Cosmetics are a part of everyday life for both men and women. In fact, women use an average of 12 personal care products a day; men use about 6. Many people want to look good and feel good, and they use cosmetics to achieve this. Because of their prevalent use in society, it’s important to be an informed and educated consumer. So, this month, we focus on cosmetics and how they affect you.
Reasons for Cosmetics Use
Researchers believe that we all come programmed with beauty detectors, and we’re wired to seek out appealing faces; its also believed that we’re wired to find youth more attractive than old age. Makeup, then, researchers believe, is a way to highlight and amplify our features and youth. Eye shadows, eyeliners, and mascara all make the eyes pop; blush emphasizes the cheekbones; and lipstick shows off plump lips. Foundations and concealers help us present smooth skin, a sign of youth and health. It’s believed that use of cosmetics may be an evolutionary urge to show off our best traits so that we can attain a universal beauty ideal.
Did you know that 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 could allow bacteria to seep into the eye. And if you don’t properly remove your mascara before bed time, 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 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, 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.
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.
The European Union and Canada have stringent rules about ingredients in cosmetics, so for years some health advocates have claimed that it’s time for the U.S. to have a federal law regulating cosmetics safety. In 2010, representatives introduced a bill that would give the FDA more power over the cosmetics industry, but unfortunately the bill wasn’t dealt with before that congressional session closed.
Some people aren’t waiting for the FDA or legislators to take a stronger role. Instead, they seek out organic or natural makeup — products that lack the preservatives and fragrances that may contain harmful ingredients found in mainstream cosmetics. It’s important to remember, though, that the FDA hasn’t defined “organic” or “natural,” which means that anyone can put that label on their product. Dermatologists also warn that certain plant extracts can cause skin irritation or could even prove poisonous.
A popular option for natural makeup devotees is mineral makeup, which is made from naturally occurring minerals such as zinc, lapis lazuli, and titanium dioxide that are ground into a fine powder. Mineral makeup often comes with the claim that it’s better for skin, though that hasn’t been definitively proven. This type of makeup is free from fragrances and oils that can irritate the skin, and it contains zinc, which is good for your epidermis, but it’s likely not the treatment for acne that some companies promise.
The Battle Continues
The battle for safe and environmentally friendly makeup will likely continue for years to come, as consumers protest everything from animal testing to reports of makeup toxicity to even whether makeup packaging can be recycled. No matter where you stand on the subject, just be sure to stay informed and do what feels right to you.
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