Should You Be Concerned About the Ingredients in Makeup?

Concerned about chemicals? We can help. Learn whether you should be worried about the makeup you use

Learn whether you should worry about the ingredients in your favorite makeup

As women, makeup has been programmed into our consciousness from a young age. Watching our mothers put it in on in the mirror, then when she wasn’t looking, digging in and giving ourselves our first makeover. Makeup is fun and it makes us feel confident. Women have been wearing makeup for centuries and many of the major makeup lines have been in business for decades, so that must mean that makeup is safe for us to wear, right??


According to the Environmental Working Group, the average woman uses 12 products every day that contain approximately 168 different ingredients. A lot of these ingredients have chemicals that can affect hormonal balance, fertility, and some have been linked to cancer.

These are chemicals that we are putting on our skin which is absorbable, our lips which we lick and kiss our babies with, they aren’t safe.

So, why should you care?

Despite the mass amount of exposure that everyone has to personal care products, the American government does not require any health studies or pre-market testing of the chemicals that they are made out of. This means that a product can go straight to store shelves from manufacturing without any type of approval or safety testing. The FDA regulates what is displayed on the package, not what is inside the package.

What’s more, is that companies don’t have to report any complaints to the FDA. For example, if a product causes a reaction and I complain to the company, they don’t legally have to do anything about it.

Meanwhile in Europe, there are over 1,300 chemicals that have been banned for use in cosmetics. Among these is the carcinogen formaldehyde, parabens that are linked to reproductive problems, and coal tar dyes. In the US, these chemicals are used in hair treatments, nail polish, makeup, and other personal care products that many people apply and consume on a daily basis.

US Honor System

The US relies on self-regulation of cosmetic companies. I don’t know about you, but I have never trusted the honor system. In 2018, 22 women found that Johnson & Johnson baby powder caused their ovarian cancer because of the asbestos in the ingredient talc.

“Natural” products

Unlike food regulations, skincare and cosmetic products have no regulations of marketing terms. This means that the products you see that are labeled “natural” or “organic” can have just as many harmful ingredients as others.

Lists of ingredients are selective

Not every ingredient has to be listed on packaging. Some ingredients, like “fragrance,” are formulated and considered “trade secrets” and don’t have to be disclosed.

Ingredients to avoid?

Parabens: A type of preservative used in all kinds of personal care products. There are a variety of parabens and they all have different names, but a general rule of thumb is to avoid any ingredient that has the word “paraben” in it. They are known to mimic estrogen in the body which leads to hormone imbalances and can even eventually lead to breast cancer. Studies have found 99 percent of cancerous breast tumors to contain parabens.

Fragrance or Parfum: Artificial fragrances are in almost every cosmetic product. The reason they are dangerous is because there is no way to know what they are actually made from.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate: These are the ingredients that are used to create foam and lather (think shampoo, soap, toothpaste). They can irritate the skin and trigger allergies. They can also create carcinogenic by-products.

Toluene: Commonly found in nail polish and hair dyes, Toluene can be toxic to the immune system and can cause birth defects. Women who are expecting should avoid this ingredient entirely.

Phthalates: These are added to plastic and used in fragrances and other products like nail polish and hair spray. Look for labels that say “phthalate-free” and steer clear. These also cause hormonal and reproductive problems.

Polyethylene Glycol (PEG): Used as a thickener in products like lotions, sunscreens and shampoo, it can be contaminated with known carcinogens.

Formaldehyde: In cosmetics, it is used as a preservative, but it is a known carcinogen and is linked to asthma and neurotoxicity.

Oxybenzone: This is a chemical sunscreen linked to thyroid issues, skin allergies, and endocrine disruption (aka: hormonal imbalance). You will usually find it in products with SPF.

Diethanolamine: Another foaming agent and one that is banned in Europe but it still used throughout the US in products like bubble bath, body wash, and shampoo. You can find it on labels abbreviated as DEA and it is a known carcinogen and is toxic to the respiratory system.

Triclosan: Up until 2016 when it was banned from soap used in healthcare settings, this was a common antibacterial agent used in soaps. Although, it is still allowed in personal cosmetics. It causes hormonal imbalance, gut inflammation, tumor growth and creates antibiotic resistant bacteria. Ew.

But really, how can I avoid these?

It is a $71 billion industry that is currently regulated by approximately two pages of federal law that has only been updated once in the past 76 years. That’s really a terrifying thought. You can avoid these harmful chemicals by choosing safer products. It’s true, it is easier said than done. But a little effort goes a long way in this case. Think of it this way, these chemicals are reaching us and our families on a day to day basis. Seek out companies that are making it their mission to get this information out there and provide alternatives for everyone. Check out the EWG’s database of skin care products. They score products based on their ingredients, making it easy to differentiate the good from the bad.

Resources — Environmental Working Group, Frends Beauty, TreeHugger.com, Campaign for Safe Cosmetics