What’s in that bottle?

 In Health

You may not be a skin specialist, but it’s important to know the ingredients that are in your makeup. The average woman uses around 16 different beauty products per day, and roughly 60 per cent of chemicals in cosmetics are absorbed into the bloodstream.

Here we’ll go through just some examples of the many dangerous substances that have been consistently found in cosmetics, as well as some healthier and safer alternatives that skin specialists Claris Group recommend.

Cadmium and lead

Cadmium and lead are metals repeatedly found in cosmetics, particularly in products such as lipstick, eye shadow, blusher and foundation. These are extremely popular products, produced by global brands such as Maybelline and L’Oreal. Yet, cadmium has been identified as a carcinogen that helps cancer cells to multiply, while lead is toxic to organs and vital tissue such as the heart, intestines, kidneys and nervous system.

There has been much debate about the levels of lead used in cosmetics. Some scientists judge lead levels so low that they’re essentially harmless, while others believe no amount of lead is safe to include in products applied to the skin and face. Given that lead has been banned and restricted in products from house paint to children’s toys, it’s always safer to choose makeup products that don’t contain these metals, or any of their other forms or related metals. Lead acetate, chromium and thimerosal are notable substances to avoid.


Formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing preservatives are chemicals used in many cosmetics to prevent microbes growing in water-based products. Formaldehyde is a known human carcinogen, meaning it has been definitively linked to cancer, and using products containing it, or preservatives that release it, will raise your chances of developing cancer. It can also cause allergic skin reactions, as formaldehyde is easily absorbed into the skin.

According to the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), at one point nearly 20 per cent of cosmetic products distributed in the U.S. contained formaldehyde or a formaldehyde-generating substance, although nowadays you’re most likely to find it in products such as nail polish, eyelash glue and coloured cosmetics.

Recently banned in countries including Japan and Sweden, and with its use restricted in the EU, formaldehyde is slowly on the way out worldwide. With big name cosmetics brands still using it in products, however, it’s important to stay alert and check the ingredients of all products you use.

Parabens and other preservatives

Parabens are preservative chemicals designed to mimic human oestrogen, and are common in just about any cosmetic product you can imagine – even in everyday items such as deodorants, toothpaste and hair products. Parabens have become so normalised they’re now being used in ‘natural’ product ranges by brands such as Lush and Kiehl’s among others, even though they have been clearly linked to cancer.

One British study even identified parabens as being present in 99 per cent of breast cancer tumours they tested – currently they are being phased out across the EU as more people become aware of the issues with parabens.

Healthier alternatives – why ‘organic’ is important

If you’re looking for an alternative to cosmetic brands that use dangerous ingredients in their products, then organic cosmetics are the way to go. You’ll probably already know these products are better for the environment than chemical-based cosmetics, but there are many other reasons to make the change.

Organic makeup will be gentler on sensitive skin, and also provides sun protection against ultraviolet rays – something any skin clinic will tell you is key to fighting the signs of premature ageing.

However, it still pays to be vigilant when reading labels and checking ingredients in these products. Crucially, products labelled as ‘natural’ may not always be completely natural, as there’s no legal standard for what’s considered ‘natural’. Our expert advice? Choose products labelled ‘organic’, as New Zealand has strict legal standards to decide which products can use it on their labelling. With the amazing range of organic makeups being produced and sold in New Zealand that meet these high standards, you can find a healthy and safe alternative to the dangerous ingredients still used by some of the world’s biggest cosmetic brands.

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