Can Everyday Make-Up Products Kill You?

Recently published university research showed that everyday make-up products contain chemicals that can put your health at risk. But can your make-up kill you?

Phthalates are a group of endocrine disrupting chemicals known because they are added to plastics to make them more flexible and easier to work with. They have a massive effect on oestrogen levels and on the development of foetuses in the womb. They can also be found in self-tan products, perfume and face creams.

Phthalates were linked to type 2 diabetes. A study made on 1,000 people by Uppsala University in Sweden showed that those with higher levels of phthalates in their blood were twice as likely to develop diabetes as those who had low levels of phthalates.   

Harley Street's dermatologist Adam Freidmann disagrees: “Make-up does not affect skin or health like some of these claims make out, not due to toxicity per se anyway. In my practice I’ve never treated anybody who developed a skin condition directly from the use of make-up."

According to Dr. Freidmann, cosmetics can theoretically block pores and worsen acne, or exacerbate eczema. However, those effects are usually part of an irritant or allergic process, if the person already has an existing skin condition or is sensitive to the ingredients used.  

Phthalates are just one of the chemicals that have been extensively researched for its effect on skin and health. Lead is another toxic chemical that has found its way into cosmetics as a lipstick component. Research proves that trace amounts of lead found in lipstick can affect mental health and, being a neurotoxin, the nervous system.

A study by Underwriters Laboratories in 2011 tested over 20 brands of lipstick including L’Oreal, Maybelline, NARS, and Cover Girl. The research found that half of them contained traces of lead with levels as high as 4 parts per million grams of product – which becomes a big number when you consider that women generally use lipstick on a daily basis, often reapplying it throughout the day.

As if there wasn’t enough to worry about already, along come parabens. They are used in anti-perspirant sprays but also in face-washes and shampoo. They were linked to the appearance of breast cancer. 

A recent study by the University of Reading looked at mastectomies breast tissue finding a huge concentration of parabens. Although the link between parabens and breast cancer was made in the late 90s, this study was the first to show how such chemicals build up in our body.

Lead author of the research Dr Philippa Darbre said at the time: “Parabens have been shown to be able to mimic the action of the female hormone oestrogen and oestrogen can drive the growth of human breast tumours. It would therefore seem especially prudent to consider whether parabens should continue to be used in such a wide range of cosmetics.”  

A 2011 report found that metals were commonly found in make-up too. The report, "Heavy Metal Hazard: The Health Risks of Hidden Heavy Metals in Face Makeup", looked at many popular make-up products including Clinique and L’Oreal and tested for arsenic, cadmium, beryllium, nickel, selenium, thallium and mercury.

Each product that was looked at contained at least four of the metals they tested for - which weren’t listed in the ingredients because they were not added intentionally. They were classed as a surplus product. 

These findings raise questions regarding how responsible make-up brands are, since these chemicals are known to have severe effects on health: hormonal disruption, dermatitis, headaches, reproductive disorder, kidney problems and even risk of cancer to name but a few.

What about the professionals whose lives revolve around using make up day in and day out? Surely they are taught the risks posed by chemicals in cosmetics?

Yasmin Vickers, a trainee make-up artist said: “Not really any. On the course we are not taught about the science behind make up or what goes into it – just how to use it. I think it would be a good idea if we were taught that, as we are the professionals and should know more about the products we use on clients. We should be able to offer people advice to help them make better informed decisions.” 

The Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfume Association (CTPA) provides advice, representation and acts and it's the cosmetic industry's public voice. The body believes claims against safety in make-up are "really disappointing". They say: "All cosmetic products and their ingredients have to be safe. (...) We are concerned that unfounded scare stories will cause concern for the millions of people who use, and enjoy using, their cosmetic products every day.”  

Will women have to chuck their beloved cosmetics in the bin? "No. It doesn’t matter whether the ingredient in a cosmetic product is natural, organic or man-made. All cosmetic products must be safe and are subject to the same laws. Everything is made up of chemicals, you, me, the air that we breathe, the plants that we eat – and if it’s going into a cosmetic, it has to be safe.”

Picture by: LaCosmopolatina, FreeDrinkingWater