Beauty is Skin Deep Part II: What’s Really in Your Products?

Beauty is Skin Deep Part II: What’s Really in Your Products?

Claire Bahorski

August 24, 2020


It is no secret the beauty community has its fair share of controversies. Between problematic influencers, a lack of shade ranges and drama among beauty gurus, it’s not surprising the makeup industry has a lot of progress to make. With all of the trouble surrounding people involved in the community, an additional problem that is often overlooked is the products themselves. What is in them? Where are the products made? Who makes them? Are they healthy? These are just some of the questions that one should ask themselves when shopping for makeup or skincare products. 

The ingredients that make up our favorite products are so important. There are chemicals that can be found everywhere that can have harmful, long term effects. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a non-profit and non-partisan organization that works to promote people’s health and a clean environment. Their goal is to inform consumers about what is in the products they buy and how they could affect one’s health. One of their main focuses is the cosmetics industry. Although most chemicals aren’t a threat, there are some that have been linked to cancer, endocrine disruption and reproductive and neurological harm. A survey conducted by the EWG found that “each day, American women use an average of 12 personal care products that contain 168 different chemicals. Men use an average of six personal care products that contain 85 different chemicals.” These ingredients pose risks because most are applied to the skin and then absorbed into the bloodstream. 

EWG lists 12 toxic chemicals and contaminants often found in cosmetics that they believe should be banned: “formaldehyde, a known carcinogen; paraformaldehyde, a type of formaldehyde; methylene glycol, a type of formaldehyde; quaternium 15, which releases formaldehyde; mercury, which can damage the kidneys and nervous system; dibutyl and diethylhexyl phthalates, which disrupt hormones and damage the reproductive system; isobutyl and isopropyl parabens, which disrupt hormones and harm the reproductive system; the long-chain per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances known as PFAS, which have been linked to cancer; and m- and o-phenylenediamine, used in hair dyes, which irritate and sensitize the skin, damage DNA and can cause cancer.” 

These chemicals can have serious effects on the human body. Endocrine disrupting chemicals have been linked to breast cancer and weakened immune systems. Hair products and treatments containing formaldehyde have also been known to cause “hair loss, rashes, blisters, nosebleeds, bleeding gums and loss of taste and smell.” These are just a few of the effects that harmful chemicals wreak on the body. 

Currently, the Food & Drug Administration has little authority over what cosmetics go on the market. According to the FDA’s website, “the law does not require cosmetic products and ingredients, other than color additives, to have FDA approval before they go on the market, but there are laws and regulations that apply to cosmetics on the market in interstate commerce.” This means that there are technically no FDA-approved cosmetics. However, if products are found to be “adulterated” or “misbranded,” the FDA can take action against the company that committed the offense. The FDA is not able to enforce product recalls, but observe companies that do conduct recalls and may request recalls from companies that are not taking action to remove these contaminated products per the FDA’s request. 

If you are concerned about what is in your products, there are many resources available to guide your next shopping trip. To help consumers make smarter purchases, Bustle configured a list of apps that reveal what exactly is in your beauty products. The apps they recommend are: 

  • Think Dirty 
  • GoodGuide
  • CosmEthics 
  • EWG Healthy Living
  • Detox Me

These apps all do the work of analyzing and determining what should be avoided and what is safe to use. They scan barcodes and can even list the level of concern in each cosmetic product. They do all the research work in a matter of seconds so that you can start living a healthier lifestyle as soon as possible.

Although it is easy to get distracted on other issues in the beauty industry, nothing is more important than your health. Along with many other issues that the makeup companies must overcome, harmful ingredients are a pressing matter. It is imperative that you do your research and utilize available resources to help guide your choices. Making safe and well-researched decisions for you and your family today could prevent major health concerns later. With all of the resources available to use, it’s faster and easier than ever to make healthy decisions that could prevent future consequences. 


Claire Bahorski is a junior at Michigan State University studying Human Capital and Society and Humanities Pre-Law, with concentrations in Public and Professional Writing and History. In her free time, she loves spending time with her friends and family. She hopes to always continue writing, along with her aspirations of becoming an attorney.