Is My Makeup Toxic?


Okay, when someone came up with the saying ‘beauty is pain’, I don’t think this is what they were referring to. We wear makeup for a variety of reasons, all valid, you do you! But, we never asked for an industry full of products that don’t have our best interest in mine, and the cosmetics industry is super guilty of this.

An Environmental Working Group report found that women use 12 cosmetic products with 168 unique ingredients each day and men use 6 products with an average of 85 ingredients. These ingredients, in combination with exposures from other consumer products and pollutants in the air and water, add up to some serious overall exposure. And the buck doesn’t stop there, many of these same chemicals are found in household cleaners, furniture, housewares, and at work. These small dose mixtures are not tested for safety, so at the end of the day, it’s up to us to keep our bodies out of harm’s way.

Don’t worry, we’ve got your back, and with the help of our friends at Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, you can regulate cosmetics on your own and lower your exposure to harmful chemicals, while maintaining that clutch contour.

What are these chemicals of concern?

  • Parabens are a preservative used to help slow the growth of bacteria in the product. Parabens go by many different names; methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben and isobutylparaben, all based on how they are formulated.

  • Formaldehyde is a preservative known best for its use in preserving people for burial and the frogs from science class. It can prevent microbes from growing in water-based products.

  • Fragrance is a mix of chemicals used to create a scent for a product. It can be found in most personal care items under different names; Fragrance, perfume, parfum, essential oil blend and aroma.

  • Heavy Metals consist of arsenic, lead, mercury, aluminium, zinc and iron which are found in many different beauty products. Our bodies naturally produce some of these metals in certain amounts needed to function. Labels to look out for; Lead acetate, chromium, thimerosal, hydrogenated cottonseed oil and sodium hexametaphosphate.

  • Teflon is mostly known for being used as a nonstick coating on pots and pans. The different names to check the label for are; Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), Polyperfluoromethylisopropyl Ether, DEA-C8-18 Perfluoroalkylethyl Phosphate and Teflon.

  • Phthalates are typically used in nail polishes and any kind of fragranced lotion, body wash and hair products. The different types to look for on labels are; phthalate, DEP, DBP, DEHP and fragrance.

  • Titanium Dioxide (TiO2) is a white pigment commonly used sunscreen, paint and paper due to its opaqueness.

  • Carbon Black is a black pigment commonly used in mascara, eyeliner and lipstick. It goes by many different names on products; Carbon black, D & C Black No. 2, acetylene black, channel black, furnace black, lamp black, and thermal black.

Why are these chemicals harmful?

  • Parabens. The EU has banned most parabens from use in cosmetic and beauty products.

  • Formaldehyde is a carcinogen, which is a known category for causing major health problems. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “Formaldehyde can cause irritation of the skin, eyes, nose, and throat. High levels of exposure may cause some types of cancers.”

  • Fragrance. The chemicals in fragrances have all been linked to different health problems. They have links to everything from skin and eye irritation to cancer and endocrine disruption.

  • Heavy Metals have been linked to cancer and reproductive toxicity. Lead has been proven to be a neurotoxin.

  • Teflon can cause delayed puberty, endocrine disruption and cancer.

  • Phthalates have also been banned in the EU for use in beauty and cosmetics. They have been linked to endocrine disruption, reproductive toxicity, and cancer.

  • Titanium Dioxide has been labeled a carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and linked it to being a cause of cancer.

  • Carbon Black is a carcinogen that can cause cancer and organ system toxicity.

Why are these chemicals allowed?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not currently have any rules specifically for the preservatives used in cosmetics. According to the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act, which was last updated in 1968, anything other then what is used to color cosmetics does not have to be approved by the FDA before being put into the product. This creates a loophole where cosmetics companies can use chemicals in their products that may be harmful, but can save them money compared to some of the alternatives.

How can you avoid these?

Completely avoiding these chemicals in your everyday life might not be possible, but you can limit your exposure. The first thing you can do is check the products you already own to see if they have those chemicals in them. The easiest is to switch to brands that are already making their products without those ingredients. Good places to look for these products are at stores such as Whole Foods, Sprouts and Target. There are also apps you can put on your phone that can help you shop by scanning products like EWG’s Healthy Living app and the Think Dirty app.

What brands are safe to use?

There are plenty of beauty brands currently on the market. Most of them can be found at drug stores, big box stores, beauty focused stores and online. Some of my personal favorites are; Pacifica, Juice Beauty, Au Naturale, Mineral Fusion and Thrive Causemetics. All of these brands are vegan, cruelty free, natural, and non toxic. None of them contain parabens, petroleum, pesticides, phthalates, sulfates, silicones or synthetic fragrances.

What can we do to fix the regulations on these chemicals?

We can use our purchasing power to show companies that you only want to buy products that are free of harmful chemicals. It will hurt their bottom line and can force a change in how they do things. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics is working to change the cosmetic industry into creating safer, toxin free cosmetics and regulating those who do not have consumers best interests in mind. We support their efforts and believe that cosmetics don’t have to be toxic.

Until we can get the FDA to change the regulations regarding the chemicals put in our beauty products we can change what products we use and make sure our family and friends are informed about the ingredients in their beauty products.


Monica Schrock

Monica is a vegan, coffee chugging, non-toxic lifer who has her own cruelty-free body care company, Bare Bones Body Care. When she’s not advocating for public health, animals, or the environment, you will most likely catch her drinking coffee, playing basketball, or reading a comic book.