Cosmetic products and makeup help to give the illusion of perfect skin, but many conventional cosmetics also contain chemicals that can cause irritation and may even be toxic. Have you stopped to think about what exactly it is you’re slathering on your face every day?
When we joke about “painting” our faces, the joke may not be too far off from the truth. Some liquid foundations smell just like paint, and the long list of strange-sounding chemical ingredients do not alleviate concerns that what we’re putting on our face may not be good for us.
The good news is that healthy cosmetic products such as mineral makeup are widely available and are part of a healthy skin care plan.
Read below to recognize and eliminate the toxins you should avoid. Then learn about the benefits of using mineral makeup and why this type of cosmetic is increasingly becoming the choice for health-conscious women.
Toxic Skin Care Products
Mercury (mercurous chloride, calomel, mercuric, and mercurio) is a toxic metal that can cause kidney and nervous system damage as well as developmental disorders in fetuses and young children.
The FDA recently found that some foreign products marketed as skin lighteners, anti-aging treatments, and acne treatments contain mercury, and even individuals who do not use the product can get mercury poisoning by breathing in vapors or accidentally ingesting it after touching users’ skin.
Parabens (methylparaben, butylparaben, propylparaben, isobutylparaben, ethylparaben, polyparaben and isobutylparaben), commonly found in many personal care products, are a chemical preservative used in moisturizers, anti-aging creams, liquid foundation, and fragrances. They have been identified as endocrine disruptors (chemicals that interfere with the endocrine or hormone system, and are linked to cancer, birth defects, and other developmental disorders), and they have been found in breast cancer tumors with alarming frequency.
Also linked to endocrine disruption, phthalates are chemical compounds found in plasticisers (substances that make plastic flexible and transparent). Unfortunately, they are also found in face creams, self-tanning products, makeup, and fragrances because they add luster and texture to creams and increase the shelf-life of fragrances. They can be absorbed through the skin into the bloodstream as well as inhaled, and they, too, are linked to breast cancer.
Even scarier than all that? When a product lists “fragrance” as one of its ingredients, it may contain parabens and/or phthalates, but because fragrances are protected as “trade secrets,” they do not have to divulge what, exactly, the fragrances contain.
Mercury, parabens, phthalates, and dozens and dozens more chemicals in our cosmetics. What can we do to minimize our exposure to toxins
1. Know What You’re Using
Do read the ingredients list of every product you purchase, whether it’s soap, lotion, anti-aging cream, or foundation. After all, whatever is in those products is being absorbed by your skin!
Ingredients are usually listed in descending order, with the most abundant ingredient first and the least abundant ingredient last. This helps you know whether a substance you want in the product is present in a quantity that justifies the cost, and it also helps you to know how much of something you don’t want is in the product.
Don’t be intimidated by unfamiliar ingredients – educate yourself! You already know to avoid mercury, parabens, and phthalates, but learn what other harmful substances are commonly found in cosmetics and other consumer products.
A good place to begin is SkinDeep, an online cosmetics database that not only lists the ingredients found in popular cosmetics, but also identifies which are potentially harmful and provides links to studies about the toxicity of many of those substances.
Also, understand that “hypoallergenic” is not a guarantee that you will not have an adverse reaction to a product. The FDA does not have standards for labeling a product “hypoallergenic,” so any product, regardless of its ingredients, can be labeled as such. Ultimately, it is your responsibility to know what is in a product you purchase.
2. Minimize Your Exposure
Do you really need to use 25 different products on your face and body every day? Each time you layer on a new product, you’re building on top of what you’ve already put on.
For example, if you’re using a product that lists “fragrance” as the last ingredient, you may think that you’re minimizing your exposure to any harmful substance that might be part of that fragrance since it’s only present in limited amounts. However, if you’re using five products with “fragrance,” that’s five times the exposure, and those toxic chemicals build up in your body over time.
Instead, choose products with fewer ingredients, so you can truly limit what your body absorbs. Fewer products with fewer ingredients means fewer opportunities for toxins to build up.
3. Use Mineral Makeup
Mineral makeup has seen a massive boost in popularity over the past few years, with nearly 6% of all prestige cosmetic sales in the U.S. – nearly $195 million in 2010 – being mineral makeup, according to market research group NPD. This figure excludes popular drugstore brands such as Almay, L’Oreal, Neutrogena, and Physician’s Formula, which also have mineral makeup lines, so you can only imagine what the combined total would be. Why the sudden increase for a product that’s been around for more than 30 years? Because people feel mineral makeup is more “natural” than conventional makeup.
What is Mineral Makeup?
Mineral makeup is a group of cosmetic products made of naturally occurring, inorganic, mined minerals. Substances such as zinc oxide, iron oxide, titanium dioxide, mica, and ultramarine are micronized (ground) into superfine particles and used to make powders and foundations.
You might be surprised to find that most traditional makeup products contain mineral ingredients such as zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, iron oxide and mica. However, it’s the preservatives, chemicals, oils, and fragrances missing in mineral makeup that make it different and, according to many, better.
Our favorite brands include Jane Iredale (her brand is one of the oldest), ColorScience and GloMinerals. Each of these brands are sold through skin care professionals who can assess the appropriate colors for you to wear given your complexion and coloring.
Benefits of Mineral Makeup
Mineral make-up offers a wide range of benefits for those with acne-prone, sensitive, environmentally damaged or normal skin.
Hypo-Allergenic. Most mineral makeups are oil-free, and being in powder form, they do not support the growth of bacteria – especially beneficial for acne-prone skin. They are also free of allergens and sensitizers such as fragrances and chemical dyes that may cause allergic reactions. Because they are considered gentler than conventional cosmetics, many dermatologists recommend mineral makeup for women with sensitive skin, as well as those who are acne-prone or struggle with skin conditions such as eczema and rosacea.
UV Protection. Two of the most common ingredients found in mineral makeup are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, both of which have sun-protection benefits. They are considered physical blockers because instead of being absorbed into skin like chemical sunscreens, they sit on top of skin as a protective barrier, providing broad-spectrum protection against UVA and UVB rays. Therefore, even coverage of skin with a mineral makeup foundation can provide a small amount of sun protection for those days when you have limited sun exposure. Of course, when you plan on being out in the sun for longer periods, it’s a good idea to layer a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 45 underneath your makeup.
Antioxidant Protection. Zinc oxide serves double duty since it is also FDA-approved as a skin protectant. Zinc is a known antioxidant, and it protects the skin against free-radical damage. It has anti-inflammatory properties (it’s a common ingredient in diaper rash cream), so mineral makeup can actually help calm irritated skin.
That Healthy Glow. What about that luminous glow? Titanium dioxide also has an extremely high light refraction index. It refracts light better than any diamond engagement ring, and this special property helps diffuse the light that hits your face, minimizing imperfections and making skin look radiant.
Mineral Makeup Concerns
Some argue that mineral makeup isn’t as natural as it claims to be, and they are not completely wrong. The minerals in mineral makeup are not simply mined, ground, and packaged for consumers. In fact, zinc oxide is not mined at all; it is produced in a laboratory. Titanium oxide, while mined, begins with natural titanium, but it, too, undergoes an extraction and purification process in a laboratory. However, this laboratory processing is actually beneficial. Because our natural sources of minerals are not 100% pure, this process filters out contaminants such as mercury and lead and ensures that the final product we put on our skin is clean and safe.
Other reports have warned women about bismuth oxychloride, a mineral that gives makeup its pearlescent effect. They say it can cause skin irritation and acne, but there are some mineral makeup brands that do not contain bismuth oxychloride as an option for the few who may be sensitive to it. In addition, many cosmetics counters will respond to consumers’ requests to sample products before purchase to test for sensitivity.
And don’t be fooled by the catch-all term, “mineral makeup.” Many cosmetic products, including liquid foundations, are now marketing themselves as “mineral makeup” because, yes, they have minerals as part of their ingredients. Still, most, if not all, liquid cosmetics need to have preservatives to inhibit bacterial growth, so reading the ingredients list – Tip #1 – is key.
Mineral makeup has better staying power on hot, humid summer days – better than traditional liquid makeup, and it also helps create that “no-makeup look” we all want to achieve. It’s weightless and feels like bare skin. But before we apply any kind of makeup, we need to examine our skincare regimen and become knowledgeable about the products we put on our skin. We too often forget that our skin is our largest organ, and it absorbs everything we apply on it.
We already tend to pare down our products during the hot summer months. Now you have the tools and knowledge to decide what to keep and what to replace!
David H. Rahm, M.D. is the founder and medical director of The Wellness Center, a medical clinic located in Long Beach, CA. Dr. Rahm is also president and medical director of VitaMedica. Dr. Rahm is one of a select group of conventional medical doctors who have education and expertise in functional medicine and nutritional science. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Rahm has published articles in the plastic surgery literature and educated physicians about the importance of good peri-operative nutrition.