What's On Your Face? The Truth Behind Make Up

You wouldn’t think twice about ingesting harmful ingredients found in household cleaning products, automotive supplies and even embalming solution. However, those same ingredients are present in beauty products you keep in your medicine cabinet or purse.  

Your body absorbs chemicals via cosmetics and skin care products in a few ways. One is when those items are applied to your skin, a porous surface. The toxins can seep through the pores and into your system. You also take in toxins by swallowing them after applying products on your hands and lips. Powders and sprays are inhaled also.

Many toxins used for cosmetic manufacturing have cancer-causing properties affecting different parts of the body, including the reproductive, respiratory and neurological systems. Such chemicals can also cause hormonal imbalance, and skin and eye irritation.  

With the exception of color additives, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not have to policy the beauty products on the market nor do they conduct product recalls (the FDA does collaborate with companies to ensure successful recalls). Instead, the FDA leaves it up to the health and beauty industries to regulate the contents of their merchandise.

According to the Breast Cancer Fund, the beauty industry includes “thousands” of synthetic chemical in their products. The following ingredients are only a few of them:


Talc is a natural mineral composed of oxygen, silicon, magnesium and hydrogen. Many cosmetics like blush contain this ingredient. Talc comes in two forms: with asbestos and asbestos-free. When breathed in, asbestos can cause cancer in and around the lungs. The American Cancer Society advises the necessity of determining between both types. Although asbestos-filled talc is no longer present in contemporary products, it’s still not clear whether asbestos-free talc is just as hazardous.  


Found in hair care products, color cosmetics, body washes and nail polishes and treatments, phthalates are a group of endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Often identified as “fragrance” on labels’ ingredient listings, phthalates come in an assortment of forms like dibutyl phthalate (DBP) and diethyl phthalate (DEP). Phthalates contaminate areas of the body like the reproductive system and disrupt the endocrine.


Parabens is one of the most commonly used preservatives in cosmetics. Parabens exist in multiple forms and are usually used together with other variants of preservatives to cut down on bacterial growth in products, according to the FDA.

Sodium lauryl/laureth sulfate:

Any bubbling beauty product is certain to have sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) in it. The ingredient may go by other names on the ingredients list like sodium dodecyl sulfate, sulfuric acid, monododecyl ester, sodium salt, sodium salt sulfuric acid, sodium dodecyl sulfate, aquarex me or aquarex methyl. Although relatively low in hazardous effects according to the cosmetics database Environmental Working Group’s (EWG’s) Skin Deep, SLS still yields skin and eye irritation. If ingested, the ingredient can cause vomiting, nausea and diarrhea.

Petroleum and Mineral Oil:

Found in many gasoline and oil products, petroleum is a fundamental ingredient in moisturizers, skin cleansers and foundations.  Petroleum and mineral oils, both fossil fuel derivatives, clog pores and could lead to acne.


Used in the preservation of biological specimen and corpses, this ingredient has been linked to diseases like lung cancer and leukemia. Formaldehyde can be found in hair care products and nail care products.

-Revamping Your Make Up Regimen-

Though toxic cosmetics are prevalent in many homes and purses, there’s no rush to throw out everything. It’s best for you to ease your way into a greener beauty routine. You’re not obligated to replace every beauty product with a natural counterpart. Understandably, natural products are more expensive than their mainstream competitors. If you’re happier with a mainstream product, then by all means, keep it. It’s about weighing options and seeing what you’re satisfied with.

However fast or slow you revamp your beauty routine, there are a few things to keep in mind overhauling your beauty routine. One pretty good rule of thumb for identifying a toxic ingredient is if a listed name is unpronounceable, it may not be good. Speaking of names, also remember that “green” vocabulary like “natural,” “organic,” and “herbal,” on product labels mean nothing. Those products still have toxins in them.   

You can find brands of safer makeup alternatives like BiteBeauty (which aims to manufacture safe-to-eat lipstick), Josie Maran (which uses food-grade ingredients) and Lavanila (a maker of fragrance-free fragrances). Alternative skin and body care manufacturers include Suki (using only plant-based ingredients), Indigo Wild (a safe and effective line that includes their best-selling, goat milk-based soap Zum Soap) and Trillium Organics (an organic manufacturer that is experienced in skin ailment treatments).  

Several health-conscious blogs and websites like that of the Breast Cancer Fund are helpful resources to assist in your research of cosmetic health. Cosmetic databases like The Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep and can detect what chemicals are in your favorite cosmetics. The David Suzuki Foundation has published a slew of articles about identifying toxins in cosmetics.