Could the makeup you wear every day actually be harmful?  Most of us don't think twice when we apply our favorite lipstick or eye shadow. Unfortunately, there is an ugly side to name brand beauty products that shouldn't be ignored.

Keeping yourself informed and knowing which products are safe and ethical is all it takes. Here are some of the primary concerns you should be aware of when it comes to makeup products:

1. Toxic Chemical Ingredients

Dr. Kim Harley studies hormone disrupting chemicals at UC Berkeley. She says, "there is a lot we don't know about the long-term health effects. But we do know that if they're in our products, they're getting into our bodies." 

According to the Environmental Working Group, “Nearly 90 percent of the 10,500 ingredients the FDA has determined are used in personal care products have not been evaluated for safety by the CIR, the FDA or any other publicly accountable institution.” Many of these ingredients, which are known carcinogens, have been linked to breast cancer.

Nanoparticles like zinc, titanium and iron oxides are often included in cosmetics. If these penetrate the protective layers of the skin, they may cause reactions with UV light that could result in damage to cell DNA. 

Unfortunately, here in the U.S., we currently don't have any system in place to regulate potentially toxic ingredients in cosmetics, and products containing nanoparticles do not have to be labelled as such.

2. Environmental Impact

It's probably no surprise that the same synthetic materials that may be harmful to your body are also toxic to the environment. The process that cosmetic companies use to produce makeup can have a negative impact on the environment. The end of a product's life is another concern. Disposing of cosmetics through our bathroom sinks means they can find their way into our soil and water systems.

Product labels that advertise "natural," "organic," and "green" should be taken with a grain of salt. There is no standard definition of these terms. And note that some brands may claim to use clean ingredients, even though they make up only a small percentage of the full ingredient list for the product. 

3. Animal Testing

Humane Society International estimates that 100,000-200,000 animals - rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, rats and mice - suffer and die from cosmetics testing every year. Animal testing for cosmetics has been banned throughout the 28 countries of the European Union since 2009. Currently, animal testing is still at the discretion of individual cosmetic companies in the U.S. In the majority of cases, animal tests continue because some companies insist on developing new ingredients rather than using materials that have already been verified.

How to Find Safe, Ethical Products

1. Choose brands certified by the Soil Association

By shopping these brands, you can be sure of the following:

  • Products are never tested on animals
  • Contain no genetically modified (GM) ingredients
  • Only use natural colors and fragrances from plants and flowers which are gentler on your skin and for the environment
  • Do not use silicone oils or derivatives
  • Follow the principles of green chemistry and minimize waste and pollution.

2. Read your product labels

When selecting a product in a store, watch out for ingredients like “phthalate,” “sulfate,” “paraben,” “triclosan” or “toluene.” These can be listed as either a stand-alone ingredient, or as part of a longer-named ingredient. These are not safe for your health.

3. Check your product's score

If you already have some favorite makeup products, you can see how they rate for health and ethical concerns. The Skin Deep database, by the Environmental Working Group, focuses on personal care items, while Good Guide rates just about every household product out there.

With just a little research, using the above resources, you can create a list of makeup brands and products for yourself. Granted, they will likely be more expensive than name brand items from the drug store. It's up to you to weigh the price against the other costs we've discussed here and find a solution that works best for you. 

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  • Michelle Chang