Makeup is powerful because it allows us to express ourselves in so many ways. But makeup is also powerful in another sense, many brands carry makeup made from harmful chemicals that are making their way into our eyes (and blood streams), causing irritation and possibly contributing to cancer, lung disease, and reproductive issues.
So before you pick up your next eye shadows, liners, mascaras, makeup brushes, or false lashes from brands like L’Oreal, Almay, or Clinique (to name a few), make sure to look out for these chemicals as you read the labels (which I hope you do!)
Carbon black, D & C Black No. 2, acetylene black, channel black, furnace black, lamp black and thermal black, are different types of black powder that’s in eyeliner, mascara, eye shadow and eyebrow shadow. This powder has been linked to lung disease and is also a carcinogenic.
Ethanolamine (DEA, TEA, MEA)
Benzalkonium Chloride (BAK)
BAK is a preservative that’s used in eyeliner, mascara and makeup remover, and is toxic to the epithelial cells of the eyes. These cells keep dust, water and bacteria out, providing a smooth surface to absorb oxygen and cell nutrients from tears, then distributes these nutrients to the rest of the cornea.
When reading labels, look for these names: benzalkonium chloride, quaternium-15 or guar hydroxypropyltrimonium chloride.
Prime Yellow Carnauba Wax
This chemicals is used in mascara and eyeliners to harden them and make them waterproof. The issue with this chemical is that it can clog the oil glands in your eyes, causing dry eye disease.
Formaldehyde (and preservatives that release the chemical) is sometimes listed on labels as quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin and urea. This chemical is a known carcinogen, and can also cause dermatitis, hair loss, permanent skin sensitisation and irritation.
The all-too familiar parabens, used in cosmetics to prevent the growth of bacteria. Parabens are easily absorbed by your skin and can make their way into your bloodstream. Parabens are hormone disruptors and are a triggers for breast cancer.
Avoid products that list the suffix paraben.
Aluminum powder, also listed as aluminum, LB Pigment 5 or pigment metal on ingredient labels, is a neurotoxin and can cause organ toxicity.
Retinyl -acetate, or -palmitate
Many sunscreens contain vitamin A (a.k.a. retinol, retinyl palmitate, retinyl acetate, or retinyl linoleate). It’s used as a skin conditioning agent in a variety of beauty products such as face creams. The issue with retinyl palmitate is it can harm the reproductive system, and when it comes into contact with sunlight, it can damage new skin cells that have formed.
Companies usually use nickel and chrome, two heavy metals in makeup to give eye shadow that metallic color.
Other heavy metals that can be found in cosmetics are arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury, beryllium, selenium and thallium. All of these, including nickel and chrome, are neurotoxins, carcinogenic, and can be very irritating to the eyes.
Stay Safe with EWG’s App
If you forget what’s safe or not safe, or need a little help, you can download the Environmental Working Group’s free app! You can get information about specific chemicals, products and even brands—so that shopping can be headache-free. 😉