Is Makeup Bad For You? The Science – by Molly Freeman

Makeup has been used for many years, originally as a way of attracting potential partners. Most animals use physical lures for reproductive purposes; for example, the peacock with its feathers, and the red rump of the baboon. For humans it is less pronounced, but makeup helps to accentuate features, exaggerate assets or completely fabricate signs of fertility, thus making a woman seem more appealing. Perhaps makeup is now depended on more because of the pressure from society; cosmetics are even becoming more common in the everyday life of men. These synthetic materials are inexpensive, stable and have a long shelf-life, which makes them perfect for manufacturers.  But could the long term effects be deadlier than we think?


Cosmetics: A brief history

The earliest recording of the use of cosmetics was about 400 000 years ago when the Neanderthals used colour pigments on their skin like we use fake tans now. Body paints were also used 75 000 years ago when they painted their skins as coverage before they even started using clothes. The most famous use of cosmetics in history is from 3000 BC when the ancient Egyptians used to grind minerals consisting of lead sulphide to get that classic Cleopatra look. They didn’t know that lead contains neurotoxins, which can lead to learning and behavioural difficulties in children and decreased fertility in both men and women. More recently in 1891, creams, lotions and blushes contained radium and were commonly sold to European women to get a ‘youthful glow’, yet they didn’t know of the harmful effects of radioactivity. This was when makeup was used to win over potential partners and make the individual feel better about themselves, but is it now just used to ‘fit in’ with society?


Specific Harmful Products

Modern cosmetics and other products have obviously come a long way from this but still contain damaging chemicals:

  • Moisturisers can contain phenylendiamine, benzene or formaldehyde, all of which are harmful toxins which can lead to wrinkles and ageing, and can also be found in some shampoos and blushes. Be careful not to be conned by the supposed anti-ageing miracle lotions, which may actually cause more wrinkling in the long run.
  • Some bath products including bubble baths and oils can cause infertility as the chemicals enter the organs. This can also provoke vaginal infections or even prostate or ovarian cancers.
  • Asbestos can be found in some talcum powders, which can cause the growth of cancerous cells, however this is less common in modern consumer products.
  • Irritation, redness and itchiness are all consequences of some deodorants, caused by the alcohol. Antiperspirants are worse because of the aluminium compounds, which block the sweat glands and any blockage of waste is unhealthy. These products can equally produce pigmentation or discolouration of the skin. Is pain really beauty?
  • More known to most people are the effects of certain hair products, including shampoos, conditioners, gels, sprays and dyes. These can cause thinning of hair, excessive dandruff, redness of scalp, hair falling out and even burning – none of which are particularly attractive. Hair sprays might also lead to permanent discolouration of hair and skin damage.
  • Treating yourself to a manicure or pedicure may seem luxurious but nail paints and polishes can make your nails thin, fragile and pale. Darker colours like blacks and reds can stain your nails and leave them yellow, a similar effect to smoking.
  • It is advised to throw away mascara after three months this is because bacteria and fungi thrive in the tubes. This is especially important for contact lens wearers, as they can cause eye infections. Moreover mascara can thin the lashes because of the pseudomonas aeruginosa it contains (a harmful therapy bacteria).
  • Lead is natural so is therefore an unintentional contaminant in the manufacture of lipstick. An FDA (The Food and Drug Administration) study of 400 lipsticks showed lead concentration ranging from 0.026ppm (parts per million) to 7.19ppm. This is under the Canada’s health limit of 10ppm. Lipstick contains 47% oils, most of which are castor oils from ricin, a toxic substance, which was used as a biological weapon but fortunately it is denatured when heated. 36% of lipsticks are pigments. Nowadays they are synthetics dyes but were once made from crushed insects. Some blue pigments are from ferric ferrocyanide – cyanide being a deadly poison but in this compound it has strong bonds with iron so is not harmful. These blue pigments are also found in eye shadows. The rest of lipsticks are made up of 17% waxes and 5% of other harmless ingredients.
  • Chemicals from hair sprays and perfumes can get into the bloodstream, eye makeup can absorbed by sensitive mucous membranes and some lotions can be taken in by the skin, which can all be detrimental to your health.
  • Parabens are compounds used as preservatives used in pharmaceutical and cosmetic products. They can be deadly as they mimic oestrogen and change genes or alter the communications in cells. This can result in the growth of breast cancer. Other hormone-disrupting chemicals can lower immunity to disease and make neurological or reproductive damage.

Its place in society

Think of the cosmetics you use on a daily basis. Perhaps you use it only occasionally, or maybe it’s a part of your regular routine, so automatic that you wouldn’t even consider not wearing makeup. But do you ever give any real thought to the wider picture concerning cosmetics in today’s society? There are myriad concerns about make up in this day and age, and they don’t just concern the health and safety of you as in an individual:

Not all of these products are available to everyone: cosmetics are expensive and some people may feel outcast in society as they cannot afford these. Has society gone too far? Should all makeup be banned so everyone is equal?

Products do not only harm humans. Poisons in cosmetics can pollute the environment and be harmful to species because of dioxins and petrochemicals.

If this is not just effecting us surely we should get rid of it?

Society has redefined the ‘natural’ female into something fake. Women now subconsciously believe that wearing makeup is a natural part of their day to day life. So is it really more appealing or is that just society’s view? Does the science of how damaging these products can be, change your view on cosmetics or do you feel compelled by society to keep it? Feel free to express how you view them, but remember, makeup is an inaccurate representation of who you are and could actually be doing you more harm than good. After all: “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” – Margaret Wolfe Hungerford.

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