Masking the Facts: Popular makeup products could contain harmful chemicals; students share reactions

Meredith Strickland, Staff Writer

Sophomore Mandy Novicoff gently applies her makeup in her bathroom mirror, careful not to smudge her eyeliner. She is just about to complete her morning routine before heading off to school. One could say Novicoff’s morning rituals are similar to any other high school girl’s normal morning.
“I usually take about 15 minutes a day to apply my makeup, and I do wear it almost every day,” Novicoff said.
Sophomore Meg Hollingsworth said wearing makeup everyday is not surprising.
“[I wear makeup] every day I go to school or out in public,” junior Stephanie Mahaffey said.
According to, the beauty industry grosses about $160 billion a year globally, encompassing cosmetics, skin and hair care and fragrances.
“I enjoy using makeup, and it’s really fun to use different eyeshadow colors and different techniques,” Hollingsworth said.
However, these girls did not know what it takes for manufacturers to produce their favorite kinds of makeup when asked.
Some popular products could contain dangerous ingredients that could potentially lead to cancer, birth defects or other health problems.
Americans have already begun to speak out about changes that need to be made.
In 2011, the House of Representatives introduced the Safe Cosmetics Act (SCA), which ensures all personal care products are safe for use. The SCA established a system for checking the ingredients of all cosmetics and began a plan to phase out use of ingredients harmful to one’s health.
Cosmetics are the least regulated products under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA). The FFDCA does not require pre-market safety testing or reviews. According to, many cosmetics with harmful ingredients are being sold on shelves in local drugstores and pharmacies.
The European Union (EU) bans nearly 1,400 chemicals from personal care products because they are carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic to reproduction.
But in the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) entrusts safety regulation of cosmetics to regulate themselves. To date, this entity has found 11 chemicals to be “unsafe for use in cosmetics.”
The FDA has no oversight of cosmetic products before they come on the market, and, unlike the EU, leaves it to the cosmetic industry to determine which ingredients should be banned.
The FDA does not have the authority to test cosmetic ingredients before products containing them go on the market. As stated on their website, “FDA’s legal authority over cosmetics is different from other products regulated by the agency, such as drugs, biologics, and medical devices. Cosmetic products and ingredients are not subject to FDA premarket approval authority, with the exception of color additives.”
Instead, according to, the cosmetic industry is in charge of the safety of their products.
“I honestly did not know these makeup products are dangerous to my health, and that is pretty scary to now learn,” Novicoff said. “I am now questioning if I should wear makeup every day or not.”
Humans are vulnerable to chemicals in cosmetics because the skin is permeable. If makeup is left on for a long period of time, chemicals may have the chance of harming the skin in significant amounts.
According to “The Safe Shopper’s Bible,” research has shown cosmetics containing the fewest ingredients are generally safe to use. As the list of a product’s ingredients grows, so does the risk that any number of ingredients could cause bad reactions.
If you are worried about whether or not your makeup could be harming you, the Environmental Working Group’s website offers a “Skin Deep Cosmetics Database” that allows you to type in a product name to see what ingredients it contains.


If you’re a little overwhelmed on getting started evaluating your products for health hazards, look for these ingredients on your labels to identify the top chemicals linked to cancer and other diseases.

  • Coal-tar dyes include p-Phenylnediamine and colors listed as “CI” followed by five digits. These are mostly found in hair dyes and may contain heavy metals toxic to the brain.
  • Diethanoline (DEA) is used in some creamy moisturizers and shampoos that can be carcinogenic.
  • Dibuytlphthalate is a plasticizer used in nailcare products.

Information from