Beauty is in the eye of the beholder – but since our survival is largely driven by sexual selection, we often attempt to accentuate our features with makeup. So what exactly is in makeup products, and should we trust these substances that we apply to our bodies? Could makeup actually be bad for your skin and health?
Historically, ancient Egyptians would grind up a mineral substance containing primarily lead sulfide to rim around their eyes, creating the sultry cleopatra look. Little did they know that lead is a poten neurotoxin, which can lead to learning and behavioural difficulties in children and decrease fertility in both men and women. Later, In 1891, creams, lotions, and blush containing compounds of the radioactive element radium were also sold to women in Europe, promising a youthful glow – until the harmful effects of exposure to radioactivity was discovered, that is.
But makeup has come a long way, and now there are only trace amounts of lead found in our products. Lead is found in nature and is therefore an unintentional contaminant from the manufacturing process. An FDA study of 400 tubes of lipstick found concentrations ranged from 0.026ppm to 7.19ppm of lead, which is under Health Canada’s limits of 10ppm. Lipstick is about 47% oils, 36% pigments, 17% waxes and 5% other components including preservatives. The oils are primarily castor oils, extracted from a bean which contains the protein ricin – one of the most toxic substances on this planet which has been used as a biological weapon. However, the process of extracting castor oil involves heating, thereby denaturing ricin and rendering it inactive.
Pigments now use synthetic dyes due to cost and production efficiencies, although traditionally, red pig ments were extracted from dried and crushed cochineal insects. Some blue pigments are created with ferric ferrocyanide. Cyanide is extremely deadly, however in this compound structure, cyanide has a very strong bond to iron. As a result, it is unable to come apart to poison us by eye shadow. When it comes to mascara, we recommend tossing the tube after three months of opening. Harmful bacteria of the Streptococcus species and certain fungi were discovered thriving in 36.4% of mascara tubes. And this is especially important for contact lens wearers, as bacteria can easily enter the micro abrasions caused by the lens itself. Parabens have been a big concern as well as they’re in a myriad of cosmetic products.
Paraben works by mimicking estrogen and binding to estrogen receptors. This can cause the expression of genes to be chaned and communication within cells to be altered. Additionally, it can lead to the growth of certain breast cancer cells. However, many products are switching to paraben free – and a lot of research still needs to be done in order to reach any definitive conclusions.