All makeup ingredients not pretty

Janci digs deep into her cosmetics case to see what she’s really putting on her skin.

Jenelle Janci

Jenelle JanciMy neighbor used to pass me lipstick samples through the fence when I was six years old.

There were definitely perks of living next door to an Avon representative, and it began a love affair between makeup and me that is now 15 years strong. I haul Tupperware containers of personal products with me every time I acquire a new residence and my lifelong Sephora purchase total is higher than I’d like to admit.

Yet, I can’t help but wonder — what the hell am I putting on my face?

My concern began when I read a statistic stating that women — or men, if that’s your thing — absorb five pounds of makeup chemicals a year.

Is-that-why-I’m-gaining-weight jokes aside, there’s no doubt some scary stuff is going on inside of those pretty little tubes. Personal care products can have adverse effects on lung function, cause reproductive toxicity and even cancer.

The Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database attributes a risk rating to individual products. The site works off of a 1-10 scale, with 1 being the least cause for harm and 10 the highest. The database has information on products as specific as individual brands and shades.

With much hesitance, I put my own bag of beauty to the test.

Out of the seven makeup products I put on my face daily, the site had information for three of them. My Bare Minerals powder foundation, eyelid primer and eye shadow all scored 1.

My Nars blush, however, didn’t give me as much luck. The database didn’t have my exact shade, but similar colors scored as high as 7. This rating was mostly due to parabens, which have been linked to developmental toxicity, according to EWG. It’s a cruel world where a girl can’t achieve the perfect rosy flush without side effects.

Nars turned out to be a repeat offender. My newly purchased lipstick in the shade “Niagra” had an overall score of 4, but one of its ingredients, retinal acetate, scored an 8. The ingredient has been linked to cancer, developmental/reproductive toxicity and non-reproductive organ system toxicity, according to EWG. Yikes.

The two products not listed on the site, and arguably the most important of my routine, were Benefit Cosmetics’ Bad Gal Lash mascara and Erase Paste under-eye concealer. However, the other Benefit products listed on the site totaled an overall brand rating of 2, which is considerably low-risk.

Despite reading all of these concerning facts, I still have a hard time exiling my makeup collection to the bottom drawer. I have far from perfect skin, and lost fights with acne have left me with battle scars I feel I need to hide.

I also grew up in a setting where my mother never left the house without her hair and makeup done. Because, as she still puts it, “You never know who you are going to see.”

Furthermore, being the only female sibling of four, I relished in the opportunity to be girly and it became the standard. I recall going in our basement to hang out with my brother, and he looked genuinely concerned when he asked me if I felt sick.

“I feel fine,” I said. “I just took off my makeup.”

“Oh, that must be it,” he said.

I’ve been the girl who stuffs her evening bag with multiple makeup products at prom, and I’ve also been the girl who brings her cosmetics bag on a camping trip. At some point, the dependence has got to stop.

As a challenge to myself, and to lay off all the toxicity, I’m going to swear off makeup for an entire week. I’ll be attending classes, concerts and social functions, all while bearing nothing but clean skin.

While I’m nervous to see if I’m treated differently, I’m excited to see if the breathing room improves my skin.

Be sure to read next week’s Quality of Life to see if I made it through without cracking — as a poorly applied concealer often does.

Jenelle Janci can be reached at or on Twitter @jenelley.

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