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How Makeup Works

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Makeup Ingredients
Women testing lipsticks for durability
Women testing lipsticks for durability
Carsten/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

While different cosmetics companies may claim to have mixed up a super-secret formula for their products that put them head and shoulders above the rest, most makeup products share the same basic ingredients. Foundations feature a moisturizing base made out of water, oil or wax, combined with a filler like talc that ensures smooth distribution over the face. There are also pigments like iron oxide included so that foundation can be matched to skin tone. Other than that, foundations may boast different ingredients for varying skin needs, such as jojoba oil for dry skin or salicylic acid for acne [source: Goins].

Eyeliners work because they feature film formers and thickeners; the film former is the line of makeup you paint around the eye, while the thickener helps the former stay there. Eyeliners also include various pigments made out of iron oxide, depending on the shade of the eyeliner [source: Goins]. Eye shadows also rely on a variety of pigments, but the main ingredients for this product are base fillers and binders. The base might be made of talc, mica or kaolin clay, but it's the binder that makes sure these ingredients stay put on your eyelids. Binders might be made out of zinc or magnesium derivatives. Eye shadows that come in cream form include waxes and oils in the base that dry on the lid for long-lasting color [source: Goins].

Mascara gets its dark color from a carbon or iron oxide pigment, and it stays put on lashes thanks to waxes and oils like lanolin, paraffin or petroleum. People attending weddings or funerals usually request waterproof mascara -- the difference between waterproof mascaras and other types is the amount of water used in creating the product. If you're looking for something that will stand up to tears, check whether water is listed in the ingredients, but don't always reach for your waterproof. Waterproof mascaras can be extremely hard to remove, so repeated use could damage your lashes [source: Goins].

Lipstick has a very short ingredients list as well -- wax, oil, moisturizers and pigment. The wax helps the lipstick hold its shape yet also allows for easy application to the lips. Beeswax, carnauba wax (from Brazilian palm trees) and candelilla wax (from the candelilla plant) are commonly used. Oils like olive oil, castor oil, mineral oil or lanolin give lipsticks their shine; less oil means more color, less sheerness. Moisturizers are a fairly new addition to lipstick concoctions. Old lipsticks used to be very cakey, but now ingredients like Vitamin E and aloe vera keep the lipstick and the lips in question moist and dewy [sources: Johnson; Goins].

After decades of trial and error, these cosmetics recipes seem perfect, though manufacturers will likely continue to tinker with formulas in the never-ending search for a competitive edge. However, cosmetics ingredients don't have the best safety record -- remember the Egyptians and their lead-containing kohl mascara? In the 20th century, certain mascaras were found to have ingredients that could blind the wearer, including turpentine and hair dye. And every few years, there's a rash of reports that lipstick contains lead. On the next page, we'll investigate the Food and Drug Administration's oversight of cosmetics and the debate about whether our makeup is safe.


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