Make-up martyrdom?

I’m concerned to read a report in the Daily Mail about the ingredients in many items of modern make-up, and the health risks they pose. Of course, since I don’t use make-up, I’m not in danger from them: but I guess my sisters and lady friends are, so I thought it might be worthwhile to highlight the risk.

The British cosmetic, toiletry and perfumery industry is worth more than £6.5 billion a year.

Yet just this week, research was published showing that common chemicals used in toiletries may make women more likely to be infertile.

Indeed, inside all those gleaming bottles and tubes we take for granted lurks a cocktail of dangerous synthetic chemicals that research suggests may be responsible for everything from reproductive complications to allergies and cancer.

The author goes into detail about hair care products, bath additives, toothpaste, nail polish, talcum powder, deodorant, etc. She adds:


If you have sensitive skin, you may well choose products bearing these labels in the hope that your risk of experiencing any irritation will be reduced.

‘Hypoallergenic’ and ‘dermatologist tested’ are two frequently used terms – but, unfortunately, they may bear little or no relation to the product.

Any product may legally call itself hypoallergenic. In evidence submitted to the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology and published in its report on allergies in 2007, Professor David Gawkrodger, consultant dermatologist at the University of Sheffield, said: ‘There is no regulation of the term “hypoallergenic”.

I see a whole list of things which I know can cause allergy, so I am rather cynical about the label of “hypoallergenic”.’

Again, ‘dermatologist tested’ can be a meaningless statement. It may simply be
the case that a small number of individuals claiming to have sensitive skin have been tested and demonstrated no reaction to the product.

‘The testing may not be scientifically valid and there’s no guarantee the product will not cause reactions in others.’

As the Select Committee report remarks: ‘The allergenicity of a substance is dependent on an individual person’s response and their tendency to develop allergies.’

In 2004, product testing and campaigning charity Which? wrote to ten leading British cosmetics companies asking them to explain the use of terms such as ‘dermatologically tested’ on their products.

Eight replied and explained that such claims referred to tests intended to provide reassurance to consumers about product safety. Though general information about the tests was provided, none gave specific details of trials conducted or test results.

Which? asked two expert dermatologists to examine the information provided to assess its validity, but because it was incomplete they were unable to do this comprehensively.


Make-up composed of inorganic pigments, such as mica, zinc oxide and iron oxide, is hugely popular, and is frequently being touted as a ‘natural alternative’ to conventional products.

But there is a lack of industry regulation on mineral make-up and the term ‘natural’ can be a bit of a misnomer, too, as the minerals have to go through stringent chemical and purification processes to be included in cosmetic products.

Other controversial issues surrounding mineral make-up are the use of ultra-fine particles in some brands, which are ‘nano-sized’ (once inside the body, there are concerns that nano particles seem to have unlimited access to all tissues and organs, including the brain, and may cause cell damage that we don’t yet understand) .

Some mineral make-up brands may also use potentially toxic minerals such as talc, aluminium and bismuth oxychloride – a by-product of lead and ore refining that can cause skin irritation and scratch the surface of the skin.

Having said that, if you are determined to use mineral make-up – particularly the more ethical brands – you will be exposing yourself to far fewer synthetic chemicals on your face than if you use conventional make-up.

Food for thought! I’d be interested to hear from my lady readers (and male readers who happen to use any of this stuff, apart from the basics) about whether you’ve experienced any of the side-effects she lists. Please let us know in Comments.



  1. The only makeup I ever wear is green and brown, so I won’t have to worry too much. But what about the guy who played the Tin Man in Oz, and got all messed up from wearing a thick coat of aluminum paste? Scary.


  2. I’ve never worn makeup, and never will. But I have tried to use hairspray. (That was back in the 90’s when all the Apostolic ladies were into having gigantic pompadours- “poofs”.) I tried all kinds of stuff that said it was “natural” and I couldn’t tolerate anything. It always felt like the chemicals were soaking through my skin and would even make me feel “weird” and slightly disoriented mentally! It was worse if it was cheap hairspray but even the expensive stuff or the “natural” stuff would do the same. I had to stop altogether. I have an impressive comb collection for keeping the fine, wispy hair at bay, though 😉

  3. Ah, warpaint.

    At least they no longer have formaldehyde in the good nail polish (don’t ask about the cheap), though the industrial solvents that you soak your nice permeable skin in to get them off aren’t doing any favors. Check out what acetone is used for, besides swishing and rubbing on fingers for paint removal.

    And lacquer on the hair certainly doesn’t do it favors, though the blow drier is really what I blame for making it brittle. The again, knowing that any light hair dye starts by coating it in harsh bleaches (usually caustic, not acidic) to lighten hair enough for the color to really show, and you’re putting that on your scalp for up to half an hour before soaking heavy neutralizing lotion in to try to combat the worst of the damage.

    You haven’t even touched upon the parasites and bacteria that tend to grow in makeup – why it should be thrown out regularly, but of course we never do.

    Myself, my usual preparation for the day involves sticking myself in the shower, soaping off, shampooing, forgetting conditioner half the time (and paying for that in the arctic winter), toweling dry, and throwing on clothes before running out the door without breakfast, late for work again.

    Makeup is good for occasions: it’s a nice mask against the world on days I didn’t sleep well or feel like I’m preparing to do battle. Like alcohol, moderate use is definitely a part of my life, no matter that my organs may not great it with enthusiasm.

  4. I’ve been using mineral cosmetics for several years now and avoid any kind that has bismuth oxychloride because it irritates my sensitive skin. I mostly use rice powder to remove the shine and a tinted powder over it if I have blemishes.

    There are a number of ingredient safety databases available online that are useful.

  5. The worse tragedy is that cosmetic companies, realizing that 50% of the human race (more or less) happens to be male, have begun marketing this junk to young men. And the impressionable kids have been increasingly falling for it.

    Men don’t look better with makeup. They just advertise themselves as gullible idiots.

    I’ll take a risk of being the oddball and admit that I think the ladies don’t look better, either. The before pictures in magazines only look worse because the woman is slouching and frowning. The after pictures always seem stiff and phony: might as well use some plastic modeling compound and 800-grit wet sandpaper. It’d be the same look.

    I don’t know why it’s so difficult to believe that there are men who’d rather look at the honest beauty of a woman’s face than to see it plastered over. Add to it how much more relaxed the woman will be for not having had to fuss over it, and no-makeup is a clear win.

    No, I don’t want the lashes longer, the lips colored or glossed, or anything shaded or blushed. The color of your face is not an imperfection, no matter what you or anyone else thinks. I’ll be glad to explain this to anyone who doesn’t understand.

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