For some, make-up is a truly offensive thing. They view it as a grave injustice that women are expected to paint on their faces while men are accepted in their own skin. They view it as a perpetuation of the idea that women aren't good enough as they are and instead should change themselves to be accepted. Something symbolic of the continued inequality that women face that goes in line with high heels. For others, they view it as a privilege afforded to women that men haven’t gotten to take part in yet. They see make-up as a war paint. Women have an ability to express themselves and show their personality through their clothing and face. It is an ability to individualize themselves. For other women, it’s simply a non-issue.
Regardless of your opinion on the meaning of make-up in regards to gender equality, the realities of make-up in America should be of concern to all women. Because the realities of make-up in America are this: a non-regulated industry in which it’s up to make-up companies to decide what they can and cannot put in their product. And, as is unsurprising for such a company, they have been cutting corners and filling their products with dangerous materials. Any time an industry has been left to regulate itself it has a sort of Wild West effect. They simply do anything and everything to maximize profits. This often includes using dangerous and toxic materials in their ingredient list even after having been shown that this causes adverse reactions in users. The makeup industry is no exception.
The University of California-Berkeley campus recently did a study on the contents of make-up and have published their findings in the May edition of Environmental Health Perspectives. They studied 32 different lips sticks, glosses, and lip stains. These included some of the highest selling drugstore brands which many of us use everyday and some higher end lip colors (so don’t feel immune to the issue because you paid $18 for your lipstick). They found 9 metals to be present in the makeup including lead, cadmium, and aluminum.
“Just finding these metals isn't the issue; it’s the levels that matter,” said study principal investigator S. Katharine Hammond, professor of environmental health sciences. “Some of the toxic metals are occurring at levels that could possibly have an effect in the long term.”
The particular issue with lipsticks, lip stains, and glosses is that they are the make-up most commonly ingested by women. While foundations may be soaked through pores like lotions and sunscreen and eye liner and mascara may make it into the membrane of the eye, lipstick and glosses can be directly ingested through the mouth during activities such as eating, drinking, or even just biting your lip. To better understand what levels of the metals women were being exposed to, they first set out to see how much lipstick and gloss the average women actually ingested. They defined average use of make-up by women to be ingesting about 24 milligrams of lipstick everyday. Heavy use (for those who re-apply regularly) can be as high as 87 milligrams.
Taking the amount of lipstick commonly ingested by women and the percentage make-up of the lipstick, this means that many women could be ingesting to excessive levels of these metals that is higher than is what is considered healthy. Exposure to chromium can lead to stomach tumors. Exposure to manganese has been known to cause various nervous system problems.
While lead wasn't detected in concerning levels for grown women, the researchers were concerned at the ideas of small children or even babies getting into their mother’s makeup and playing with their lipsticks. For a small child, the levels of lead could be quite concerning.
Of course, it should be noted that ingredients like lead, cadmium, and manganese aren't included in make-up...in Europe. That is because the European Union has banned these ingredient from being used in makeup sold.
It is this that is being used as the argument that makeup should be included in the list of things regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. Personally, I find it shocking that we have gone as far as we have without finding some sort of government regulation of make-up. This is something that could be poisoning the women and children of America unknowingly. It is time to step up and make clear both to the government and make-up companies that we will no longer accept being poisoned to look pretty.