Why Does Makeup Work and is it Safe?



Ever since I was little I have been fascinated by makeup. I always used to watch my mom put her makeup on before she left for work, and made it a priority to wake up extra early to watch my Nana put her makeup on when she took care of me overnight.

            I think the biggest product in their makeup bags that caught my eye were the different shades of lipstick. My mom has a picture of me putting lipstick on my lips and the surrounding area of chin and nose when I was little. She had been in a rush for work that day and she said that as she was rushing out of the bathroom to her closet she turned around and saw me looking at myself in the mirror with wide-eyes like "what have I done?!"... it's her favorite photo. Thinking of this experience today made me ask myself the question of "how does makeup work?" As women, we just accept that these products we buy work and that some products work better than others, but where did this fascination with makeup first come from?

            According to "How Stuff Works.com", the fascination with makeup is traceable all the way back to the ancient Egyptians where women such as Cleopatra had jars of makeup buried with them in their Tombs. However, our makeup has come along way from Cleopatra's day. Cleopatra's lipstick, for example, used to be made out of ground up beetles but others reportedly used to make theirs from clay and water. Women also used to make their face makeup out of something called "Kohl" which is a mix of lead, ash, and burnt almonds. The designs that they would draw on their face were thought to ward off the evil eye, dangerous spirits, and also reflect the hot desert sun however, as it later came to be discovered, the lead in the mixture was the key ingredient that they owed the makeup's "power" to. According to an article published by the New York Times, the lead would kill the bacteria, keeping them safe from infection.

            Later on, makeup began to develop and even spread to the ancient Greeks and Romans were women would paint their faces with ground up stones and minerals. During that time, high women's fashion was to have a very white/pale face with no color on it. It was presumed that if you had color on your face you were a lower class woman or a prostitute. Then as the transition to the Middle Ages occurred, women chose to use a mix called "ceruse" which was a mix of lead and vinegar in order to gain more coverage of their makeup. The were many issues with ceruse, it often caused women's hair to fall out, caused women to suffer from muscle paralysis in their face, and sometimes even killed them! Luckily for our society, heavy, unnatural makeup wasn't popular until mirrors became less expensive, portrait photography became more popular, and motion pictures became the talk of the town. Due to all of this, it was really the US who created makeup more similar to what we know makeup as today.

            A wig designer named Max Factor, for example, created what we know as foundation. Max created his foundation called "greasepaint" by making a cake like concoction that would not crack or cake, which became very popular for actresses on and off set. After seeing the success of his greasepaint, he promoted his business forward and made lip-gloss and eyebrow pencils. Then, Maybelline came on the set in 1915 with mascara! The ingenious formula at the time... petroleum jelly and coal dust and prior to his find, eyeliner was often notorious for blinding women!

            So what makes makeup different today? Well for starters foundations are all a mixture of a base consisting of water, oil or wax that is mixed with talc powder for even distribution and iron oxide for pigmentation. Eyeliner is a concoction that has a base, binder, and filler. The filler is usually iron oxide (for pigment), the binder (which makes it stick to our lashes) is usually zinc or magnesium derivatives, and the base is usually made out of talc, mica or kaolin clay (which is the most mild clay we know of). Mascara, has carbon or iron oxide to thank for its color, oils, paraffin's or petroleum jelly to thank for its stay ability and less or more water as its control for its waterproof abilities. And last but not least, lipstick which is made out of wax, oil, moisturizers and pigment and has varying ingredients of carnauba wax, candelilla wax, beeswax, olive oil, mineral oil, lanolin, castor oil, Aloe Vera and Vitamin E.

            So with all of our makeup's staying power melting down to oils, paraffin, waxes, water, petroleum jelly, and other products, one has to ask if our makeup is safe? In 2005, the United States Congress allowed for the FDA to get involved in limited regulations and testing for makeup, however, 7 years later, it is still unclear to the FDA as to whether or not makeup is safe for women to use on a daily basis especially since it has been found that when women use makeup on a regular basis it can equivocate to approximately 5 pounds of chemical waste in a woman's system which was reported by The Telegraph during the summer of 2007. Unbelievable don't you think?! After learning the facts, what do you think? Do you think makeup is safe?

*Photo obtained from Collegecandy.com


Everyday i pass women who put on makeup to make themselves look better. Some women even put on so much makeup that they even look like clowns. With seeing the information that you provided I definitely do not think that having that much makeup on your skin can be healthy at all. I have personally never used makeup but really would you want to risk putting 5 pounds of chemical waste into your system to make yourself look better? I was looking at the article "Are Cosmetics Safe?" and it lists a whole bunch of reasons why cosmetics may not be safe such as sharing lipstick can pass germs or bacteria from one user to the next. Kind of nasty (http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=21573).

Interesting article! I enjoyed reading the history aspect of makeup, because I, like you, enjoy playing around with makeup. I can't speak for other makeup products but I know for a fact that waterproof-mascara is bad for you. Waterproof mascara, as opposed to regular mascara, dries out the lashes due to the agents they use in the mascara to make it 'waterproof'. Waterproof mascaras are also known to dissolve the bonding agents to eyelashes causing them to fall off. More of this can be read on here . Also, waterproof mascara is harder to remove, hence you will rub harder on your lashes to remove the makeup. When you keep tugging and rubbing, the eyelashes are more prone to fall off. Eyelashes weren't meant to attract attention (maybe a little), they are made to protect the eyes. The eyes are a sensitive part of the human body, just a tiny speck of dust could cause irritation to one's eyes. Therefore, if you keep losing eyelashes, it's going to hurt your eyes because there will no longer be something to protect it. I'm not sure if other makeup products have the same bad effects, but I know waterproof mascara is not safe.

Levi, thanks for sharing that article with me. For vanity, it seems like a lot of things can go wrong with makeup. I must admit, I enjoy makeup because as I said in my post, I was fascinated with it at an early age BUT not to the point of looking like a clown! So have no fear there. I just like how makeup can enhance certain natural features. But too much of anything is a bad thing ESPECIALLY makeup. After reading about the 5 pounds of chemical waste and other issues with makeup, I must say I heavily contemplated discontinuing my use of makeup indefinitely.

Thanks Jenny!
Also, I too read about waterproof mascara being bad for you. As you said, it's really hard to get off and can often cause eyelashes to fall of but also can have a negative effect on the eye. Eyes are extremely sensitive parts of our bodies and due to their sensitivity, even the smallest flake of mascara can make a difference. The "How Stuff Works" article cited above has a whole portion just on waterproof mascara. It also said that mascara is made waterproof by taking most to all of the water out of the base of the product... Which to me, sounds pretty scary.

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