Rumor has it that Queen Elizabeth I suffered from arsenic poisoning caused by the white powder she wore on her face. And if you think wearing makeup is any safer today, think again. Although the FDA acts as a watchdog for cosmetics and personal-care products, the organization lags behind other nations in its efforts to ban products containing toxins and suspected carcinogens.
For example, while the European Union has banned more than 1,000 chemicals in cosmetics and personal-care products, the FDA currently bans fewer than a dozen. So, it’s not too surprising that the most toxic area of your home could be your makeup drawer or bathroom cabinet.
“On average, women expose themselves to 148 chemicals in and on their bodies every day,” says Christina Marcaccini, founder of RAW Natural Beauty. “We’ve always been told that our skin is a safe protective barrier, but that’s not always the case. And last summer at the Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability Conference, the following statistics were presented: Eighty-six percent of women don’t know about the risk of using parabens, 50 percent of women think petrolatum is safe, and 78 percent of American women think natural care products are currently regulated.” New product tests released in October 2007 by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics showed that more than half of the 33 brand-name lipsticks tested contained detectable levels of lead. An eye-opening statistic in itself, but what’s more shocking is that lead wasn’t even listed as an ingredient.
In fact, Marcaccini went in search of natural products when she decided to start a family. She found that many so-called natural lines were still utilizing the same ingredients she’d been told to avoid. After a disappointing search, she finally decided to start her own line.
“Consumers need to realize that it’s not only good for the environment to buy natural or organic personal-care products but also good for our health when we avoid ingredients that could build up in our body and have a toxic effect over time,” says Marcaccini.
So does this mean we have to give up wearing makeup? Not necessarily. Knowing what to look for and what brands to buy are keys to safe cosmetic use.
Rule number one, just like shopping for food — become a label reader. And remember less is more. The fewer the ingredients you see, the better.
Rule number two — know what each ingredient really is and where it’s derived from. For example, the word carmine means that the product actually contains crushed beetles, which has been known to cause allergic reactions in many women. The colors FD&C and D&C are made from coal tar and can irritate your skin. Petrochemicals come from a non-renewable resource, and are in fact the byproducts of oil, identified on ingredient lists as PEG, buytlene, glycol, propylene, and petrolatum. Phthalates can’t always be identified by looking at the label as they’re often part of fragrances, so make sure you look for products that say phthalate-free or even fragrance-free. Parabens are usually listed as methyl, butyl, and propyl and are often used as preservatives in both the food and cosmetic industries.
“Another problem is while we might know what effect just one of these ingredients has on our body, we don’t always know what happens when two or three of them are combined together in one single product,” says Kate O’Brien, founder of Alima Pure cosmetics in Portland, Oregon.
What about mineral makeup? Whether it’s on TV or in print, these days it’s hard to miss the advertisements for mineral makeup. It’s touted as being better for your skin. But is it? And is it worth the extra money? And could this be the answer for those of us who want to wear makeup but still want to protect our health?
The biggest plus to buying mineral makeup is it contains only a few ingredients. Those ingredients are most commonly titanium dioxide and zinc oxide and act as natural sun protectors.
Because mineral makeup is dry, it doesn’t spoil like its liquid counterpart, and therefore preservatives don’t have to be added. It also doesn’t cake, has longer staying power, and actually lets your skin breathe.
“It sits on top of your skin, doesn’t permeate it like other makeup, and can even clear up skin because it has anti-inflammatory properties. And many women report that it feels good on their skin. Plus, a little goes a long way, so price-wise it costs about the same as regular makeup,” says O’Brien, whose cosmetic line of foundation, blush, and eye shadows average about $14. And the good news is for most of us without perfect complexions; mineral makeup can help us look better, too. “Mineral makeup hides a multitude of sins, and it’s great for people with sensitive skin, rosacea, and eczema,” says Brooke Jackson, MD, founder of Skin Wellness Center of Chicago.
The good news for makeup users is most consumers are now educating themselves about safe cosmetics and therefore pressuring both regulatory bodies like the FDA and big-name companies to offer more toxin-free makeup and skin care products.
Recently, major companies have added “natural” and mineral makeup to their lineup. However, for now it still pays to be cautious. Sometimes they can add cheap fillers, such as bismuth oxychloride, to mineral makeup. And sometimes what a company calls “natural” and what you consider to be natural can be worlds apart. So read the label and educate yourself. And look for brands committed to offering safe products for their customers and the environment. SUSAN PALMQUIST
The Top 10 Cosmetic Toxins To Avoid
1. BHA — toxic to the liver, immune, and nervous systems and possible carcinogen.
2. BHT — toxic to the brain, nervous, and respiratory systems and possible carcinogen.
3. D&C — toxic to nervous and reproductive systems.
4. Eugenol — toxic to immune and nervous systems.
5. Formaldehyde — toxic to immune and respiratory systems, carcinogen.
6. Nitrosamines — possible carcinogen.
7. P-Phenylendiamine — toxic to immune and respiratory systems.
8. Parabens — neurotoxin and possible carcinogen.
9. Phthalates — toxic to immune, nervous, and reproductive systems.
10. Triethanolamine — toxic to immune and respiratory systems and possible carcinogen.