Just because you love the way your new lilac eye shadow looks on your lids, it doesn't mean it's good for you.
In fact, many studies show that some cosmetics are toxic.
But it's not always easy to pick out which product you shouldn't be using. Because cosmetics are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, harmful ingredients can be tough to spot, says Sean Gray, a senior analyst at the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a Washington D.C.-based non-profit that runs a cosmetics safety Web site.
So what should you do? For one, don't necessarily trust product marketing. With terms like 'all-natural' and 'organic,' for instance, it's important to investigate products further, says Gray. Many beauty companies use small amounts of harmful ingredients to keep costs down and as a way to change consistency of products like creams. Other times, the preservatives to keep cosmetics fresh can contain toxins. Even the large beauty brands many have come to trust can be harmful, says Kimberly Snyder, a nutritionist and founder of Envision Beauty, a natural cosmetics line. "I worked at one of the largest beauty companies in the world and I know how good they are at getting around labels and identifications in order to cut costs," says Snyder.
Since skin is the body's largest organ, cosmetics can play a large role in affecting health. "When you consider that products sit on the skin 24 hours a day, constantly being absorbed, you realize how significant this is," says Snyder. She explains that it's easy for products to be absorbed into skin, similar to a nicotine patch or some birth control.
How to Evaluate
One way to evaluate beauty products is to pay attention to all ingredients. Commonly used ingredients, like lead, phthalates, mercury and petroleum byproducts are often found in hundreds of cosmetics ranging from mascara to moisturizer. Many are known for their cancer-causing properties or can alter hormones in the body. Others can negatively impact unborn children. Plus, added fragrance—found in many cosmetics—can be especially harmful because companies aren't required to list any ingredients associated with scent, says Gray. Instead of remembering which ingredients to stay away from and why, visit EWG's CosmeticsDatabase.com to get the entire list. But there's no need to assume the worst. Most ingredients in your favorite products are perfectly safe, "Cosmetics—as a whole—aren't toxic," assures Gray.
Since you can't get a complete ingredient list for each product, it's also important to choose a brand you trust, says Josie Maran, a former model who founded her own eponymous cosmetics line. "Unless you grow the ingredients yourself, you will never know exactly what is in your cosmetics," she points out. "But, 'health conscious' [cosmetic lines] go the extra mile in knowing as much as possible about where each ingredient is sourced and how it is grown."
How to Play it Safe
When beauty products contain harmful ingredients it can be tough to tell until it's too late, says Gray. "You never want to be that one," he says about experiencing negative impacts. It's also impossible to pin any negative side effects to one product.
As a general rule, Gray points out that, products that alter your image the most are also more harmful. For example, a face cleanser is generally safer than an anti-wrinkle eye cream or face brightening serum.
Toning down the amount of products used can also help. Maran points out that interactions between ingredients in different creams and serums can be harmful. "Less is more when it comes to taking care of your skin," says Maran who recommends using multi-purpose products.
And when it comes to deciphering ingredients, it's important to pay closer attention to names in the beginning of the list, because that's what the product has the highest concentration in. Knowing what not to buy is important—even if it means reading the small font on the back of the product. "We all have to become label readers," says Gray.
But there's no need to panic—you won't have to give up all of your favorite products. Still, it's beneficial to do an inventory of rarely-used products you'd like to toss and look-up their toxicity level on CosmeticsDatabase.com. Need an added benefit to detox? You'll have less make-up cluttering your bathroom counter.