All the gross ingredients you're putting on your face every day
We’re paying more attention than ever to the foods we put into our bodies. But when it comes to cosmetics, the lines between what’s cool and a little-bit-ew can be hard to find.
I mean, it’s all too easy to just opt for the prettiest shade without stopping to examine what's inside it.
Cosmetics have come on in leaps and bounds in the last few years, as health organisations pay increasingly close attention to how manufacturers produce make-up and the risks they pose to the public's health. Even so, there are still some surprising, and slightly gross, ingredients lurking in our favourite products. Prepare to squirm.
1. Fish Scales
You know that beautiful, pearly quality that some lipsticks are able to achieve? The one that reminds you of one of those graceful silver fish swanning around their tank?
Turns out that there’s a good reason they’re similar. Fish scales are widely used in lipsticks to create a subtle iridescent sheen that reflects light. To know if your favourite brand uses it, check the ingredients list for something called "guanine". Maybe check that sparkly nail polish in the bottom of your make-up bag too.
2. Crushed Insects
I have bad news for lipstick lovers. Particularly those hunting for the perfect seductive rouge. This is because the red pigment used to create them is actually extracted from the scales of thousands of crushed beetles.
It reportedly takes 70,000 of the creepy-crawlies, which are native to South America, to create just one pound of the red dye. Although the most common name for it on labels is cochineal, it can also be known as carmine, carminic acid, Natural Red 4, or E120.
Let’s make it a simple question. Would you, or would you not, wipe a foreskin across your face? Because that may be exactly what you’re doing every time you go for a high-end facial, with certain brands using it as their secret weapon.
Apparently, the foreskin of infants is full of powerful organic qualities that can be used to encourage skin cell regeneration. Hospitals frequently sell foreskins for use in cosmetic products, skin grafts and cosmetic testing. And they can attract big money, reportedly running into the thousands each time.
4. Lac Bugs
Can you guess what incredibly popular product these bugs feature in from the name? Yep, that’s right, your statement shellac nails. Formed from the resin secreted by lac bugs, it’s used because of its tough, moisture repellant qualities. In order to be harvested, it is scraped from trees then heated. I guess this is still slightly nicer than the crushed beetles though.
So you’ve sworn off of shellac because of the whole insect excretion thing, so it’ll be back to normal nail polish, right? Well bad news again, because many high street nail varnishes contain formaldehyde, which has been linked to cancer, asthma and convulsion-inducing conditions. Sweden and Japan have banned its use completely, while the EU allows it in limited amounts. Other bad characters to watch out for when you're painting your nails are toluene. It is not recommended for use by pregnant women as its fumes can lead to slowed foetal development.
Lead has been used in cosmetics for thousands of years, by everyone from Queen Cleopatra to Elizabeth I. Now known to be highly toxic, lead has long been banned in the use of house paint in the UK and USA, but it still crops up now and again in our proverbial warpaint.
Tests by the FDA found that "99 per cent of the cosmetic lip products and externally applied cosmetics on the U.S. market" contain low levels of lead. While the traces of lead in lipstick may be minimal, a study by the University of California has shown that most women reapply between two and 14 times per day, so it soon builds up.
The bottom line
Different countries have different rules about what can and can't be used. Unfortunately for our American friends, the FDA are considerably more relaxed on make-up ingredients, so there are a whole list of chemicals banned in the EU still in use in the US.
But having looked at some of the ingredients we're unwittingly slathering onto our skin every day, it’s clear that if we really want to treat our bodies as the temples they are, then perhaps we should all be looking a little harder at the labels. Otherwise, that absurdly expensive camel milk you bought on that well-intentioned Whole Foods spree may end up being a complete waste of money.