According to a study on why women wear makeup, two conclusions were drawn. One was as a camouflage, the other was to seduce – or to appear more attractive. Indeed, almost half of women in the United States. are reluctant to head outside without it. But there’s a hidden danger to some cosmetics. For you see, they could contain a deadly ingredient.
Generally, young women learn from an early age that beauty can help bring them success. So if they intend to attract a partner or new friends, or even secure a top-level job, they’ll want to look good. And whether we like it or not, society tends to favor beautiful people in most aspects of life.
So you see, some women may wear makeup as a disguise. Yes, those who aren’t content with their natural look may seek to cover it up. For instance, this could apply to discolored skin or blemishes that a woman wants to hide. Or perhaps she just had a poor night’s sleep and looks tired. Overall, in any case, a little foundation or concealer will hide away those imperfections.
Conversely, some women may want to wear makeup to stand out from the crowd. Not only might it help them find a partner, but it could also help in scaling the career ladder. And in social situations, too, women who wear makeup can appear more self-assured and friendly.
Furthermore, with 44 percent of America’s female population a slave to makeup, the beauty industry is an incredibly lucrative one. According to figures company Statista, more than 1 million people spend upward of $500 on cosmetics per quarter. And yet there’s something about the beauty industry that might surprise you.
You see, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has a fairly relaxed attitude when it comes to some cosmetic ingredients. Now, the legislation that exists dates back to 1938 called the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. However, the act doesn’t call for the FDA to appraise the ingredients of cosmetics, aside from color additives.
Indeed, to better understand such a casual attitude toward today’s products, it might help to go back to the start. And although makeup trends have evolved over the years, the practice of wearing it is nothing new. In fact, it dates back thousands of years to Ancient Egypt.
For instance, historic records show that as long ago as 3100 to 2907 B.C., the First Dynasty of Egypt used a substance similar to today’s moisturizer. Yes, jars of a material called unguent have been unearthed from tombs from around that period. And it’s believed it was widely used by both women and men to prevent dehydrated skin.
Further to their beauty routine, Egyptian women used the sulphide kohl as a primitive form of mascara and eyeliner. Also, they would apply a sweep of a dark green hue to the lower lid. An idea of how this may have looked is depicted in modern day interpretations of the iconic leader Cleopatra.
And by 1 A.D., similar techniques in applying kohl were extensively used by the Romans. However, by this time chalk was available to lighten complexions, while rouge was applied as blush. There were even material methods of hair removal available, and cleaning teeth was promoted with the use of pumice.
By the Middle Ages, a person’s appearance began to be associated with social standing. For those with fair skin were seen as more affluent. And around 500 A.D. women undertook terrifying procedures to obtain pale skin. Later, in the 1200s, lipsticks were finally in production but were the preserve of only the wealthy.
As you can imagine, during this era of rudimentary cosmetics, the safety of products was not a consideration. Indeed, lead was a key ingredient found in makeup dating way all the way back to the ancient Greeks. As recently as the 1500s, England’s Queen Elizabeth I’s famous white face was achieved using ceruse, a powder made from lead.
While paint containing lead was used by women during the Italian Renaissance, a far more toxic face powder was available. Now, it was called Aqua Tofana and was named after its inventor, Giulia Tofana. And she was eventually executed for selling it to women who wanted to poison their husbands. The main ingredient of her beauty product? Arsenic.
Oddly enough, the health hazards of cosmetics from around that era were widely known at the time. And that might explain why natural elements, too, were used as part of beauty regimes. For instance, women applied egg whites to their faces for a shiny look. And by the early 19th century, cosmetic recipes were becoming more creative using Mother Nature’s ingredients.
For you see, while the most essential item of the Regency era was rouge, other recipes were experimented with. Yes, low hairlines were averted using a bandage soaked in a mixture of vinegar and cat’s poop. Meanwhile, those living rurally had access to more palatable ingredients.
For instance, flowers, fruit and vegetables, herbs, fats, spirits and water were used for desired results. However, looks still reflected social standing, with many in search of pale skin to denote a life free from outdoor labor. While methods included sun shades like parasols and bonnets, cosmetic enhancements were still used, and they were sometimes deadly.
That’s right, because while lead was still used in whitening cosmetics in the 1800s, another threat was mercury. In fact, both substances destroyed the skin, but also caused hair to fall out, stomach pains and physical tremors. Furthermore, some cases even resulted in death. So despite these dangers being known, it seemed to have mattered little in the pursuit of beauty.
What’s more, deadly nightshade, or belladonna, for example, was used to brighten the eyes, despite being a known poison. Pharmacists – or apothecaries as they were then called in England – developed cosmetics, often using substances like mercury and nitric acid. Even coal tar was used as hair dye. However, the substance is now banned in the United States after being linked to cancer.
While makeup once denoted wealth, attitudes changed by the late 1800s. Indeed, honorable women used face masks containing natural ingredients such as egg, honey and oatmeal, and beauty treatments containing rose water and castor oil. Healthy rosy cheeks were achieved using beet juice, but anything more than natural skin was viewed with derision, or even as sinful. In fact, we’d come to a time where women with makeup would be written off as prostitutes.
But the development of real makeup as we know it today started in the 1910s. Yes, cosmetics brands we still know today, such as Maybelline and Max Factor, were established. And fashion trends took off through magazines like Vogue and a blossoming movie industry. By the 1920s, makeup was okay again and not looked down upon anymore. Thank goodness for that.
While trends have come and gone – and come around again over the last hundred years – the market for cosmetics has boomed. According to retail data company Edited, today the beauty industry is worth around $532 billion and growing. However, with ever-increasing products available, it might surprise many that the industry is largely self-regulated.
You see, the beauty industry in America operates under two basic but significant laws. And the first is the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act which states that only color additives in products need pre-market approval from the FDA Second is the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act which prohibits the selling of misbranded or adulterated products.
What this means is that, apart from color pigments, cosmetics may contain any ingredients outside of the FDA’s prohibited list. “Adulterated products” are those that contain any materials that might cause harm to consumers who use the product as intended. Furthermore, it’s the manufacturer’s responsibility to follow these regulations, not the FDA’s to test for harmful ingredients.
But overall, there’s barely any regulation governing the lucrative beauty industry in the United States. In fact, despite the boom in the sector with new products emerging all the time, rules have not been updated in more than 80 years. And some of the ingredients you could find in makeup might shock you.
Yes, alarmingly some chemicals unintentionally work their way into cosmetics when they’re being made. Others are deliberately added to a product to achieve the effect the beauty company is looking for, whether it’s smoothing, shimmer or mattifying. However, some of these will be be toxic and can cause health issues after being absorbed into the skin.
For instance, the plasticizers phthalates add flex to plastic items such as raincoats and food packaging. But phthalates are also used in cosmetics such as men’s and women’s fragrances, nail polish, lotions, shampoos and hairsprays. Although the FDA insists that only diethylphthalates are widely used today in cosmetics, some others have been linked to cancer, as well as reproduction and child development issues.
Another ingredient commonly found in moisturizers, shampoos, shaving creams and other cosmetics are parabens. Though the substance is believed to prevent the formation of mold and bacteria in products, it’s still not known what effect they might have on humans, even in small amounts. But the list of potentially harmful chemicals doesn’t end there.
Remember the banned coal tar from earlier in the article? Well, it still shows up in eyeshadows and hair dyes. And though modern varieties are now made from petroleum, they can still cause skin irritation or even blindness in extreme cases. Also, formaldehyde is a known carcinogen and can be found in nail polishes as well as hair-smoothing serums.
So the FDA requires that all ingredients are listed on a cosmetic product’s packaging. Furthermore, ingredients must be listed as their common name rather than the scientific one. But that can still be confusing to consumers. After all, how many people know what sodium laureth sulfate is, despite being the second-most abundant substance in a popular shampoo?
Moreover, to the shock of parents across America, asbestos was identified in cosmetics marketed for children as recently as 2019. You see, in June recalls were made of makeup palettes and kits by Claire’s Stores, as well as Chinese makeup manufacturer Beauty Plus Global. In fact, it was Claire’s second offence of that year, while further Beauty Plus Global products were later recalled in September.
Weirdly, although asbestos is not actively used in the manufacture of cosmetics, it can nevertheless find its way in. You see, asbestos is a substance that forms with an ingredient commonly used in powdered makeup – talc, or talcum powder. Therefore, talc used for commercial purposes may become contaminated with asbestos during the mining process.
So talc can be found in pressed powders, foundations, eye shadows, blushes and setting powders. And it’s used because its ultra-fine texture is ideal for absorption. This helps prevent made-up skin from appearing greasy. However, even when talc has been certified asbestos-free, it may not necessarily be so.
Despite the risk of contamination during the mining of talc, regulations don’t call for it to be tested for asbestos. And because makeup manufacturers aren’t required to run their own tests, trace amounts of the harmful mineral may find its way into their products. Now, this could be a concern to the World Health Organization (WHO).
For you see, the WHO doesn’t believe there is any level of exposure to asbestos that can be considered safe. Indeed, it can cause severe respiratory diseases like lung cancer and the deadly mesothelioma if a person is exposed to it. However, while asbestos as a whole is banned in Canada and the European Union, the States has yet to follow.
Furthermore, just because a product containing talc was found free from asbestos once, it won’t necessarily always remain so. As Sean Fitzgerald of public health testing facility the Scientific Analytical Institute (SAI) explained to Asbestos.com, “We realize the geology and mineralogy of talc is closely associated with the geology and mineralogy of asbestos.”
As Fitzgerald continued to explain, “It shouldn’t surprise us that the potential for contamination is there. I could go across the street right now to the mall, and pick up talc powder that I know from previous testing, more likely than not, will contain some amount of asbestos.”
Indeed, it’s a factor supported by gynecologist Dr. Shruthi Mahalingaiah of the Boston Medical Center. She said, “[The presence of asbestos] wasn’t surprising to me, because there’s no regulation.” Furthermore, Claire’s have a rap sheet of asbestos contamination, despite having gone “talc free” since 2018. On that note, let’s find out more.
Well, Claire’s was forced to remove 17 products from its stores when they were found to contain tremolite asbestos. Indeed, a mother whose six-year-old had one of the products in Rhode Island, told broadcaster TurnTo10, “I ended up … just trying to wrap my head around how something like that could end up in our home.” Furthermore, the not-for-profit Public Interest Research Group uncovered “high levels of asbestos” contaminating three further Claire’s products in late 2018.
However, although Claire’s recalled products contained trace amounts of asbestos in 2019, they refuted the FDA’s warning. In a statement, Claire’s said it “stands behind the safety of this item and all other Claire’s cosmetic items, as such small trace amounts are considered acceptable under European and Canadian cosmetic safety regulations.”
So there is no way of knowing whether a product contains harmful asbestos without substantial testing. Indeed, opting for organic or “all natural” brands doesn’t necessarily help since talc is a naturally-forming mineral itself. Therefore, the best solution is to read a product’s label and avoid any that contain talc. And brush up on the mineral’s alternative names, too.