Naturopath, Acupuncturist and author Nicole Bijlsma is also the CEO of the Australian College of Environmental Studies. She is passionate about natural beauty and lifts the lid on what’s really in our makeup.
Natural beauty is the twin of True Beauty and Nicole’s a champion of what alternative beauty products are available that won’t adversely affect women’s health.
My five year old daughter came home with her face made up by her ten year old (going on twenty five) cousin. Nothing was spared: foundation, blush, eye liner, eye shadow, lipstick as well as bright red finger and toenails – just in case I had not noticed.
The only thing that was missing was a spray tan. The job was impressive but then she was a cheer leader overall and this was part of their ‘sport’ (obviously that’s where I have gone wrong in my life).
Come to think about it, the first time I wore foundation was on my wedding day at twenty six thanks to the persistence of my younger and obviously more fashionable sister – how times have changed!
Am I being old fashioned, or is it ok for me to FREAK OUT that my little girl wants to look like the Barbie dolls she received for her fifth birthday?
As a parent with two young daughters, I know that I have some control over what they put on their bodies, however as they get older, this is going to get harder and by their teens – thanks to peer and media pressure – there is a good chance they won’t listen to me at all (sigh).
So this provided me with a good opportunity to investigate what women put on their face, and more importantly, what alternatives are available that won’t adversely affect their health.
The cosmetic industry is largely self-regulated which can mean little or no regulation. Put simply manufacturers can put (almost) whatever ingredients they want into their products.
Many of the ingredients are skin, eye and lung irritants, as well as known carcinogens and reproductive toxins in ‘acceptable’ levels.
If you have eight minutes to spare, I strongly suggest that you watch the Story of Cosmetics and you will know what I mean. In addition, the shift towards online shopping of overseas products has meant that the regulatory systems in place to protect the consumers are now by-passed
Foundation: Mineral foundations are touted as being more natural, prevent your pores from clogging and may (and that’s a big may) – improve your skin. An investigation of 14 mineral makeups by Choice – the people’s watchdog, concluded that they do not deliver the benefits promised with some containing dangerous nanoparticles (Choice, 2009). Makeup that is derived from minerals mined from the earth will contain trace amounts of toxic impurities such as heavy metals, which requires processing to remove them.
Fragrances: are a common cause of skin reactions. As a result of trade secrets, manufacturers are not obliged to reveal the hundreds of chemicals that make up a perfume or fragrance in their product. Fragrances can also disguise more sinister contaminants such as phthalates which are a family of industrial chemicals that mimic the hormone oestrogen and have been linked to birth defects and reproductive changes in children (early puberty). Fragrances were voted 2007 Allergen of the Year by the American Contact Dermatitis Society (2007).
Avoid purchasing imported beauty products that do not list their ingredients as you could be exposing yourself to toxic levels of heavy metals.
Mascara: like the great majority of cosmetics contains a plethora of ingredients from pigments such as carbon black (a petrochemical), iron oxide (earth) and ultramarine blue (zeolite), waxes, oils and preservatives. Researchers found 33% of mascaras were contaminated with bacteria (Pack et al, 2008). The contamination occurs when bacteria found naturally in the eyes infects the mascara wand. It is important therefore that you discard the mascara within three months of purchase.
Nail polish. That wretched smell you get when you walk past the nail salon at the local shopping centre gets me every time. I just can’t seem to hold my breath long enough to avoid inhaling those fumes! Nail polish is a nasty one when it comes to toxins, here are the main culprits. Formaldehyde or formalin is used as a nail hardener and apart from the fact that it is a known carcinogen, it is also an eye, skin and lung irritant that may cause asthma. Toluene provides a smooth finish and is an eye, nose and throat irritant, as well as causing headaches, dizziness and fatigue. DBP (dibutyl phthalate) is a hormone disrupting chemical that has been linked to birth defects in boys which is why it is banned from the European Union. Methyl methacrylate (MMA) commonly found in acrylic nail products may cause blisters, headache, dizziness, difficulty concentrating, numbness and muscle weakness.
Nanoparticles are used in foundation, face powder, lipstick, blush, self-tanning sprays, sunscreens, eye shadow and nail polish amongst a myriad of other products. Their impact on human health is essentially unknown though preliminary animal studies suggests inhalation of these particles may cause inflammation and lung damage.
Skin lightening and anti-ageing treatments: Whilst mercury is not permitted in personal care products, some skin lightening creams and anti-ageing treatments sold in Asia, Mexico, Africa and the Middle East were found to contain high levels of mercury (US FDA, 2012). If you see the words “mercurous chloride,” “calomel,” “mercuric,” “mercurio,” or “mercury,” stop using the product immediately.
Lead is not generally added as an ingredient to lipstick, rather it may be found naturally in the pigments. Consequently it was found in most of the 400 brands tested including those marketed as ‘natural’ (US FDA, 2012).
Lipstick: Are the authorities paying lip service to contaminants in our makeup? In 2007, a survey of 33 lipsticks discovered that 20 had lead within them (Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, 2012). This was followed up by a recent investigation of 400 lipsticks which confirmed lead in most of them, with some containing levels up to 7.19 ppm (US FDA, 2012a). The manufacturers do not add the heavy metal lead to lipsticks, rather it may be found naturally in the pigments used. As there is no limit to the amount of lead allowed in lipsticks, you essentially have no idea how much you could be exposed to. There is no safe level for lead. Lead causes learning and behaviourhal disorders such as hyperactivity, reduced IQ, sleep disturbances and increased aggression in children. It is particularly toxic to pregnant woman as it crosses the placenta where it may affect foetal brain development.
Tips when purchasing makeup
To see how your makeup ranks in relation to its health effects, refer to the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep website.
For truly natural makeup, make your own! For eye liner, add a few drops of water to the contents of an activated charcoal capsule; for green eye shadow, use spirulina powder and for red lips and cheeks, use beetroot juice!