Article by: Perry Romanowski

There is little that frustrates me more than ignorance masquerading as authority. It is particularly galling when the fake authority is making claims about cosmetics, a subject of which I have a good deal of knowledge. While there are a number of reasons that this troubles me, the main reason is because I know how long I’ve studied, how much I’ve read, and how complicated the topic can be. It is not something that a person with limited or no science background can just research on Google and automatically become an expert. It offends me when someone does that. Knowledge requires work and effort to obtain!

Usually, the people who do this are well-meaning and sincerely believe they are helping people. They are not. They are unnecessarily scaring people and spreading ignorance. They are also causing people to waste money on cosmetics that are NOT more safe.

Despite my personal indignation, I do appreciate the Toxic Makeup Patrol‘s enthusiasm. So perhaps they would be interested to learn the truth and stop spreading lies and misinformation. Here are a number of claims that the Toxic Makeup Patrol makes that are just mistaken.

10 Myths about Toxic Makeup

1. “Lead in lipstick is dangerous.” It is not. There is no evidence that if people use lipstick that contains trace levels of lead, it will have any impact on their health. Read more truth about lead in lipstick. Incidentally, in the video the interviewer also says that their is Mercury in lipstick. This is just wrong.

2. “Cancer rates are increasing.” – The author begins with an interesting question, “Did you know that 100 years ago only one in 800 people got cancer and today one in three women will get cancer?” She then goes on to say that is because of poor diets, lack of exercise and our toxic environment. This is wrong. The number one reason that more people get cancer today is because people live longer! Cancer is mostly a disease of older adults. The average life expectancy of people 100 years ago was about 51 years. The truth is cancer rates are decreasing.

3. “One-third of personal hygiene products contain at least one ingredient linked to cancer.” – No, they don’t.

4. “We absorb 5 lbs. of chemicals in our bodies from the make-up and products we apply every year.” No, we don’t.

5. “Go to the Skin Deep Database to run a check before you shop” – No you shouldn’t. The Skin Deep database is filled with unreliable, non-scientific information.

6. “Sodium Lauryl Sulfoacetate (SLS)*” – SLS is Sodium Lauryl Sulfate. It’s a different chemical.

7. “Germall plus is not a synthetic preservative.” – Yes it is. It is actually a formaldehyde donor compound. Perfectly safe but completely synthetic.

8. “Aloe increases shelf life.” No, it doesn’t. Aloe actually decreases shelf life and is one reason you have to include preservatives in your formulation.

9. “Parabens are associated with cancer.” No, they are not. The safety of parabens was reviewed by an independent scientific organization in the EU and declared safe. Read more here.

10. “Putting cosmetics on your body over years leads to cancer.” There is no evidence of this at all.

Toxins on the brain

Somewhere along the line the Internet convinced people that all they had to do was spend a little time searching for things on Google and they can be an expert. Well, the thing about the Internet is that

Anyone can write anything about anything

This does not make it true.

If you are not an expert in the subject, you really should not go around harassing and scaring people with your misinformed opinions.  Even though you are well-meaning, please make it a point to be informed about a topic.  Read what scientists and people who actually do research have to say.  Avoid bloggers and especially the PR group that is the EWG.

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22 comments

  1. D23

    Hi Perry. I’ve just recently become aware of the ingredients that are in my cosmetics and what they say is true, ignorance is bliss, because now I’m terrified to even apply my daily moisturising lotions or even take a shower and use any of the products I’ve been using for years. I, maybe mistakenly, did research on the Internet about toxic chemicals in coametics and I visited the ewg website which which frankly scared the hell out of me. I’ve been using Palmers products for years and this website and many others claim its ingredients are toxic and maybe cancerous. Another website I visited claimed dimethicone ,a ingredient I saw pop up on almost all of my cosmetics, does more harm to the skin than good. While it is fda approved that it stops the skin from performing naturally and like petroleum just forms a layer over the skin. Another product that I’ve seen being bad mouthed is aveeno. I’m completely confused. I don’t see how these claims could be wrong when they are so many but I also don’t see how they could be true when millions of people use these products, celebrities who have flawless skin claim to how come no one has put a stop to it if they are this bad and how can they be if they do what we buy them to???? I don’t know which side to believe it if I’m being nieve if I believe one or the other. This has me very terrified. What can you tell me about the chemicals in the products we use and are they that bad?

    1. Perry Romanowski

      First, you should realize anyone can write anything about anything on the Internet. Just because there are so many posts about it doesn’t mean it’s true. You need to listen to what scientists say on the subject.

      It is illegal to sell unsafe cosmetic products. Ingredients like Dimethicone and Petrolatum have been safety tested and there is no evidence they are harmful. There is no need to be afraid to use your cosmetics.

  2. Pingback:Cautionary Example Of The Dangers Of Doing Your Own Research

  3. Eddie Farrow

    Can I have your opinion on an article that claims a study shows increased levels of a form of cancer in those who work with cosmetics. http://faculty.virginia.edu/metals/cases/sheehan3.html
    I’m thinking incredibly dubious as they seem to understand toxicity is based on levels. Do you think you could look into the study mentioned a bit more.

    1. Perry Romanowski

      I’m working on a blog post about this now.

  4. Lab Muffin

    Oh dear lord. That was horrible. Why do people go around doing these things when they clearly haven’t researched it further than a 2 minute Google fact-check/gone only to the Skin Deep database??

    Multi-face palm indeed.

    In terms of accessible, reasonably unbiased information on cosmetic ingredients, my favourite so far is Paula Begoun’s Cosmetics Cop database – it’s not super-comprehensive, and some ingredient descriptions are a bit out of date, but her opinions are generally sensible AND (best of all) she cites literature references.

  5. Nancy Liedel

    I get so pissed off at some of those sites, I cannot even read them anymore. There is a middle ground here, but everyone is all on Team Toxic, or Team Natural and Fuzzy Green.

    Not that these things are toxic, although I’ve seen fuzzy green in a lotion sample in a local store, made by a local woman. I told them it was mold and they, wait for it, PUT IT BACK ON THE SHELF!!!!!!!!

    Be wise, middle ground, safe, sane cosmetics. I bet my line never sells cause I don’t plan to go all, “fluffy bunny wholesome, no eeeeevil things like preservatives!!!! GASP!!!” with them.

    Education is a wonderful thing and just because it’s on the internet does not make it true.

  6. Eliza

    It’s funny how this kind of topics always gets most comments, Perry 🙂

    I think you are deff right: follow the money/fame trail. If there is money/fame to be made from spreading fear, the number of fear-mongering sites will increase.
    Unfortunately as scientists we can’t do much about it, beside what you already do so well: eloquently explaining the other point of view.
    However just like you point out: there is no way people that have already set up their mind to only listen to the ‘fear inducing information’ will become more skeptical overnight.

    But it’s better to do something, than nothing at all 😉 So thank you, Perry for being the voice of cosmetic science & reason 🙂

    1. Perry

      Thanks Eliza. I agree that there is not much we can do about people who will believe no matter what information they see but it’s important to provide the truth so people on the fence at least get exposed to it.

  7. Claire H

    So, I’m curious about your opinion on natural (I suppose I mean non-synthetic) formulations. I have read a lot of the Internet claims, and a few books, on what chemicals are in our beauty product. I’m not thrilled with what I read and I get that there is probably misinformation out there. I understand what it may be like to read the scare mongering from a professional (I am am a physical therapist and there is plenty of misinfo re: pain, pain management etc…). However, My interest in formulating is to create products that are as synthetic free as possible. I do understand that there aree many naturally occurring substances that are toxic/dangerous. My thoughts are, that the less processed something is the less impact there may be on me, my family and the planet. I understand that nothing is impact (or for that matter chemical) free. Do you think there is no benefit to the claims being made by EWG. Are we not becoming more informed about what’s going in/on our bodies or is it a matter of gullibility …..if that’s case, to what end? What’s the harm in decreasing the amount of synthetic chemicals we use? Thanks for your site and your time.

    1. Perry

      Hello Claire,

      Thanks for your comments. Your desire to create or use formulations that are as “synthetic free” as possible is pretty common. Many people believe in the Naturalistic fallacy and find the idea of something that is less processed is better and safer. As you have indicated, you understand that there are some dangerous natural ingredients but you can’t quite shake the feeling that natural is somehow better. That’s understandable.

      I don’t think it is generally true that if something is less processed that it will have less impact on you, your family or the planet. There are certainly instances where that is true but there are many instances where it is not. For example, you would not want to drink unprocessed water as it can contain pathogens that could cause disease.

      As far as the claims of the EWG, I’m not sure which ones you are talking about. Overall, I do not think the claims that some ingredients have higher toxicity scores than others are helpful. Because the toxicity of an ingredient is related also to how much you are exposed to and how you are exposed. If you are exposed to too much water you will die. Without knowing exposure information, the toxicity score is meaningless.

      Why would the EWG spread fear and misinformation? It’s a good question without a single answer. My guess is that there are a few reasons.

      1. Many who work there believe in the naturalistic fallacy. They sincerely believe that natural is better. Their minds are programmed that way and no matter what science says, they will never accept that synthetic things are safe. It’s irrational.

      2. It helps them raise money. The EWG is a non-profit that requires donations to continue to pay salaries and exist. If there were no dangers to cosmetics, they would have no reason to exist & no way to make money. Incidentally, not only does the EWG make money through donations but they also belong to affiliate programs and make money whenever you purchase a product that is listed on their website. (They even make money off products that they tell you not to buy).

      3. They are anti-corporation. The EWG is mistrustful of all corporations so they spread misinformation to help knock corporations down. Many people who follow them also are anti-corporation and it appeals to them (and helps generate more donations).

      What’s the harm in decreasing synthetic chemicals? While there are some environmental benefits, there can also be harm done by decreasing the use of synthetic chemicals. Whenever farm land is used for growing ingredients for cosmetic products, that is land that is not being used to grow food for people. With world hunger remaining a problem, it seems unconscionable to me that a farmer would choose to use land to produce cosmetic ingredients rather than to feed people.

      So there is some harm to substituting natural ingredients for synthetic ones.

      My overall opinion on natural formulations is that they generally do not function as well as standard formulations. This makes sense because essentially what natural formulators have to do is to create cosmetics using a smaller pallat of ingredients. A standard formulator could use any of the 19,000 plus ingredients in the INCI. A natural formulator is restricted to 1000-2000. As a formulator, the more choice you have in ingredient selection the better the formulation you can make. Certainly, a chemist can produce a good product using only natural ingredients, they just can’t produce the best (functioning) product.

      1. Claire H

        Thanks Perry. Some interesting really interesting points to consider and you’re offering a point of view I haven’t heard before. It’s great to hear all the sides of an argument.

      2. Claire H

        I’ve been really thinking about your reply to my post. The point that has stuck with me is that using synthetic ingredients may have a positive impact on the planet/environment. I hadn’t considered this. I think my main reason for trying to go “natural” is that these ingredients seem easier to understand. I am a complete newbie in formulation world, and I find it fascinating. I took a decent amount of chem, organic chem and bio chem in my university days but that was a while ago. What I am wondering is are there sites that I can go to to investigate and gain more understanding around what certain Chemicals do, their impacts on health, safety ratings, biodegradability/life cycle. I am looking at MSDS and tech sheets. I’ve recently come across good guide, scorecard.org and the CIR (? Cosmetic ingredients review….not sure if that’s right). I am skeptical of these as I kind of feel a little burned by EWG! I’d like to be as informed as possible so I get to choose what I want rather than be scared in to avoiding something, and I just plain love learning! Thanks.

        1. Perry

          The unfortunate truth is that there really isn’t a good database of cosmetic ingredients produced by a completely unbiased source. The EWG has a nice interface but the information is not vetted properly and is of little use.

          The CIR (yes cosmetic ingredient review) is your best bet as it is produced by independent scientists who are familiar with the cosmetic industry. However, it is industry funded so there is some potential for bias. They also have a terrible interface that is not consumer friendly at all!

          Wikipedia can provide some background for chemicals and the factual stuff is accurate. For controversial topics though, it’s not that good. The FDA website for cosmetics also provides some good information as does the (industry sponsored) CosmeticInfo.org. The other option is the EU cosmetic ingredient database. They are a bit less biased because they are completely government funded, independent scientists who are not influenced by industry.

          I’d also suggest you sign up for the free cosmetic science book and mini course on this website. Just put your name and email in the box on the right side (if you haven’t already). The 4 videos you get have been very popular and are a great introduction to the field.

          1. Claire H

            Thanks. I’ve signed up.

  8. Jackie

    Some people are sooo gullible, makes you wonder how they survive into adulthood……

  9. Colin

    A beautifully written piece. I would have had a job stopping at 10.

    1. Perry

      Thanks Colin. It was definitely a challenge to stop at 10!

  10. Lise M Andersen

    I just wrote a rant about ‘how much our skin absorbs’. I’ve been following some of these claims with interest over the past months. It’s been steadily increasing. Recently I read the first claim that skin absorbs – wait for it – a full 100% of you put on it within 5 minutes (?!?)
    Common sense? That’s sooooo last year!

    1. Perry

      The most comforting thing I found by watching the toxic makeup patrol video is that the people they asked about had not even heard the lead in lipstick nonsense. At lest that is some progress. Better would be if they had heard about it and learned that it’s nonsense but as I always say, better to be uninformed than misinformed.

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