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Makeup's possible downside: chemicals, allergy triggers and other dangers

Many women wouldn't even think about leaving the

Many women wouldn't even think about leaving the house without makeup, but have they stopped to think about what all those products might be doing to their skin? Photo Credit: iStock

Many women wouldn't even think about leaving the house without makeup, but have they stopped to think about what all those products might be doing to their skin? Or given more than a passing thought to what's in them?

Most products are probably safe for the skin, and some even provide benefits. However, some cosmetics contain irritating chemicals, and others may even have dangerous ingredients.

"People wear makeup for a lot of different reasons: It can give them extra self-confidence. It can also complement what people do on a daily basis for certain medical conditions by helping to make their skin look better," said Dr. Jeffrey Ellis, an attending dermatologist at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset.

In addition, said Dr. James Marotta, an aesthetic skin care expert and facial plastic surgeon in Smithtown, "some makeup has minerals in it that can be anti-inflammatory, and others have ultraviolet protection, which can help protect the skin from the sun."

But, makeup isn't a positive thing for everyone.

"Makeup can cause a rash or irritation called contact dermatitis," Marotta said. "In some cases, people have true allergic reactions, like hives, to ingredients in makeup. That's known as allergic contact dermatitis. Makeup may also cause acne if a product is comedogenic, which means it blocks the pores." He suggests looking for products labeled non-comedogenic or hypo-comedogenic.

Both experts recommend reading labels, though they concede it can be difficult to know what all the chemical names mean. As Marotta said, "It's very difficult to know everything that's in make-up, and what the absolute risks are."


And, some substances that you'd never expect to be in your makeup are considered OK in small quantities. Take lead, for example.

The Food and Drug Administration tested 400 different lipsticks for the presence of lead, a known human toxin. Lead was found in many of the brands, including those you'd find at drug and discount stores, as well as more expensive brands. However, the amount of lead contained in lipstick was low enough to be considered safe by the FDA. The agency is currently considering whether it needs to set an acceptable limit for lead content in cosmetics.

Both experts also said it's probably a good idea to avoid loose-powder products because of the risk of breathing in the powder.

"Cosmetic products aren't tested the way pharmaceuticals are, and these products aren't really tested to see if they're safe to inhale," Ellis noted.

In fact, the FDA doesn't regulate much in cosmetics. The only cosmetic ingredients requiring FDA approval are color additives, according to the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.

Makeup that's made in other countries could pose additional risks. For instance, Ellis said, makeup made outside the United States that's marketed to lighten the skin might contain mercury, another known toxin.


And there's concern about bacteria in makeup, foreign- or domestic-made.

The FDA issued warnings this month about makeup contaminated with bacteria coming from other countries. But, bacteria also can develop in products kept too long. Some cosmetics are starting to come labeled with an expiration date, but that doesn't always mean you should use a product until that date.

Once opened, mascara should be used within two to four months, according to FDA recommendations. Marotta said that lipstick generally should be used within three months of opening, and there's a little more leeway with eye shadows, blushes and foundations, which should be used within three to six months.

He also cautioned never to put makeup on broken skin because that can potentially give bacteria a way into your body.


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