives if you find that your favorite brand is not toxic-free.

Investigating publicly available lists of ingredients for all the ingredients that a manufacturer uses and researching the health effects can lead you to safer alternatives. Don't be afraid to look at multiple websites to get the most accurate and unbiased information. 

Some stores even have clean-beauty lines which, as expected, are pickier about what they include in their products. Sephora, Ulta, and Target are all open about providing toxic-free beauty. They have resources to take away some of the guesswork and confusion when purchasing these alternatives.  

Don't be hesitant to check out the substitutes. Clean beauty doesn't solely focus on cutting out toxins. Today, clean beauty means beauty that makes you feel good, with genuine products made with quality ingredients to offer your skin the best. 

There may not be clear-cut ingredients to look for--most of the time, it's watching out for known toxins or questionable additives. What you should know is that companies should be displaying honest labels. There should be no concerns about the products you are using every day. 

Online Guides for Toxins in Makeup

When you search online for makeup without added harsh chemicals, you will likely find lots of information. EcoCult, an online shopping guide, published a list of affordable non-toxic beauty products to guide you. Sometimes shopping for toxin-free makeup can be confusing and overwhelming, as various popular and brand-name cosmetics contain harmful ingredients. 

Medical News Today also lists more toxins to be aware of, including lead, triclosan, phthalates, and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). 

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an excellent resource to find out more about toxic chemicals. On the EWG website, you can find news and information to help you make more informed decisions about this key issue. 

They also have a section on cosmetics. Their purpose is to protect the public from unnecessary exposure to hazards that can lead to lung cancer, brain disorders, or any symptomatic reaction. 


Toxins in makeup

In May 2020, the EWG wrote an article titled "The Toxic Twelve Chemicals and Contaminants in Cosmetics." The piece, along with listing dibutyl, three other types of formaldehyde, and other forms of parabens, showed another surprising fact:

"Since 2009, 595 cosmetics manufacturers have reported using 88 chemicals, in more than 73,000 products, that have been linked to cancer, congenital disabilities or reproductive harm."

Along with this, the EWG has another benefitting tool to help you identify unsafe products. Skin Deep® ranks products from most safe to least and gives you various foundations, creams, moisturizers, eyeliners, lipsticks, nail polishes, and many more types of makeup and skincare to help you narrow down your search. 

If you don't know where to start or have a hard time finding healthy options, you could check out Skin Deep® to measure your cosmetics' quality and safety. 

Ultimately, there could be more recalls or evidence about these toxins before the FDA eliminates or controls the manufacturing before going on the market. Since Congress has left much of this regulation up to you, the consumer, it is our job to advocate for our health and pay close attention to toxic chemicals.

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