Your Makeup’s Dirty Little Secret

This was article was originally created on May 17, 2016 and posted on

Beauty hurts.

This statement has echoed from the velvet-stained lips of women for centuries.  Whether it be the endless waxing and plucking required to obtain silky skin, the bloody feet from blisters during a night on the town in sexy stilettos or the hours spent in the mirror trying to create a face that is desirable by the masses, the “pain” doesn’t go much deeper than the surface. Hair grows back, blisters heal and a good face wash clears off the muck in the morning.

But are our beauty routines really as temporary as we think? Does scrubbing our skin clean really mean there’s no long-term damage to the body?

We spend so much time applying our concealers, stains and powders that we don’t stop to understand what we’re actually caking onto our faces.

But maybe we should start.

The Problem

The standards for makeup hasn’t changed since 1938.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is not really involved in regulation of  the makeup industry at all. The makeup industry is self-regulated for the most part, so they can basically put all kinds of shit in our products — and they do.


In Europe, they’ve banned 13,000 chemicals from going into their cosmetic products, but in the United States, we’ve only banned eight chemicals and restricted three. In Europe, a chemical is harmful until proven otherwise, but in the United States, the chemical is NOT harmful until proven otherwise.

The catch? When problems do occur because of harmful chemicals in makeup, the company doesn’t have to report it.

Now that wouldn’t be so scary if makeup simply wiped clean from our bodies everyday, but that’s not the case. In 2007, a study was done by biochemist Richard Bence which found that women absorb just under five pounds of chemicals a year from makeup. That’s almost the weight of a newborn.

The skin is the largest organ in the body and our makeup comes in direct contact with it everyday. The issue is, no one seems to think of it that way.

Robin Dodson, a research scientist at Silent Spring Institute in Newton, Massachusetts, focuses her studies on chemicals that might interfere with our hormone systems. One chemicals she studies is parabens.

Parabens are used as preservatives in cosmetic products to prevent the growth of bacteria.

“We know that they are used in personal care products and we can see that when you kind of look at national data,” Dodson said. “We can see that over 90 percent of Americans are exposed to these types of chemicals, so you infer that those are coming directly from the use of that product.”


But what’s wrong with parabens? Well, they have been associated with estrogenic effects, meaning they effect the female reproductive system, which in turn, means an increased risk of breast cancer.

Dodson said that the chemicals in products are only one evil. Product labels don’t always tell the truth. Not all the chemicals that are in makeup are properly labeled, so this makes the problem even bigger.

“My research would suggest that we need to do a better job at labeling products in society, and we need to do a better job at chemical testing — like testing these chemicals for safety before we even put them in the product,” Dodson said.

The Solution

With all this bad news about chemicals slowly seeping into our skin causing cancer and hormone alterations, what can we do?

Know What You Buy

Start becoming more aware of the products that you buy. Read labels. Know your chemicals. Think smart.

Or you can Think Dirty. Think Dirty is an app you can download on your phone that shows how toxic your product is. All you need to do is scan the bar code or type in the name of the product and the app will rate it on a scale of zero to 10 — zero being the cleanest product you can purchase (not toxic at all) and 10 being the most toxic. The app will even give you a break down of all the chemicals and each of their ratings so you can see what to look out for in the future when you shop.

Helpful Tip: Avoid products with fragrances in them. Fragrances have a whole sweep of chemicals that they might be correlated with that aren’t in labels.


Take Action

The Personal Care Product Safety Act wants to make a change and has brought this bill to congress.

The bill requires makeup companies to report adverse health effects in 50 days and review five risky product ingredients each year. This bill wants to take the responsibility of medical safety of cosmetics from the consumers and place it onto the makers of the products.

Become the Maker

Believe it or not, makeup does not need to be bought on a self. You can make your own using natural oils and other ingredients that you can buy at your local grocery store.

Transitioning from top shelf makeup to homemade products will be difficult at first. Your body will need to adjust to the lack of chemicals and the introduction of natural oils that you have stripped from it. If you still want to buy some products but want to lessen the chemical load you absorb, just use homemade foundation. Foundation, as you can probably guess, is the makeup product that gets absorbed into the skin the most.


Changes need to be made in the makeup industry, that much is clear. But until then, it is up to us to be aware and think intelligently as consumers because beauty really shouldn’t hurt.