What’s in your makeup: How to spot toxic ingredients

Consumer Report

A 7NEWS Consumer Exclusive

(WSPA) – It was around the time that Wendy Henry in Greenville, South Carolina got pregnant with her first child that a light went off.

“I think that’s a really big time for especially women to think more about what they’re putting in their body because it’s not just affecting them it’s also affecting babies,” said Henry.

The Greenville mother of three wasn’t just rethinking food, but products she put on her skin, mainly lotion and makeup with all those ingredients you can hardly pronounce.

Years ago, when she made the switch to non-toxic makeup, she was shocked to learn how 1300 chemicals are banned from cosmetics in Europe, but only 13 in the US.

“I mean one of my best friends and sister having breast cancer right now, that was an environmental component according to her doctor, it just becomes pretty personal,” said Henry.

Henry is not surprised by a recent study out of Notre Dame warning of potentially high levels of a toxic class of chemicals called PFAS in a wide spectrum of cosmetics.

The study found 55% of all lip products,  58% of eye shadows and liners, and 63% of foundations contained high levels of fluorine, an indicator of PFAS use in the product.  The biggest offender was waterproof mascara at 82%.

“They’re known carcinogens. We know they impact development.  They really have the ability to impact an incredibly wide range of biological functions and cause harm in many ways. They are a type of ingredient that shouldn’t be found in cosmetics at all,” said David Andrews, a Senior Scientist at the Environmental Working Group.

Andrews says you should avoid any products that have “PTFE” or a version of “Fluoro” on the label.  

But that’s not all. EWG has an online database called SKIN DEEP that analyzes chemicals from hundreds of cosmetics so consumers know any potential toxins.  

In addition to PFAS, EWG flags ingredients like parabens, phthalates and fragrance in red because they may impact hormones, affecting our endocrine and reproductive systems.  In green, Skin Deep lists the products that aim to be toxin-free.    

Another database of sorts, called Clearya, is an app that notifies you when there are unsafe ingredients in your makeup before you purchase the item.

Henry, for one, has switched entirely to eco-friendly brands.  She now uses and sells Beauty Counter products, and her mission is to help educate other consumers through her Instagram account, @thiswholehouse.  

“It’s really about label reading and finding brands that you trust,” said Henry.

Even as companies try to make good, so many of us hang onto older makeup. All this may have higher amounts of toxins, but EWG says even with new products, you’d be mistaken to assume it’s only the off brands that are the big offenders.

Dermatologist Dr. Beth Del Savio says while allergic reactions can tie immediately back to certain ingredients the long-term effects aren’t on a lot of consumers’ radar and more studies need to be done.  

“It’s Ironic because the FDA as far as regulating medications is very strict.  Yet, all these billions of dollars of skin products and cosmetics are just loosely regulated,” said Del Savio.

 Henry believes in the power of the consumer to drive change.  

“In a country that doesn’t have regulation, we have resources which are so great.”

Last year California became the first state in the nation to ban toxic chemicals in makeup.  Maryland passed a similar ban that goes into effect in 2025.

This year US Senators from Maine and Connecticut introduced a bill that would ban PFAS from cosmetics, but the bill has yet to come up for a vote.  

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