How Makeup Works

Makeup Safety

When it comes to day-to-day safety, the biggest makeup threat is mascara. Mascara wands can poke the eye and scratch the cornea, which then could allow bacteria to seep into the eye. And if you don't properly remove your mascara before bed time, then it could flake and get into the eye. For maximum makeup safety, never apply mascara when moving (such as in a car on the way to work) or when your hands are full, always wash makeup off each night, keep makeup away from heat that could destroy bacteria-killing preservatives and never, ever share makeup.

But some people claim that these daily safety tips ignore the larger threat we face by putting makeup on our face and bodies, and that more must be done to police the cosmetics industry. In 1938, Congress gave the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) a limited role in regulating cosmetics. The FDA doesn't inspect or test cosmetics before they hit the shelves; rather, each company is responsible for ensuring their products are safe for use. "Safe for use" has generally meant that it won't cause adverse skin reactions in a large group of people. If a product hits the market and causes problems, then the company is expected to recall it, and the FDA can pursue legal action to ensure they do so. The FDA has this limited role because cosmetics have been distinguished from medicine and drugs in that they do not alter the structure of the skin or the body; any cosmetic that claims to do so would be subject to investigation or testing by the FDA.


Is this kind of oversight enough? Many critics, such as the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, say no, that the cosmetics industry shouldn't be allowed to self-regulate and the FDA should set more rigid definitions for what constitutes a "safe" cosmetic product. A 2007 report in the Telegraph found that women who wear cosmetics absorb nearly 5 pounds of chemicals into their bodies each year, and safety advocates say that we don't know enough yet about certain compounds in makeup to know whether such absorption is dangerous [source: Stokes].

Of particular concern to cosmetics watchdogs are lead in lipstick, parabens in skin care products and phthalates in nail polishes and fragrances. Several studies have shown that lipsticks contain varying levels of lead -- not because lead is added to the lipstick, but because it's a byproduct of the manufacturing process. If you lick your lips several times a day while wearing lipstick, how much lead would you consume? Doctors are divided on whether consuming even a negligible amount would be safe. Parabens and phthalates have been linked with reproductive problems in lab animals and in some humans, but again, doctors don't know much about the long-term effects of these compounds.

Are there any safer alternatives to makeup? And will the FDA ever take a stronger role in regulation? Keep reading to find out.