In recent years, most of us have seen the articles and television specials that warn us about all the harmful ingredients and cancer-causing agents found in cosmetics. Considering that we put cosmetics on our face, this is pretty scary stuff. With that wake up call and scare, came a window of opportunity for cosmetic companies to all but exploit our fears —all natural makeup, organic makeup, makeup containing only pure minerals– we buy it because it’s safer. We buy it because we’re so much better off. Except not really.
While there are always exceptions, makeup is makeup. For one thing, the FDA does not regulate makeup. Nor does the FDA require any certain safety tests. The FDA also doesn’t regulate the labels that are on makeup packaging. In short? If I want to create an eye shadow then pack it chock full of iron and lead, then label it as all natural, I can do that and it doesn’t break a single law. What does this mean when it comes to makeup and your face?
Marketing experts have caught on that women feel safer and more secure when buying makeup made of minerals. Thus, the phrase minerals is splashed all over everything — you can’t browse for makeup without seeing key words like pure, natural, organic and minerals on everything. Problem is, I can make a standard foundation and put a trace amount of mineral into it, then call it a mineral foundation — this is a perfectly legal gimmick that has gained popularity in recent years, so don’t think your mineral makeup is really…made of minerals. Chances are, its made of the same staple ingredients that cosmetic companies have been using for years, with trace amounts of whatever mineral tossed in. Also, American women need to get over the concept that minerals are the only way to go. Metals are minerals too. Would you want metal in your powder? — Because three of the most popular mineral brands in America do contain trace amounts of a certain metal which gives it the “luminous’ glow.” Is that dangerous? Probably not. But it doesn’t fit in with the mental image that most consumers have when it comes to all natural minerals. I love mineral makeup as much as the next gal, I’m just saying, almost anything can be called a mineral.
The same is true for the term hypoallergenic, which any company can legally claim about a specific product when it may or may not be better for sensitive skin. Hypoallergenic, in the end, is another of those tricky words that can mean anything or nothing. Think of it like this. I can create an eyeshadow, refrain from putting something absurd like arsenic in it, then say “since I didn’t put arsenic in this, it’s safe!” I can then market it as hypoallergenic and that’s legal, and there is nobody out there questioning me! The phrase organic also means …nothing much. Just like minerals, the FDA does not regulate use of the word ‘organic’ when it comes to the cosmetic industry. Nor is there any kind of agency out there policing use of the word.
The long and short of it is, cosmetic companies are free to create whatever they want, and call it whatever they want. They are not being watched. They are not being policed. And there is no government or health agency to call them out on misleading jargon. There is a self governing board in the cosmetic industry –The Cosmetics Ingredients Review– but in the past thirty years, that board has only reviewed thirteen to fifteen percent of the 10,500 ingredients currently being used in cosmetics (source: Skin Deep Cosmetics Database). So there’s a lot of room for discrepancies there. And considering that roughly eighty percent of cosmetic ingredients used in the United States are banned in every single other nation, our own agencies have dropped the ball when it comes to safety.
So are we all just up the river? Not necessarily. Some scientists and researchers feel that we should toss all cosmetics while others say that using them is alright, so long as we’re not breathing them in. If you experience any kind of irritation from a product (redness, itchiness, burning, swelling, hives) you should stop using it immediately because your skin is telling you something. Your own skin and body is the first to let you know if something is wrong. As for the long term effects and potentially dangerous ingredients? Be cautious when playing with makeup. Take the time to read up on the various ingredients and don’t be suckered into buying products just because they are packaged with promises of being pure and natural. The only way to really know what’s going on your face is read the ingredients, research the ingredients then make your own judgement calls on the safety of products. Read, research, decide.