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What’s in your makeup?

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By Ana Mendoza, The Collegian, California State University | August 30, 2010 |

Mayra Pulido, a junior at Fresno State, not only sells cosmetics produced by Mary Kay, but uses 15 products every morning before she leaves for school. Pulido, however, is not an uncommon student. From foundation to lipstick, many women use more than six products every day. But are these products safe?

The list of ingredients in these products are hard to pronounce and even harder to understand. When they are tested by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other non-profit organizations, the results are telling. Lead, animal waste from slaughter houses, and harmful chemicals known to cause cancer have been found in the cosmetic products Americans use every day. Currently the FDA has very little jurisdiction over the contents in these products.

In Nov. 2009, the FDA reported on their website the results of their analysis regarding the findings of lead in lipsticks. The analysis found that in a sample containing 20 brands of lipstick, all of them contain lead. The brands with higher lead levels were Cover Girl, L’Oreal, Body Shop, Maybelline and Revlon. Cover Girl, the brand with the highest level of lead, showed a level of 3.06 ppm (parts per million). This was more than 30 times higher than the least polluted brands that were tested.

According to (Lead Education and Abatement Design Group, Inc.), lead is known to cause learning, behavioral, and health problems, and sometimes even death. Because lipstick is usually applied several times a day, it is difficult to predict how it might affect each individual.

Animal products are also used in cosmetics, including fish scales, bones, cochineal beetles, whale sperm and other decomposing animal parts. According to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), ingredients such as hyaluronic acid (juices from the umbilical cord and the joints), gelatin (boiled animal skins, tendons and ligaments), and even crushed snails are used as cheaper alternatives to either thicken or enhance makeup and other products.

The most popular ingredient is lanolin, which, according to, is “a fatty substance secreted by sheep.”

The names used in the ingredient list of these products, however, do not always specify the origin of each ingredient. Words like glucosamine, pearl essence (silvery-white substance obtained from the scales of certain fishes or derived synthetically, as from mercuric chloride), cochineal dye, lanolin, carmine, carminic acid, ambergris and other scientific names are used instead.

“[Often] they don’t use the proper scientific name, which makes reading the label very hard,” said Dr. Melissa L. Golden of the chemistry department at Fresno State.

Chemicals that are known to cause cancer are a danger to consumers as well. The European Union currently has stricter laws than the United States. Regardless of the concentration of cancer causing chemicals, European laws acknowledge that “chemicals linked to cancer and birth defects simply don’t belong in cosmetics,” as reported by

“We should have safe products like the Europeans do,” said Susana Villagomez, a junior at Fresno State.

In January 2003, the European Union Directive was revised. This revision banned 1,100 chemicals from cosmetics that were linked to cancer and other health problems. The FDA has been able to ban or restrict only 11 chemicals in our cosmetics.

Apart from the FDA, the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) has also been designed to serve as a watchdog of cosmetic companies. Among many other accusations, the CIR has been called, “the largely self-policing safety review board of the cosmetic industry” by the Environmental Working Group (EWG).

The CIR has been in existence for more than 30 years. In its long history it has reviewed only 11 percent of the 10,500 cosmetic ingredients that have been catalogued by the FDA. reported that, “89 percent of the ingredients that remain unassessed are used in more than 99 percent of all products on the market.”

The FDA, like other government agencies, has been underfunded and is restricted by laws that have no power. The FDA cannot require the testing of any cosmetic product, or obligate any cosmetic company to report any injuries or deaths caused by their product, and cannot force companies to recall any of their products. The role of the FDA has been limited to observe and comment.

CIR’s industry panel review is limited to advising the industry on ingredients that will minimize instant skin reactions such as rashes and other allergic reactions. reported, “89 percent of ingredients used in cosmetics have not even received a rash and allergy review from the industry panel, let alone a serious assessment of the ingredients’ potential to cause cancer or harm the development of a baby in the womb.”

Many organizations and individuals are currently working to persuade the U.S. to adopt policies similar to Europe’s that could protect American consumers from hidden ingredients in cosmetics. Their success thus far, however, has been limited.

Pulido, who owns over 50 cosmetic products, believes, like many Americans, that “they should let people know; there should be a safe alternative.”

“Now I think about what ingredients are in my face, not only for me but for other people too,” said Pulido.

“It’s like putting fancy dirt on your face,” said Dr. Melissa Golden.

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