This time of year, we tend to wear more makeup than usual. Hey, we all need  help for a pinch of  party glamour and a touch of hangover cover up, don’t we? But what if your looks could literally kill?

From cancer-causing toxins, muscle weakness to early menopause, SKIN unveils the ugly side of your daily beauty companions and help you decipher the real threats from mere speculation.



Beauty Scare: Many women feel naked in public without a slash of scarlet on their lips, but worrying new research warns that your long-lasting bright lippy could contain a host of hazardous chemicals. Amongst them, triclosan (a preservative) has sparked alarm recently with reports of reduction in muscle and heart power in mice, as well as possible links to fertility and thyroid problems in women.

Another major Internet hum would be the rumours of lipsticks being laced with heavy metals. Perhaps the best-known concerns lead poisoning which builds up over time in the body and can cause brain and nerve damage. 

The Low Down: Stronger scientific evidence is needed. The Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association (CTPA) has dismissed the latest triclosan research as it only involved data from small mice rather than humans, and the amounts used in this animal tests are much higher than the maximum permitted levels you would find in lipsticks. However, mounting concerns has moved the skincare giant Johnson & Johnson to announce that it will go  beyond the current regulatory requirements by pledging to remove a host of potentially harmful chemicals from its products, including triclosan which can also be found in toothpaste, soaps and deodorant.

Most colour additives in our lippies are no longer made from lead-laden coal tars, but are derived from petroleum. And if “mineral” or “natural” makeup sound healthier for your skin, the opposite might be true – due to the lead found naturally in some mined pigments from the ground, especially with long-lasting intense shades. Still, lead levels in even the brightest hues are, in general, relatively low and within safety limits. But if the concern of cumulative toxic effect of swallowing your lippy daily troubles you greatly, go for glosses and sheer colours instead.




Beauty Scare: If you’re a mani-pedi fan, this will be disturbing news: According to a recent Californian report on 25 polishes, some nail products that are labelled to be”toxin-free” may contain the “toxic trio” – dibutyl phthalate (DBP), toluene, and formaldehyde!

Toulene, a chemical that keeps your nail polish fluid, has been associated with respiratory problems, as well as birth defects and developmental problems in children of pregnant women with extended exposure. Formaldehyde (used as a hardener) is possibly carcinogenic.

DBP, a phthalate added to make nail polish more flexible and chip resistant, has been linked to birth abnormalities in animal studies, hormonal disruption triggering obesity and early menopause in women, and sperm damage in men. And makeup isn’t the only culprit either, since many personal care products (like hairspray, shampoo), packaged processed foods and even air fresheners may also contain phthalates.

The Low Down: Skin irritation is the primary risk with polishes containing formaldehyde and toluene, and mainly when the lacquer is still wet. Most experts think that there is no real cancer or respiratory risk in inhaling their fumes in normal doses. So just try to keep the product to your highly impermeable nail plates with careful application and minimise overflow of excessive polish to surrounding skin. Proper ventilation of nail salons would be recommended as well to double ensure the safety of the workers.

As for DBP, it has been calculated by the Phthalate Esters Panel of the American Chemistry Council that you could use almost 5 bottles of nail polish every day and your levels would still fall below the high doses which caused birth defect issues in rats. Studies involving humans on the possible link with hormonal disruption infertility are still insufficient to prove cause and effect.

Whatever it is, we feel the bottom line here is: Accurate labeling is an important and ethical thing for manufacturers to be doing. Everyone’s risk tolerance is different, but at least we should feel confident that proper labeling will allow us the freedom to make informed decisions for ourselves, particularly in pregnant ladies when the health of an unborn child could be at risk.

Read More: How Safe is Gel Polish?

Read More: Is Your Water Bottle Making You Fat?



Beauty Scare: Wielding a bristled wand around your eyes carries a greater risk than you would think – jabs to the eye with mascara wands causing cornea scratches and ulcers are the most common injuries involving cosmetics.

Of course, you’ve probably also heard about nasty infections borne of ancient or shared mascara tubes. According to a study in Optometry, microbes transferred from the eye to the mascara via the wand are found in 33 percent of samples tested.

The Low Down:  Most mascara perils can easily be avoided. For starters, don’t use the rearview mirror as your vanity or wear your makeup on a moving car to prevent eye trauma.

Keep your mascara in a cool, dry place (heat and moisture hastens degradation of preservatives). As most tubes contain enough to fight the beasties for up to 3 months, toss any half-used mascara after that. Blowing at your mascara wand or using your eye makeup during an eye infection aren’t clever at all as that would introduce more bugs, and always remove the makeup before bed so it doesn’t trap infection-causing bacteria on your lashes or flake into sensitive eyes while you sleep.

Doctors also caution about the heavy use of your lash-toppers, as caked-on products can plug up the oil gland openings along the edge of your lids, leading to a stye (the painful pimple-like eruption).

Read More: When to Toss Your Makeup Stash

Read More: Is it a Sin to Sleep with Makeup On?


– By Michelle Wenli


*This article has been selected Editor’s Choice for Nov 2012*