In the 18th Century, Lady Coventry and Kitty Fisher suffered a slow death from the use of the cosmetics of the time, which contained white lead. Lead remains in some cosmetics.
More recently other ingredients have become of concern to the public, such as parabens and sulfates.
Should we be concerned?
Lead is found in the colorants used to produce lipstick. It can also be found in some paints, drinking water, toys and pottery.
The FDA states that the “FDA has set specifications for lead in color additives used in cosmetics.”
The FDA currently has no limit for lead in cosmetics, but states that the lead limit of the color additives is “based on safety evaluations that consider the color additive
Dr. Anne Vravick, Mount Mary science professor and toxicologist for SC Johnson from 2001-2005, explained that there is organic and inorganic lead, both of which are used in lipstick. Inorganic lead is eliminated by our body in our urine, while organic lead is stored in our fat cells. Lead can seep out of the fat cells with more and more exposure or by fat stores being disrupted. For example, it can happen when a person loses a lot of weight.
Lead is the most similar molecule to calcium, which is responsible for a magnitude of bodily functions according to The Center for Disease Control and Prevention‘s website.
“Even the lowest levels can cause cognitive impairment,” Vravick said. “If it is in cosmetics, it does concern me.”
The FDA did an initial test of 20 lipsticks in 2007. They followed up this test in 2010 by testing 400 lipsticks in the American market for their lead content. The FDA’s bottom line about lead in lipstick is as follows: “Although we do not believe that the lead content found in our recent lipstick analyses poses a safety concern, we are evaluating whether there may be a need to recommend an upper limit for lead in lipstick in order to further protect the health and welfare of consumers.”
Paraben is a preservative found in some fruits and vegetables. It is added to cosmetics to stop them from spoiling.
The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics’s website shares studies that link parabens to cancer and hormone disruption. Many cosmetic companies have removed parabens from their products.
Vravick said that companies do not want to risk being shown in a bad light by having a substance that may have adverse health effects.
“Once it’s in the public’s mind that something is toxic, they’re done with it,” Vravick said. “Most of these companies will take these products out, or ingredients out, as soon as there is public fear, because it’s easier to just remove it than fight the public.”
Mark Crawford, owner of Adeline skincare in Ankeny, Iowa, entered the industry in 2013. Crawford scoured women’s magazines and websites to research what sells and what women want from their skincare products.
“I could not approach people for reviews if my products had parabens in it,” Crawford said.
The European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety examined all the studies available on parabens. In its 2011 report, “Opinion on Parabens,” the Commission pointed out shortcomings in the methods and findings of several studies that caused concern. It concluded that “none appears to be scientifically acceptable.”
An article published in “Toxicology Letters” in December 2013 assessed the risk of hormone disruption in parabens and other endocrine disruptors. According to the article, with the exception of natural or synthetic hormones, not a single, man-made chemical endocrine disruptor has been identified that poses an identifiable, measurable risk to human health.
Vravick said we should remember our body’s capabilities to fight off harmful substances.
“Our skin cells have an amazing ability to act as a barrier, [it is] one of the best filtering systems we have,” Vravick said. “It’s all a matter of dose. We’re not willing to allow ourselves to give confidence to what our cells can actually handle.”
Sulfates are surfactants, which act as an irritant purposely to disrupt a surface. Sulfates were taken out of hair products because they fade color in hair dye. This is due to their irritant properties. The hair’s surface is disrupted then the color can be washed out. This is a positive effect if you want to wash dirt off on other surfaces.
According to Vravick, surfactants help create bubbles in a bath and lather in your shampoo.
“Surfactants in cosmetics do a little bit of cleaning and they also help with the way that it’s absorbed by the skin,” Vravick said. “So it helps the skin to absorb lotion, for example.”
The Personal Care Council updated the assessment of sulfates in 2010. Its conclusion was that sulfates “have not evoked adverse responses in any toxicological testing.”
There was an adverse affect from them, though. The panel noted that sodium laureth sulfate and ammonium laureth sulfate can produce eye and/or skin irritation in animal testing and in some human test subjects; irritation may occur in some users of cosmetic formulations containing these ingredients.
How do we know if a product is safe to use?
Consumers have different priorities when it comes to making cosmetic purchases and Vravick said it is up to the individual.
Linda Marshall, chair of the board of Elysee Scientific Cosmetics, Inc. based in Verona, Wisconsin, has more than 40 years of experience in the cosmetic industry. Marshall serves on the board and executive committee of the Cosmetics, Toiletry, and Fragrance Association and was the first woman to do so.
”As a whole, the cosmetics industry is a very, very safe industry,” Marshall said.
Vravick said we should remember our body has capabilities to fight off harmful substances.
“Our skin cells have an amazing ability to act as a barrier, [it is] one of the best filtering systems we have,” Vravick said.
Vravick also suggested that if you have any concern, to stick with the bigger companies because they have the resources for toxicologists to run safety tests.
“People need to decide for themselves,” Vravick said. “You weigh the positives and the negatives.”
Below are some resources to enable you to make your own decisions.
The Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database
Online safety profiles for cosmetics and personal care products
GoodGuide (website and app)
Instantly find safe, healthy, green and socially responsible products based on scientific ratings.
Search for everything from diapers to deodorant.
Cosmetics Ingredients Maze
Find out which ingredients are in your cosmetics. Allows you to filter by dietary restrictions too.
Cosmetics Ingredient Review
Reviews and assesses the safety of ingredients used in cosmetics and publishes the results in peer-reviewed scientific literature.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration – Cosmetics
FDA regulations and Information on research related to cosmetic products, ingredients, and testing
website to search peer-reviewed journals to do your own research about cosmetic ingredients
Check out the video below to watch reporter Megan Ivanyos (Biere) demonstrate how to create a homemade, inexpensive body scrub and lip treatment.
If you want try a back-to-basics beauty routine, try these:
Face Wash: Mix baking soda with three parts water or less for a thicker cleanser
Exfoliant: Add salt or sugar to any cleanser
Skin Refresher: Wipe witch hazel and/or rose water over face alone or in equal parts
Moisturizer: Use a small amount of coconut oil and/or extra virgin olive oil to moisturize. A large jar of coconut oil will last more than a year.
Face Mask: Rub a tomato wedge over face and leave to dry. The pulp can also be used for a thicker mask. Rinse with water when dry.