How the cosmetic industry is bruising our face — the downside of looking pretty

By: Olivia Foster ’18

From billboards to commercials to movies, teenagers and young adults are bombarded with images of pretty faces contoured, blushed and highlighted with make-up. At a young age, girls are taught to use makeup as a way to achieve a more desired look, but there may be health risks connected to using certain facial products.
A recent study by UC Berkeley and Clinica de Salud del Valle de Salinas proved that chemicals in personal care products, such as makeup, have a direct effect on the body’s endocrine system, which affects hormone regulation. After just three days without using products, the women in the study found a drastic drop in the number of hormone-disrupting chemicals in their bodies. Kim Harley, study director and associate director of the UC Berkeley Center for Environmental Research and Children’s Health, believes that women are becoming more subject to a disproportion of harmful toxins in the body. “Teen girls may be at particular risk since it’s a time of rapid reproductive development, and research has suggested that they use more personal care products per day than the average adult women,” Harley said.
For many Staples students, makeup is an integral part of their daily routine. “The first time I wore makeup was in fifth grade for a play and I became obsessed with it ever since,” Kayla Bilotti ’18 said. “Doing my makeup is my favorite part of the day, and I use about seven products a day.”
The U.S. is one of the worst nations when it comes to regulating the cosmetic industry. The European Union has banned more than 1,300 ingredients whereas the U.S. has only banned 11, and has not passed a major law regarding the regulation of the cosmetic and personal care industry since 1938. For example, propylene glycol, a chemical banned in Europe, is backed by the FDA, though it is known to cause skin rashes, irritation, and blisters. This chemical is also found in Maybelline’s Great Lash Mascara.
“I use Maybelline mascara because it’s waterproof and doesn’t clump that much but I didn’t know it contained a chemical that could cause skin irritations. Now I’m kind of worried that it’s going to do that to my skin,” Jill Gault ’18 said.
Skin Care products make up 35.3 percent of the global cosmetic market, but most consumers have little idea about the types of ingredients in products. That isn’t always the consumer’s fault though. Cosmetic companies are not required to list all the ingredients in their products. The United States Food and Drug Administration allows the cosmetic industry to list scent ingredients under the generic term “fragrance” because under the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act, companies are not required to tell “trade secrets” that could be given through the ingredients label. By reducing a long list of ingredients to the single word “fragrance,” industries can hide harmful ingredients, such as formaldehyde, from consumers.
However, there are problems with switching to organic beauty products too. While they may be safer, their high cost is one of the main reasons people continue to buy products that are potentially harmful. “I use about 10 products a day and I don’t really use chemical free organic makeup because those can be really expensive,” Sydney Carson ’18 said.
“To get safer products into the hands of everyone,” is the mission of Beautycounter, a company that sells completely natural and organic beauty products. Launched in 2013 by Gregg Renfrew, an entrepreneur who’s worked with Bergdorf Goodman, the company aims to produce products free of toxins and educate consumers on the benefits of safer products.
Meredith Pleiter, a Westport resident and one of nearly 8,000 consultants for the company, is an avid proponent of organic makeup products and is working with Beautycounter to promote the use of safer products. “The culture of our company permeates through everything we do,” Pleiter says. “We work to create products that are safe and high performing but also luxurious and chic.”
Beautycounter has a five-step process to make sure that each ingredient is organic and will not pose a threat to a consumer’s health. As part of their process, the company has a Never List, a comprehensive list of 1,500 ingredients, composed of toxins and chemicals, that will never be used in any of their products.
Despite the efforts of Beautycounter and other organic makeup companies, there is difficulty in actually enacting this change in products. “I typically don’t try to avoid products that contain chemicals because I have been using my make up for a long time and I don’t feel the need to change that,” Luiza Cocito ’19 said.
Beautycounter is continuing to grow, and since its start in 2013, the company has shipped over one million products. In addition to selling safer products, Renfrew and her crew of consultants hope to persuade politicians to enact reforms for a stricter and more protective screening process for personal care products. That being said, whether or not the U.S. will crack down on cosmetic industry regulations is yet to be seen.