Start cleaning out your makeup bag, ladies, because you’re going to learn about the dark side of beauty! Makeup and beauty have a pretty rocky history, with well-known stories of lead face paint and lipsticks that ate away at the skin (which is why they’re not in use anymore), but did you know that there are still plenty of toxic ingredients that continue show up in our favourite products? Yep, even though we’re supposed to know better, not everything is totally safe in our makeup bag!
Using an app called Healthy Living by the Environmental Working Group, an NPO that researches the toxicity levels in everyday products, we got up close and personal with our favourite beauty brands to see what they weren’t telling us. From parabens to lead to other unpronounceable chemicals, we discovered that there was an ugly – and harmful – side to beauty. The app ranks some of your favourite brands (this is one instance where you want to score low) to see which products you should ditch in order to give a face-friendly overhaul to your cosmetics collection. So take a look at what products have some nightmarish chemicals lurking inside – if you dare.
We’ve all been told that opting for bronzer over tanning is the safest way to get that glowy look, and while that may be true, that doesn't mean that bronzer is totally innocent. In popular bronzers like Neutrogena Healthy Skin Blends Natural Radiance Bronzer (rated an 8) and Physicians Formula Basked Bronzer (rated a 7), there were found to be high amounts of parabens. Parabens are man-made chemicals created to prevent the spread of mould, fungi, and bacteria in cosmetics and personal care products so you can keep them around longer. That sounds like a pretty great thing, until you look at how they’ve been linked to instances of breast and skin cancer! Parabens can come in a lot of varieties, with these particular bronzers containing multi-syllabic chemicals like propylparaben and butylparaben. Worried about the presence of parabens in your favourite bronzer? Check the ingredient list before you drop it in your basket, or opt for products labeled “paraben-free”!
14 Setting Powder
No one likes to have an oily face after all the effort we’ve put into our contour for the day, which is why setting powders and sprays exist. But, you may be getting a lot more than you bargained for when you’re mattifying your face.
Neutrogena is another high-scorer on this list with their SkinClearing Mineral Powder in Natural Ivory (which scored an 8), and they’re joined by Rimmel London Stay Matte Shine Control Pressed Powder in Creamy Natural, CoverGirl Clean Pressed Powder Compact in Ivory 105, and L’Oreal True Match Gentle Mineral Makeup in Sun Beige (just to name a few) – all of which rated 7. In addition to the nasty parabens we've already mentioned, these bad boys also feature ingredients like retinyl acetate, which has been linked to cancer, excessive vitamin A intake in pregnant women, and organ system toxicity! After all that, a little bit of shine doesn't sound like such a bad thing!
13 Brow Liner
Who doesn’t want killer brows? Last year was the Year of the Brow when everyone on the runway and the street was showing off bold, killer brows. Brows frame the face and can totally change your overall look, which is why it might be a good idea to ensure that what you’re using doesn’t just look good, but is good for you. But you also want to be sure that the brows you're getting come at a fair price, and not at the expense of your health.
By far the worst brow liner according to the Healthy Living app was the budget-friendly beauty buy, Wet N’ Wild Ultimate Brow Kit in Ash Brown. A neutral choice for brunettes and blondes, this kit was rife with chemicals like isobutylparaben, ethylparaben, methylparaben, and retinyl palmitate. Like retinyl acetate, retinyl palmitate has been linked to skin cancer, especially when it was applied in the presence of sunlight – and unless you're only getting ready in the dark, that is a pretty big deal. The fact that this cheap brow kit tested for such a high amount might be a good reason to splurge on some of the good stuff!
12 CC Cream
For ladies that are fans of the no-makeup or low-maintenance look, CC creams are a miracle worker. Used to correct any discolouration like redness, sallowness, and dark circles, CC creams have converted many tinted moisturizer loyalists with their fluffy texture and concealing ability. Unfortunately, that’s where the awesomeness of CC creams end, especially for certain drugstore brands.
Major names like Olay Total Effects 7 in One Pore Minimzing CC Cream in Fair to Light scored a 9 because of the presence of acrylamide. Acrylamide naturally occurs in many foods, but is also added to products like makeup and plastics, and has been linked to cancer (which is why it’s not surprising that it also crops up in cigarettes!).
Another high scorer was the Aveeno Active Naturals Positively Radiant CC Cream in Medium, which tries to trick you into thinking it’s good for you because it contains SPF! In fact, this CC cream contains oxybenzone, a chemical that has been credited with disrupting hormones! Hard pass on these CC creams, thanks!
There are few things more annoying than going to bed with clear skin and waking up with a giant zit on your chin (or your forehead or your nose). It’s like a mean little trick your pores played on you. Enter concealer to the rescue! Whatever formula you prefer – powder, liquid, cream, or gel – you might want to avoid the ones offered by CoverGirl + Olay and Neutrogena. Containing parabens and retinyl acetate, Neutrogena SkinClearing Blemish Concealer isn’t the best choice, but they’re slightly better that the CoverGirl + Olay Eye Rehab Concealers, which contain way too much fragrance.
Fragrance doesn’t sound like anything too bad at first, but it can actually severely aggravate your skin if you have a more sensitive complexion – and the real damage will lurk underneath for a while. In fact, fragrance is one of the biggest causes of dermatitis, the scaly, red, rashiness that is anything but beautiful. It’s right up there with poison ivy, and you wouldn’t rub that all over your face!
Blush is supposed to bring life back into your face, right? So then why do so many blush options contain formaldehyde?! Found in CoverGirl Cheekers Blush and CoverGirl Instant Cheekbones Contouring Blush (in a variety of colours), it’s pretty gross to think that a formaldehyde releaser is being used on your face. Appearing in a couple forms in these products, it’s known by two names: polyoxymethylene urea and quaternium-15.
Polyoxymethylene urea is actually from the urine and bodily fluids of other animals! So, basically, you’re using animal pee on your face. Um, barf! It’s been linked to organ toxicity and has been considered an allergen. Quaternium-15 is used a preservative (that’s where that formaldehyde link comes in), and the European Union has actually determined that it may not be safe in the use of cosmetics! It’s probably a good idea to leave any beauty product containing these big names on the shelf where they belongs.
9 Lip Liner
It’s become a bit of a ~thing~ to over-line your lips in order to get that Kardashian-Jenner pout, but it’s a good idea to check that ingredient list before you start smearing the stuff so close to your lips! You may not be eating your makeup, but with this product coming so close to your mouth, it’s definitely worth a closer look! Unfortunately, this makeup bag staple scores poorly when it comes to being safe for your face. Favourite drugstore brand CoverGirl is at it again with their Lip Perfection Liner Pencils, which rate as having high levels of fragrance, parabens, and retinyl acetate.
We’ve already talked about the damage all three of these chemicals can inflict on you separately, so to have them all in the same product is pretty scary stuff! If you’re still desperately in need of some wallet-friendly lip liners that you can find anywhere, check out Milani Color Statement Lip Liner, which is much better for both your budget and your lips!
You’ve probably heard the horror stories of eye infections that can be gathered from sharing eyeliner with your BFF, but this is one makeup bag necessity that you may want to rethink entirely for yourself as well! In Wet N’ Wild’s MegaEyes Crème Eye Liner, the EWG reported high levels of lilial and lyral, which are chemical powders that are often found in laundry detergents, deodorants, soaps, and aftershaves. Turns out, many people are allergic to these ingredients, and experience dry, irritated skin – the last thing you want around your eyes!
In addition to these two nasty chemicals, this eyeliner also tested for coumarin, a fragrance and flavouring that has been linked to liver damage even in small quantities! Often found in certain varieties of cinnamon, it doesn’t seem like the type of additive you’d want anywhere near the delicate skin of your eyes – which is why it’s probably best to leave this brand of eyeliner on the spice rack rather than your vanity.
7 BB Cream
Another lazy girl makeup staple, BB cream took the world by storm when it came out a few years ago, which is why so many cheap, drugstore brands jumped on the bandwagon to bring it to their consumers. Unfortunately, BB cream can be a no-no for people who pick up items like Aveeno Clear Complexion BB Cream, Maybelline Dream Fresh BB 8-in-1 Beauty Balm Skin Perfector, and e.l.f. BB Cream.
In addition to fragrance and oxybenzone, these products all contain methylisothiazolinone, which is as big a mouthful to say as it is bad for you! A widely-used preservative, methylisothiazolinone causes allergic reactions and irritations to the skin, eyes, and lungs and is actually banned in Europe from being included in leave-in products – like the BB cream you keep on your face all day. Another red flag for this nasty chemical is that, in lab tests, brain cells were altered after regular application, signifying that this multi-syllabic ingredient might actually be a neurotoxin! They say beauty is pain, but they probably didn’t mean like this!
6 SPF Foundation
With the knowledge we have now about skin cancer and tanning, more and more brands have been adding SPF to the products that are used all over the face. From foundations to BB creams to primers, added SPF gives us the peace of mind that we’re protecting ourselves from harmful UV rays.
Except that we’re not.
To get the SPF benefits of a sunscreen in a foundation, we’d have to apply way more than we actually do, which is something that major cosmetics companies don’t tell us. For CoverGirl’s Outlast Stay Fabulous 3-in-1 Foundation & Broad Spectrum SPF 20 in any available shade, the EWG discovered that the SPF protection was minimal – and likely way less than what is being advertised. If you’re a pale-faced lady or just need more sun protection, try a sunscreen made for the face so you won’t look or feel oily! The sun is great for warmth and vitamin D, but premature wrinkles and melanoma are definitely not hot.
5 Nail Polish
If you’ve ever wrinkled your nose over the smell of nail polish, maybe it’s because your favourite shade was actually trying to tell you something. In Sally Hansen Diamond Strength No Chip Nail Color, high levels of styrene were detected. Primarily used in the production of plastics and rubbers, styrene has been linked in the short term to eye irritation and gastrointestinal effects, while long-term exposure can actually affect the central nervous system! That means that prolonged, regular exposure to this chemical compound can give you feelings of fatigue, weakness, depression, headache, and even hearing loss! No wonder this thing is classified as toxic!
While not labelled as cancer-causing quite yet, studies have suggested a link between styrene exposure and the risk of leukemia and lymphoma. While it might be rare that regular manicures would bring about the same results, it’s probably a good idea to reach for another bottle to treat your tips to.
4 Lip Gloss
If you thought lip gloss was a pain for getting your hair stuck to it on a windy day, you haven’t heard anything yet! Sephora fave brand, philosophy, has lip glosses that are drool-worthy in how good they smell, with scents like Frosted Animal Cracker, Peppermint Stick, and Senorita Margarita. With that being said, it shouldn’t be a surprise that these delicious flavours have high levels of fragrance, which is both drying and irritating – which means they’re probably not a good idea to have on your lips! In addition to this, the Senorita Margarita flavour also contains citral, which is a naturally-occurring scent ingredient that is manufactured on larger scales (like in philosophy products). Associated with allergic reactions to the skin, eyes, and lungs, citral gives that fresh citrus burst, but is probably not such a good idea to be smearing around your lips – even if it smells amazing.
In addition to parabens and retinyl acetate, it’s actually the presence of bacteria that puts mascara near the top spot on this list! When you pull out your mascara wand and pump air back into it after it’s been so near all the gooshiness of your eyes, you’re introducing a whole bunch of nasty bacteria into your favourite tube. That dark, damp atmosphere makes it an ideal breeding ground for gross things like staphylococcus and streptococcus. While many mascaras contain preservatives to prevent this (and most are labelled with a three-month safety limit), tests proved that these bacteria can be present in mascara tubes that were well before their expiration date. Another reason to ditch your tube? Carbon black, which has been linked to lung tumours in many scientific tests. While we still love that lush lash look, it might be a good idea to toss it a little sooner than you’d thought, just to stay on the safe side.
The basic of many ladies’ makeup bags, foundation in any form can contain tons of majorly harmful chemicals, including propylene glycol, methylparaben, and propylparaben, all of which disrupt the endocrine system – and are considered a major threat to fertility and the environment. If you’re a girl who likes a bit of shimmer to get that glowy look in her foundation, maybe you’re used a powder foundation, but even those aren’t safe! Many contain mica, which is a mineral dust that also happens to be used in cement. (So, probably not a good idea to have on your face.) Long-term inhalation of mica dust can actually scar the lungs, leading to coughing, shortness of breath, and weakness. Consider this: construction workers are surrounded by mica on a daily basis, and wear masks to protect themselves from inhaling it. If you’re not into the idea of wearing your own mask when you’re applying your morning makeup, maybe look for a new bottle!
The number one baddie on this list? Perfume! While not a cosmetic like the others in this article, perfume is a beauty product that we’ve been using for centuries, regardless of how bad for us it may be. (And boy, is it bad!) Many major brands like philosophy, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, and Burberry, plus celebrity-helmed fragrances by people like Halle Berry, Celine Dion, and Beyoncé are all guilty of containing almost ALL of the toxic ingredients we’ve already mentioned!
Beautiful bottles that are anything but cheap are filled with chemicals like oxybenzone, lilial, citral, benzyl salicylate, coumarin, and BHT, the last of which has also been linked to organ damage, cancer, and endocrine disruption. Not to mention the colouring and dyes involved! While we always feel a little fancy when we’re adding a spritz of perfume, they are a beauty product that definitely require a closer look before we lay down that amount of cash.