True Cellular Formulas Team - May 29, 2024

The Makeup Conundrum

Unmasking the Hidden Perils of Everyday Cosmetics


In today's world, where self-care and beauty rituals are celebrated, it is alarming to realize that many daily products might be laden with harmful chemicals. Makeup, a fundamental aspect of many people's routines, is no exception. Despite increased awareness about clean beauty, the industry remains predominantly unregulated, allowing potentially dangerous ingredients to persist in products. These ingredients are linked to severe health issues, including cancer, reproductive harm, and neurological damage.

The Overlooked Hazards in Everyday Makeup

The U.S. cosmetics market has expanded significantly, yet the regulatory framework governing it has not evolved accordingly. The last substantial piece of legislation, the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, was passed in 1938. Since then, the market has grown from $1 billion in sales to over $169 billion by 2016. However, only a tiny fraction of the numerous chemicals used in cosmetics have been reviewed or regulated by the FDA. This regulatory void leaves consumers vulnerable to unknowingly exposing themselves to toxins through their daily makeup routines.

The Toxic Twelve

Among the most troubling chemicals are those in the "Toxic Twelve." This group includes substances such as formaldehyde, parabens, phthalates, and PFAS, all linked to significant health problems, from hormonal disruptions to cancer. Many of these substances are not even required to be listed on product labels if they are part of a fragrance blend, keeping consumers in the dark about their presence.

Health Implications

Cosmetics and personal care products are among the least regulated consumer products. Since 2009, 595 cosmetics manufacturers have reported using 88 chemicals in over 73,000 products linked to cancer, birth defects, or reproductive harm. The Toxic-Free Cosmetics Act, proposed in California Assembly Bill 2762, aims to ban many of these chemicals from cosmetics.

Formaldehyde and Its Derivatives

Formaldehyde and its derivatives, such as methylene glycol and quaternium-15, are used as preservatives and hardening agents. They are known carcinogens that can cause respiratory issues and skin irritation and are linked to certain cancers.


Phthalates, like dibutyl phthalate and diethylhexyl phthalate, are endocrine disruptors that interfere with hormone functions. These chemicals are associated with reproductive and developmental issues, including early puberty in boys, reduced fertility, and developmental problems in fetuses.


Parabens, commonly used as preservatives, mimic estrogen in the body, potentially leading to hormonal imbalances. This can increase the risk of breast cancer and negatively affect reproductive health.

Mercury and PFAS

Mercury, found in some skin-lightening creams and anti-aging products, can damage the kidneys and nervous system. PFAS, used for their water- and grease-resistant properties, have been linked to cancer, immune system damage, and developmental issues in children.

Short-term Effects

Short-term exposure to these chemicals can also be severe, including allergic reactions, skin irritation, and respiratory problems. Methylene glycol and quaternium-15, which release formaldehyde, can cause immediate adverse reactions like rashes, eye irritation, and difficulty breathing. Hair dyes containing m- and o-phenylenediamine can irritate and sensitize the skin, damage DNA, and are potential carcinogens.

Real-Life Consequences

The impact of these toxic chemicals is not merely theoretical. Consumers have reported a range of adverse effects, from mild irritations to severe health problems. Formaldehyde-based hair treatments have been linked to hair loss, rashes, blisters, nosebleeds, and even loss of taste and smell. Makeup products contaminated with heavy metals, such as lead and arsenic, can lead to chronic poisoning, affecting multiple organ systems over time.

Cumulative Exposure

The cumulative exposure to these chemicals is concerning. American women use an average of 12 personal care products daily, containing 168 different chemicals, while men use an average of six products with 85 chemicals. This constant exposure increases the likelihood of adverse health effects, especially considering the potential for these chemicals to interact in unknown ways.

Ingredients to Avoid

Certain chemicals should be outright avoided in cosmetics:

  • Formaldehyde: A known carcinogen.
  • Paraformaldehyde and Methylene Glycol: Types of formaldehyde.
  • Quaternium-15: Releases formaldehyde.
  • Mercury: Damages the kidneys and nervous system.
  • Dibutyl and Diethylhexyl Phthalates Disrupt hormones and damage the reproductive system.
  • Isobutyl and Isopropyl Parabens: Disrupt hormones and harm the reproductive system.
  • PFAS: Linked to cancer.
  • M- and o-Phenylenediamine: Used in hair dyes, irritates and sensitizes the skin, damages DNA, and can cause cancer.

The Push for Stricter Regulations

The cosmetics industry has historically resisted meaningful oversight. Despite consumer demand for safer products, it remains largely self-regulated. Many consumers mistakenly believe that the FDA reviews cosmetic substances, which is not the case. Federal oversight is overwhelmingly supported by consumers.

The Shift Towards Non-Toxic Alternatives

Given the risks, it is crucial to seek safer, non-toxic makeup alternatives. Several brands are committed to transparency and safety, offering high-quality products without harmful ingredients:

  • Crunchi: Offers toxin-free makeup made from safe, certified organic ingredients, packaged in eco-friendly materials.
  • Ilia: Provides non-toxic makeup products that are effective and focus on sustainable practices.
  • Beauty By Earth: Known for natural and organic ingredients, ensuring safe daily use.
  • Kosas: Combines safe, non-toxic ingredients with high-performance makeup.

Switching to these brands can significantly reduce exposure to harmful chemicals, allowing for a safer beauty routine.


The lack of regulation in the cosmetics industry means that many popular makeup products contain harmful chemicals that pose serious health risks. As awareness grows, making informed choices about the products we use is essential. By supporting legislation like the Toxic-Free Cosmetics Act and choosing safer, non-toxic alternatives, consumers can protect their health and advocate for a safer beauty industry. It's time to cancel harmful makeup products and embrace healthier alternatives.

  1. U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). (1938). Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.
  2. Statista. (2017). "Size of the U.S. cosmetics market from 2013 to 2025."
  3. Environmental Working Group (EWG). (n.d.). "FDA Authority Over Cosmetics."
  4. EWG. (n.d.). "Skin Deep® Cosmetics Database."
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2020). "Phthalates Fact Sheet."
  6. FDA. (2019). "Tattoos & Permanent Makeup: Fact Sheet."
  7. National Institutes of Health (NIH). (2017). "Formaldehyde and Cancer Risk."
  8. U.S. House of Representatives. (2020). "H.R.5279 - Toxic-Free Cosmetics Act."