The cosmetic industry is a multi-billion dollar industry with literally hundreds of different cosmetic lines. Brand names like Almay, Avon, Bonnie Bell, Clinque, Cover Girl, L’Oreal, Max Factor, MAC, Mary Kay, Maybelline, Neutrogena, Revlon, SmashBox, and others are familiar to women of all ages. But what makes cosmetics so popular? An even better question would be, why do women even wear cosmetics?
The truth is that women have been wearing some form of cosmetic for thousands of years. The word cosmetic is the general term applied to all preparations used externally to condition and/or beautify the body by cleaning, coloring, softening, or protecting the skin, hair, nails, lips, or eyes.
The earliest known cosmetics came from Egypt where dyes and paints were routinely used to color skin and hair. Both Egyptian men and women used rouge on their lips and cheeks, stained their nails with henna and lined their eyes and eyebrows heavily with kohl. They also used scented oils and ointments for sun protection and to soften their skin as well as to mask body odor. It is believed that Jews adopted the use of cosmetics from their Egyptian captors. References to face painting appear in the Old Testament about the time that the Jews were released from Egypt and were led into the dessert by Moses.
Romans also used kohl for darkening eyelashes and eyelids. Another popular practice was the use of chalk for whitening the complexion. They used pumice for cleaning their teeth and even developed hair-removing preparations. It is widely believed that Romans are responsible for early exportation of cosmetics to the Far East where they were further refined.
The universal use of cosmetics grew significantly with a more scientific study of cosmetic ingredients, which began in France. Over the years, the method and mode for cosmetic development has continued to change; veering from the once all-natural methods used by the Egyptians and Romans to the addition of synthetics, preservatives, and additives to prolong the life of makeup products. The most common cosmetics include:
- Foundation, which is used to give the skin a uniform color, comes in a variety of types (e.g., creams, liquids, liquid to powder, and others) and types (e.g. sheer coverage, full coverage, balanced coverage, anti-aging and more) for the purpose of solving a variety of problems (e.g., dry skin, oily skin, combination skin and more);
- Face powder, which is used to dry and gives the skin a satin-like texture, comes in a variety of forms (e.g., translucent, heavy, sheer, and more);
- Lip color, which adds depth and warmth to the lips, comes in a variety of forms (e.g., sticks, creams, glosses, gels, and more);
- Rouge/Blush, which adds color to the cheeks, comes in a myriad of colors and types (e.g., powder, gel, cream, and more);
- Eye shadow, which adds color and bring depth to eye color, comes in a myriad of colors and types (e.g., powder, creams, gels, pencils, and more);
- Eyeliner, which emphasizes and appears to enlarge the eye, comes in a variety of forms (e.g., pencil, solid, cream, gel, and more); and
- Nail polishes, which help strengthen nails and add color, mostly done in lacquers in cream, pearlized, or glitter formats.
However, the industry has not been without controversy. The additives, fillers, chemicals, and colorings commonly used to construct many of the products listed above, have been linked to severe skin allergies, skin conditions, and even long term medical issues. Some of the most common ingredients found in most foundations, blushes, bronzers, and eyeshadows have proven to be damaging and even dangerous. These include titanium dioxide, talc, and blue No. 1. Titanium dioxide and blue No. 1 are both carcinogens (meaning they “can” cause cancer). Additionally, the inhalation of talc, which is used in a lot of makeup powders, when used over a long period of time can cause lung problems similar in nature to those caused by asbestos. Even skin creams that are meant to soften our skin and reduce the appearance of aging, can have dangerous effects on the human body. Typical damaging ingredients such as tannic acid and Alpha Hydroxy Acid are commonly found in a lot of skin creams. Tannic acid creams can irritate or blister the skin as well as increase pigmentation in the skin; sometimes actually causing more – – or more defined – – discolarations like age spots. A recent study sponsored by the cosmetics industry itself even indicates that certain skin products can make users more sensitive to sunlight, especially to the ultraviolet radiation component of sunlight. It goes on to say that UV exposure at high doses, especially over a long period, can cause skin cancer. Coal tar colors, such as phenylenediamine, benzene and even formaldehyde are some of the toxins commonly found in shampoos and can actually be damaging to both the hair and the scalp. Lastly, hair dyes – – used like a common cosmetic to thousands of women every day – – contain the same ingredients as well as additional things like Qunternium 15 and Cocamade DEA. These are also believed to be carcinogenic in nature.
A second well known problem is the uncertainty about the real “safe” shelf life of makeup. The cosmetic industry is not required by law to put an expiration date on makeup products (although a few do). Therefore, it is common for these products to remain on the shelf at department stores for months at a time; sometimes even for years. Additionally, many women mistakenly believe that, because the products do not include an expiration date, that it is safe to keep these products for years at a time. This opens yet another problem door; the possibility of cross contamination taking place between cosmetics as well as between cosmetics and other items that are kept in the same location.
There are things that women can do to continue their use of today’s cosmetics. First, it is possible to use only makeup products that do provide an expiration date. For those who choose to use a makeup that doesn’t provide expiration date, here is a rule of thumb to use with regard to cosmetic shelf life. Foundations and moisturizers should be replaced every six months, as should eyeliners and face powders. Eyeshadow, blush, and lip glosses should be discarded every year. Mascara should be replaced every three month. Of course the exception is this: Makeup should be replace anytime that it is suspected that cross-contamination has occurred. It is also possible to choose makeup that is made of all natural, non-toxic ingredients like flower derived pigments instead of coal tars. There are even alternatives with regard to skin creams. When possible, women should use skin creams that contain natural ingredients and avoid using Alpha Hydroxy Acid creams for daytime, using it only for night creams, when there is no sun.
There are even alternative ways of changing the color of your hair using fruit juices. Cranberry juice can be used for a reddish tone by applying the cranberry juice to the hair and then using the sun’s heat to set the color. Lemon juice can be used for lightening hair in the same way. These are great to do when you’re at the beach. For more radical color, it is even possible to use Kool Aide in assorted flavors, to achieve various colors.
Another alternative available today is the use of the newer mineral cosmetics which now cover everything from foundation, powder, eyeshadow, blusher, bronzer, lipstick, eyeliner and more. The idea of mineral-based cosmetics actually surfaced in the late 70’s but has really taken off in the last few years. In examining makeup options, it was determined that the minerals that originally provided the pigment for cosmetics were actually effective cosmetics all on their own. Now, the idea has taken off, with beauty pros across the world now believing that minerals are the cosmetics industry’s next wave. Mineral-based cosmetics provide color without the waxes, oils, preservatives and other additives that more traditional makeup contains. A bonus effect has been that mineral makeup appears to give skin a youthful glow that other cosmetics just don’t deliver. Mineral makeup is also safe for sensitive skin and skin recovering from laser resurfacing, chemical peels, and plastic surgery. Also, because mineral makeup is made with few, if any, preservatives, it is much more appropriate for sensitive and acne-prone skin. Yet another benefit for using mineral makeup is its natural protective power from ultraviolet rays. This is a result of the presence of titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide in mineral-based products.
Firms like MD Beauty Inc. are a prominent name in the cosmetic minerals business through its well established brands like Bare Escentuals, i.d. Bare Minerals and MD Formulations. Bare Minerals is the leading mineral product line, ringing up 70 percent of Bare Essentials sales. Free of preservatives, talc, oil, fragrance, dyes, and other chemicals that can irritate skin, their 100 percent pure i.d. bareMinerals represent the ideal mix of makeup and skincare, offering problem-solving cosmetics that perfect and pamper the complexion. Thanks to their zero irritability factor, these skin-loving products are a dream come true for millions of women of all ages and skin types. Recently, even Cover Girl and Neutrogena have jumped on the mineral makeup bandwagon. While these products are too new to be successfully compared against those that have been in the business for a number of years, I believe they may very well hold their own. The benefit of this will be the ability to drive down the cost of these products which are currently a little more expensive than the old fashioned makeup that woman are used to.
The debate between traditional cosmetics and mineral-based cosmetics may continue to rage for a quite a while. However, Women who yearn for a simpler lifestyle, a healthy glow to their skin, and stronger, safer and better protection for their skin against the sun’s UV rays will eventually make their voices heard. When they do, more cosmetic firms are likely to listen and change with the times.