What's In My Makeup? Questionable Things Brands Put In Makeup & Why

Hey guys!


As a pretty big science nerd with very sensitive skin, I like to know the ingredients in my cosmetics and also which ingredients can cause my skin to flare up and why.


Cosmetic science can be fairly interesting but as with a lot of things, ignorance can be bliss. When you come to look into what goes into cosmetics and what these long name chemicals actually are, you start to feel a bit wary as to what you might be putting on your face.


One thing that may put your mind at rest is that if you buy from accredited brands that are reputable and have a decent standing, they do have to follow rules and regulations of what goes into their cosmetics. Buying knock off makeup from eBay or cheap brands from Amazon etc may not be as safe but even with bigger brands, some really common ingredients have been found to have lasting health side effects OR have the potential to do harm.


That being said, if we avoided everything that supposedly has nasty side effects such as cancer and lasting health problems, we’d never eat, use consumer goods or leave the house!


So while cosmetic products are generally safe to use (I have personally never seen a huge campaign to stop wearing eyeshadow because it contains talc), it is sometimes nice to wise up and find products with ingredients that are considered safer, should you be worried about the risks.


I plan to cover a whole range of products from cosmetics to nail varnish to skincare because they all fall under the same umbrella of ‘beauty’. Some of the ingredients on this list are fairly common and some are only in select products and you may have never heard of.


But enough chit chat and let’s get down to the science!



“Fragrance” or “Perfume” 

This is a very broad term and on your ingredient list, you may just see ‘fragrance’ or ‘perfume’ as an ingredient but you do not see what goes into this ‘fragrance’.

When you think about it, you’ll realise exactly what I mean. A fragrance can sometimes be natural and a natural extract or it can be a combination of many things, including chemicals.

Under federal law and European law, ‘parfum’ or ‘fragrance’ is all a company needs to disclose on their ingredients list, not what’s actually in the fragrance itself. Fragrance is listed in the top 5 skin allergens so like myself, try to use products such as wipes and cleansers that are fragrance free to avoid skin irritation.




We use Formalin in the labs to preserve samples and this is formaldehyde mixed with water. Formaldehyde is a strong smelling, flammable chemical that is gas at room temperature and just being around formaldehyde for brief periods of time can make me want to gag and it irritates my breathing. Luckily, I don’t use it on a daily basis and only make brief contact with it when I do come across it but there are safety precautions in place for when we handle formaldehyde as it is considered carcinogenic.

Formaldehyde can be found in nail polish and other nail products and lash glue and when you consider lash glue goes near your eyes? This is one product I would be staying well clear of!

For me, seeing the word ‘Formaldehyde’ on an ingredients list is enough to put me off for good purely because I know it’s chemical uses and the effect that it has on me and others working with it.




Interestingly, talc and asbestos are very similar in the sense that they are both hydrated magnesium silicates HOWEVER talc is considered safe to use in cosmetics as long as it is fiber free because the damaging effects of asbestos comes from it’s fiber like structure. Cosmetic grade talc is finely milled for this exact purpose.

Talc is used in combination with pigment to dilute it and make the pigment less intense. For a while, it has been considered carcinogenic because of it’s links to asbestos however people have come to realise that talc is safe to use and poses no real risk to health in cosmetic applications. Many companies either swap talc for mica powder (such as CoverFX) or use more mica than talc because talc can leave a chalky residue whereas when mica is used as the diluting agent, no chalky residue is left behind- companies not using talc is usually because of aesthetic preferences rather than thinking talc causes cancer.

But if you really want to look in mica, it’s used in asphalt and as a filler in cement so you be the decider of if you want that on your face…



Coal Tar

While you may initially think that you’d avoid a product with the words ‘coal’ and ‘tar’ on the ingredients list, you may not realise that it’s not always labelled this way.

Coal Tar can also be labelled as just ‘tar’ ‘estar’ ‘impervotar’ ”KC261′ and ‘picis carbonis’ and it is used as a natural colourant, especially in hair dyes. The ingredient is considered to be carcinogenic and harmful to human health and regulations do say that amounts between 0.5% and 5% are safe but products must specify that they contain coal tar and list specific safety instructions.

Coal tar is made from burning coal and if you’re big in your renewable energy and not supporting burning coal and prefer cleaner and more sustainable methods, you may also find it unethical (for lack of a better word) to use products with coal tar in.



Titanium Dioxide

Titanium dioxide, or TiO2, is mainly in pressed or loose powders and was originally used as a white pigment in early cosmetics due to it being so opaque. As it has UV-resistant properties, it is found in sun cream and in products that have an SPF factor such as foundations.

While it is not considered especially harmful in a liquid form, in it’s powder form, it has been linked to an increase in lung cancer when inhaled in a fine milled form. It’s unlikely to penetrate the skin and cause damage and even on damaged skin/wounds, there is still no risk of an increase of cancer but when it enters the respiratory system, that’s when the problems occur.



You could go on all day but many websites say many different things but these are the top few that I’ve seen floating around the most.


What you decide to put on your face is up to you. Some of these ingredients are unavoidable but I know for a fact nothing with formaldehyde is ever going near my face! I go back to one of my first points though, that there are strict regulations in place to protect us and stop harmful ingredients being used in cosmetics.




But what would you never put near your skin that is commonly found in cosmetics? Let me know!




Happy Holidays!


Melanie-Jessica x



Yesterday’s Quiz Answers:

  1. 5 gold rings, 4 calling birds, 3 French hens, 2 turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree
  2. Mistletoe and Wine by Cliff Richard
  3. Stay Another Day
  4. “… bells end”
  5. Holy ground



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