Are you using safer cosmetics? Navigating the beauty industry and finding safe products are very tricky. Today’s investigation is all about safer makeup. You’ve trusted Mamavation to bring you topics like best & worst deodorants, best & worst face washes & moisturizers, safest & most toxic hair color brands, now join us as we take you through the makeup aisle, explain what to avoid and which brands are the safest.
This article has been fact-checked and researched by Rebecca Elizabeth Sherrick Harks, RN, BSN. It contains affiliate links.
What You Need to Know About Makeup Before You Buy
I’ve got some bad news for you. The cosmetic industry is corrupt and putting us all in danger. As I’ve discussed in Green Enough: Eat Better, Live Cleaner, Be Happier (All Without Driving Your Family Crazy!), there is no government agency standing between your family and the dangerous cosmetic ingredients that can find their way into that bottle of shampoo with a picture of your child’s favorite character.
The United States treats chemicals innocent until proven guilty, which is great for business but bad for public health.
Compare this with the European Union and their procedures, it’s apparent that the United States is lagging way behind keeping consumers safe.The European Union forces companies to “prove” their chemicals are safe before they are allowed into commerce. And the differences are vast when applied.
Whereas the European Union has banned or restricted more than 1,400 ingredients from use in cosmetics, the United States FDA has only prohibited 8 ingredients.
Dangerous Makeup Myths That May Cause You Harm If You Believe Them Blindly
Myth #1: Going with natural and/or organic products is your safest bet.
There is no definition of “natural” or “organic” when it comes to makeup. Just because a product is labeled natural/and organic, doesn’t mean that the cosmetic doesn’t contain synthetic chemicals. Natural is a buzzword these days, and it’s important to know that “natural” has very little meaning beyond advertising; the FDA even tried back in 1998 to establish an official term for “natural,” but nothing was ever done about it. Being “organic” doesn’t mean anything either unless you see the USDA organic seal.
Natural makeup could also contain contaminants like PFAS “forever chemicals” as we found in our latest green beauty cosmetic guide & investigation.
Myth #2: Makeup products stating that they’re “hypoallergenic” are much safer for you and your children to use.
As we learned in most of our children’s product investigations, most of the marketing claims, including “hypoallergenic” are unregulated, which means that manufacturers are able to claim all kinds of things that mean nothing at all. These claims have been designed by major marketing boards to instill consumer confidence so they can sell more products, NOT make you safer.
Myth #3: The FDA acts promptly to recall any type of cosmetic (or other) ingredients that cause harm.
As we learned in the children’s supplements investigation, the FDA is slow to remove ingredients that children ingest, so you’d imagine that makeup is even more difficult. What’s even uglier is the fact that the FDA has no real power to regulate the cosmetic industry at all when things go wrong, so you are basically left to your own defenses at the peril of marketers that want you to buy more.
- Manufacturers don’t have to report any injuries or problems to the FDA
- The FDA has no right to pull makeup products off the market,
- The FDA relies on the makeup conglomerates to self-report any safety issues with their products voluntarily
Myth #4: You can read the label on your makeup so you can avoid hazardous chemicals.
Unfortunately, cosmetic ingredients are purposely not transparent. The laws in the US allow companies to omit ingredients that are problematic to human health, like the ingredients inside fragrance. When you see “fragrance” on the bottle it means the company has decided to leave you in the dark about what makes up that fragrance. And legally, it can contain over 3,000 chemicals, which don’t have to be declared. None of those chemicals are required to be on the label because lobbying efforts have focused on protecting the formulation of a product and calling them “proprietary” even though modern technology can reverse engineer every ingredient inside the bottle to find out. Therefore, companies can easily steal each other’s formulations by using a laboratory. So when a company refuses to be 100% transparent about their ingredients, it’s not about protecting their formulation, it’s about refusing to be transparent.
Cosmetic manufacturers also do not need to tell you about potential contamination, such as PFAS “forever chemicals” found in green beauty makeup.
Myth #5: Because cosmetics are applied to the skin and not taken orally, they rarely get into your body. And even if they do, the levels of bad-for-you chemicals are so low that it doesn’t matter.
Exposure to cosmetics comes in many forms: breathing in powder, for example, swallowing bits of lipstick, and most likely, absorbing cosmetic ingredients through the largest organ in your body – your skin. Studies have found that ingredients like paraben, preservatives, triclosan, PFAS, and a whole mess of others are often found in the bodies of people of all ages. The enhancers that the industry uses often allows these (and many other nasty ingredients) to penetrate even further into the depths of the skin.
Another important point is many of these chemicals disrupt hormones, and those types of chemicals are linked to harm at very very small amounts similar to a drop in an Olympic-sized pool. And what makes manners worse is hormone-disrupting chemicals are not tested at low levels. They test the chemicals at high levels and assume what will happen at low levels without ever doing the studies. But genes switch on and off at different parts of the dose-response curve, so the effects are not possible to predict. Therefore, arguing the levels are too low to harm are not backed by science. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics has been lobbying Congress and federal agencies for years about hormone-disrupting chemicals and their impact on public health. Saying the levels are too low to harm is simply wrong.
Regulation Of The Cosmetics Industry (Or Lack Thereof )
The largest trend in the makeup industry today is going “clean.” This Clean Movement for cosmetics has begun due to the frustration and disgust with regulatory oversight and companies’ reliance on cheaper hormone-disrupting chemicals.
See, way back in 1938, the FDA passed an act called the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, which gave the FDA authority to oversee the safety of food, medical devices, drugs, and cosmetics.
The act actually lists out some pretty clear definitions and penalizations, but here’s the problem–The FDA doesn’t actually do any of that. Instead, they’ve passed the buck onto a group (with no power) called the Cosmetic Ingredient Review about 30 years ago. These guys are basically people that work within the industry. And in those 30 years, they haven’t really done much either.
- They’ve only deemed 11 ingredients or chemical groups to be unsafe. (Compared with over 1,300 in Europe)
- Aligned themselves with the big cosmetic companies
- Their recommendations on restricting ingredients are not binding on companies, meaning no one gets in trouble when they use these ingredients or chemical groups.
Problematic ingredients typically fall into three categories: endocrine disruptors, carcinogens, and irritants and allergens.
Problematic Endocrine Disruptors Inside Cosmetics
What? These are chemicals, substances, and compounds that may imitate our body’s natural hormones, thus interfering with our body’s normal, natural chemical signaling.
Ingredients on the Label: Triclosan and triclocarban, toluene, resorcinol, petroleum distillates, butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), boric acid, sodium borate, phthalates, placenta extract, & parabens.
Science Says: While many of the studies involving these compounds did show a direct correlation between their use and hormonal dysregulation, most of these are performed in animals and at higher doses than a person would generally be exposed to as cosmetics. This is very problematic because different genes get turned on and off at different parts of the dose-response curve. (More on that here and here.) What happens at low doses can be just the opposite of what happens at high doses, but there have been several studies on humans showing an increase in these chemicals in our body and issues with hormone disruption at very low levels.
- Retinol (Vitamin A): Overexposure to this naturally occurring substance can have reproductive and development effects, and has been linked to skin tumors and lesions. Because it is found in foundation, lipstick, moisturizers, cleansers and anti-aging products, as well as foods rich in this vitamin, your exposure can be high without your realizing it.
- Phthalates: These are linked to breast cancer and are endocrine disrupters. These can be found in nail polish and synthetic fragrances, including those that are added to other cosmetics. Nail polish can contain a type of called dibutyl phthalate, a reproductive and developmental toxin.
- Parabens: These are linked to breast cancer and are endocrine disrupters. Found in creams and lotions, and some makeup.
- Octinoxate: This chemical is likely found in foundations and is linked to endocrine disruption and thyroid disorders.
- Siloxanes: This ingredient is used in cosmetics to soften, smooth, and moisten things into your skin. They are disruptive to the endocrine system and reproductive system. Look for ingredients that end in -siloxane or -methicone.
Problematic Carcinogens Inside Cosmetics
What? These are compounds, substances, and chemicals that may lead to cancer.
Ingredients on the Label: Sodium laureth sulfate (SLS), PEG compounds, & chemicals ending in -eth are all potentially contaminated with 1,4-dioxane. Formaldehyde, coal tar ingredients, petroleum distillates, (-methyl, -propy, -caprylic, such as propylene glycol), & Mineral oil.
- Formaldehyde (quaternium-15 and other formaldehyde-releasing preservatives): This is a big one. It’s been labeled as a potential carcinogen by the National Cancer Institute says its use and exposure to it has been linked to cancer formation in both animals and humans. If you’re not swayed by that, you should know that formaldehyde ranks among the top 10 most common contact allergens. Look for DMDM hydantoin, BHUT (butylated hydroxytoluene), bronopol, diazolidinyl urea, sodium hydrozymethylglycinate, imidazolidinyl urea, methenamine, quarternium-15, Quaternium-18, & Quaternium-26.
- Petroleum-based (-methyl, -propy, -caprylic, such as propylene glycol) and mineral oil products: Petroleum jelly comes from residue that builds up on the outside of oil rigs. It is collected, distilled and refined and used in many cosmetics such as lip-gloss. While many call these products safe, the toxicity depends on the refinement process, which is currently unregulated, and lower quality refined oil may be linked to breast cancer. You want to avoid liquid products with “shine” or make sure they are petroleum-free. You can find these ingredients in mascara, perfume, foundation and lipstick /gloss/balm. “White petroleum” however is safe
- PEG compounds: Polyethylene glycols, or PEGs, are petroleum-based compounds used to thicken & soften cosmetics. They are very common in cream-based products. The number next to PEG indicates how many units of ethylene glycol they comprise and the lower the number, the quicker it absorbs into your skin. They are problematic because they are often contaminated with ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane.
- Vinyl chloride Can cause acute toxicity, manifested by dizziness, headache, disorientation, and unconsciousness where inhaled at high concentrations. Studies also demonstrate potential carcinogenic effects. Found in cosmetic aerosol products including hair sprays
- Zirconium-containing complexes Zirconium-containing complexes have been used as an ingredient in cosmetics, for example, aerosol antiperspirants. Evidence suggests that certain zirconium compounds have caused human skin granulomas and toxic effects in the lungs and other organs of experimental animals
- Chloroform has been used as an ingredient in cosmetic products. Recent information may associate chloroform with carcinogenic effects.
- Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs): Derived from coal, some find their way into cosmetics. Found in moisturizer, lip balm, anti-aging products, cleansers and more.
- Talc: The toxicity of this product is controversial, but it has been linked to respiratory issues. Found in loose powder makeup, blush, and eye shadow. However, in the time since I initially did this research, Johnson & Johnson was sued and ordered to pay $72 million to a family of a woman who died from ovarian cancer. For this ruling, the jury found that J&J had failed to warn users of the risk of using talc. Bottom line: while there is mixed evidence on this products as far as studies are concerned, this judgment should have anyone who uses talc concerned. Read more in depth at the American Cancer Society, who recommends: “Until more information is available, people concerned about using talcum powder may want to avoid or limit their use of consumer products that contain it.” There is such a thing as asbestos-free talc, but most brands using talc are not paying a premium for that.
- Titanium dioxide: this is a key ingredient in many sunscreens, which are then added to mineral makeup, foundations, and other cosmetics. Inhalation – which, if you’re using it as powder or as a foundation – is possibly linked to cancer. Nano titanium dioxide is really the problem here and what most brands are using. The titanium dioxide that is non-nano is fine.
- 1,3-butadiene: This carcinogen lurks in many items, including foundation. Studies by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), IARC, and EPA have determined that 1,3-butadiene is a human carcinogen. Studies have shown that people regularly exposed to 1,3-butadiene may have an increased risk of cancers of the stomach, blood, and lymphatic system.
- Methylene chloride: This has been banned as products using methylene chloride pose a significant cancer risk to consumers. Found as an ingredient of aerosol cosmetic products, principally hair sprays.
- Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) and butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA): Toulene based ingredients used as preservatives. Linked to cancer linked to a wide range of health concerns, including organ system toxicity, skin irritation, and more. The National Toxicology Program classifies BHA as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.”BHA has been linked to reproductive and developmental toxicity and also been identified on California’s Proposition 65 list as a possible carcinogen.
- Carbon black: An ingredient found in eyeliners which is linked to cancer and organ toxicity. This ingredient has many names like: arrow, arovel, arogen, channel black, pigment black 6, pigment black 7, acetylene black, froflow, atlantic, and black pearls.
Problematic Irritants and Allergens Inside Cosmetics
What? You know, the stuff that makes your body react. Not everyone reacts to irritants and allergens, but if you do react, these ingredients may be the culprit.
Ingredients on the Label: Methylisothiazolinone (MI), methylchloroisothiazolinone (MCI), vitamin A derivatives, “fragrance”, petroleum distillates, mica, and formaldehyde.
Science Says: MI/MCI, fragrance, and formaldehyde are known causes of contact dermatitis, which is a nasty, painful poison ivy-like rash that can become chronic with repeated exposure. This is so common that all three have been named “Allergen of the Year” by the American Contact Dermatitis Society, in part due to the prevalence of contact dermatitis experienced when using many commonly used products.
It’s important to understand that both synthetic and natural ingredients can cause irritation, so if you have sensitive skin, the ingredients below may make you react. If you do not have sensitive skin, pay closer attention to the other categories.
- Common Irritants Found Inside “Fragrance”: Both natural & synthetic ingredients can cause skin irritation. Some examples are: 3-Cyclohexene Carboxaldehyde, Alpha Amyl Cinnamic Alcohol, Anthemis Nobilis (Chamomile), Amyl Cinnamal, Anisyl Alcohol, Balsam of Peru (Myroxylon Pereirae), Benzaldehyde, Benzyl Alcohol, Benzyl Benzoate, Benzyl Cinnamate, Benzyl Salicylate, Butylphenyl Methylpropional, Cassia Oil, Chamomile (Anthemis Nobilis), Cinnamal, Cinnamic Alcohol, Cinnamic Aldehyde, Cinnamon Leaf Oil, Cinnamyl Alcohol, Citral, Citrus, Citronellol, Clove Oil, Cologne, Coumarin, Ethylene Brassylate, Eugenol, Evernia Furfuracea, Evernia Prunastri, Farnesol, Geraniol, Herbal Extracts, Hexyl Cinnamal, Hydroxycitronellal, Hydroxylisohexyl 3-Cyclohexene Carboxaldehyde, Isoeugenol, Isomethyl Ionone, Limonene, Linalool, Lyral, Masking Fragrance, Methyl 2-Octynoate, Oakmoss absolute, Perfume, parfum, Plant, flower, fruit, nut oils, Yarrow (Achillea Millefolium)
- Bismuth Oxychloride: Bismuth oxychloride is found naturally in rare mineral bismoclite. It’s used in mineral makeup to give you that matte appearance while adhering to your skin. When processed, it can be irritating. Pay close attention to heavy metal levels to ensure you are getting ingredients that are safe because this ingredient can also increase the amount of lead.
- Lanolin: The contaminants found inside lanolin can cause skin irritation. This can be caused by synthetic pesticide contamination used to treat the wool for pests. Look for: Lanolin (hydrous and anhydrous), Hydrogenated Lanolin, Lanolin Alcohol, Wool Fat, Wool Wax, Alcohols (Wool Alcohol)
- Halogenated salicylanilides (di-, tri-, metabromsalan and tetrachlorosalicylanilide) These have been used as antimicrobial agents in cosmetic products. These halogenated salicylanilides are potent photosensitizers and cross-sensitizers and can cause disabling skin disorders.
- Bithionol: This has been banned by the FDA as it can cause cross-sensitization and photosensitivity. Found as an antibacterial agent in cosmetic preparations such as detergent bars, shampoos, creams, lotions, and bases used to hide blemishes.
- Mica: The dust left from mica has sharp edges, which can be inhaled and possibly be a respiratory irritant – or worse. The problem is there is no reliable data on this irritant. Mica has “shine,” so it is often used in loose powder products that glimmer. Beautycalypse has a comprehensive article on the science (or lack of) in mineral makeup products.
- Talc: The toxicity of this product is controversial, but it has been linked to respiratory issues. Found in loose powder makeup, blush, and eye shadow. However, in the time since I initially did this research, Johnson & Johnson was sued and ordered to pay $72 million to a family of a woman who died from ovarian cancer. For this ruling, the jury found that J&J had failed to warn users of the risk of using talc. Bottom line: while there is mixed evidence on this products as far as studies are concerned, this judgment should have anyone who uses talc concerned. Read more in depth at the American Cancer Society, who recommends: “Until more information is available, people concerned about using talcum powder may want to avoid or limit their use of consumer products that contain it.” There is such a thing as asbestos-free talc, but most brands are not paying the premium for those ingredients.
More Ingredients to Avoid Because You Don’t Need All That Negativity In Your Life, Right?
- Toluene: Found in nail products, this toxin can cause confusion, memory loss, exhaustion, and impede clarity.
- Lead: This a known neurotoxin is linked to learning disabilities, behavioral problems, miscarriage, infertility, and can disrupt puberty in girls. Found in nail polish, lipstick, and foundation.
- Nanoparticles: When nanotechnology first entered into the world of cosmetics, most of us were pretty excited. These tiny nanoparticles range between 1-100 nanometers in diameter. That’s really small. They are about 80,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair, or they are as big as 1/5,000th the thickness of a sheet of paper. Research has found some alarming problems with nanoparticles when it comes to destroying useful microorganisms in the environment & human health.
- Titanium Dioxide (TiO2): While initially praised for being able to help better protect the skin from UV damage, we’ve learned that the titanium dioxide nanoparticles are actually more toxic than the standard size particles. While no human studies currently have concluded, mice and rats exposed to nanoparticle sized TiO2 experience major lung inflammation and significant DNA damage. Clearly, this is concerning as to whether or not this would affect humans in the same manner.
- Zinc Oxide (ZnO): Studies have found that even low concentrations of ZnO may lead to damage in human skin cells. However, a review of the risks of nano-structured TiO2 and ZnO found nanoparticles of TiO2 and ZnO are unlikely to pass through the skin due to how they are bound. The researchers concluded both materials are safe to use as UV filters; however, these two types of nanoparticles are still undergoing major studies.
- Silver: Nanoized silver may lead to oxidative stress and resulting cell damage. Silver nanoparticles have shown toxic effects on the male reproductive system, as research suggests that nanoparticles cross the blood-testes barrier where they can be deposited into the testes with the potential for adverse effects on sperm cells. Research shows that silver nanoparticles can bind to different tissues and can cause a number of toxic effects that gradually lead to cell death.
- Fullerenes: Fullerenes are carbon tubes often used in anti-aging and eye creams that may penetrate into the top two layers of the skin (the epidermis and dermis). These nanoparticles also make the skin unusually sensitive to light, leaving cells vulnerable to the effects of UV light exposure.
- Silica: Nanoized silica may lead to pregnancy complications when injected intravenously into pregnant mice as it seems that nanoized silica can cross the placenta, leading to deposits in the fetal liver and fetal brain. Nanoparticle-sized crystalline silica (SiO2) nanoparticles may cause cell damage which could cause cell mutations and creation of cancer cells with two nuclei in human in vitro cells.
- Carbon Black: Nanoparticle-sized carbon black particles may alter the genetics of lung cells, lead to inflammation and inhibit the growth of cells that line the circulatory system. Research now suggests that nanoparticle-sized carbon black may lead to mutations in the lung cell of rats after a 15 month exposure time.
- Synthetic Biology: Synthetic biology changes the genetic code of living entities by editing portions of their DNA. New genes are not introduced like conventional genetically modified organisms (GMOs), but instead, their DNA is changed through a gene-editing technology called CRISPR. Genes are added, removed, turned on or off, or completely rewritten. What could possibly go wrong, right? These ingredients have not been tested for safety because the Feds don’t consider them chemically similar to ingredients they replace. Here are some of the ingredients you will find that will never admit to being “synbio” but we know it’s a very good possibility:
- Sugar cane-derived Squalane emollient
- Algal oils, especially in Unilever products like Dove
- “Animal-free” collagen
- Blue, red, & purple pigments
Is There Such a Thing As Clean, Natural Or Safe Makeup? It’s Complicated.
During the last few years, the clean/natural beauty industry has been expanding significantly. As this industry is largely unregulated, all of these terms caused much confusion: the words “clean,” “natural,” “safe,” “non-toxic,” and “green” are often used interchangeably. Because the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) and the FDA (Federal Drug Administration) aren’t regulating the usage of these words, they’re all pretty much meaningless. Sometimes “natural” means plant-based ingredients, but by in large it’s fairly nonspecific.
Even more confusing is everyone’s favorite word: “organic.” In cosmetics, there really is no such thing. The USDA organic seal only applies to agriculture and food, not cosmetics. So when you see the USDA organic seal that’s because that brand has decided to use food-grade organic ingredients inside. Yes, you can literally eat those ingredients. But I wouldn’t recommend it because it will taste nasty. But buyer beware, a company can use word “organic” in their marketing without actually having organic ingredients inside. Look for the USDA organic seal to be sure.
NEWS FLASH: Cosmetic Companies Have Paid Out Millions In Settlements. Buyer Beware!
The cosmetic industry has been rife with lawsuits in the past couple of years for good reason–harmful chemicals can destroy lives.
In 2018, industry bigwig Johnson & Johnson was ordered to pay $4.7 billion dollars to women who’s use of baby powder caused ovarian cancer, which is one of those cancers that’s rarely discovered before it is too late.
Later when haircare giant, Wen, settled a 26 million dollar settlement to victims of one of their hair products that was allegedly making people’s hair fall out, we collectively freaked out because that was supposed to be a “natural” brand.
Unfortunately, these are prime examples of what the cosmetic industry is allowed to get away with daily because no one is monitoring them.
Is Mineral Makeup Really Better For You?
The short answer to that question is no. Mineral makeup has been around since early cave-dwellers wanted to put ground-up minerals onto their skin as war paint, for decoration, and perhaps even for camouflage. Unfortunately, minerals mined from the earth also contain heavy metals, which means mineral makeup exposes you to heavy metals like lead. And this is actually far more serious than mineral makeup brands are telling you.
In 2007, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics released the report testing 33 brands of lipsticks for lead content. 61% of lipsticks contained lead, with levels ranging up to 0.65 ppm. Afterward, the FDA tested 20 lipsticks and found lead in each one ranging from 0.09 ppm to 3.06 ppm with an average of 1.07 ppm. Then in 2010, the FDA followed up more testing and found lead in 400 lipsticks tested, ranging from 0.026 ppm to 7.19 ppm with an average of 1.11 ppm.
Then in 2011, the Canadian Environmental Defense tested 49 face makeup products for the presence of arsenic, cadmium, lead, nickel, beryllium, thallium, mercury, & selenium. 7 out of 8 products had detectable levels of those heavy metals.
More recently in 2013, the University of California researchers found chromium, cadmium, aluminum, manganese, and lead in all 24 lip glosses and eight lipsticks they tested. Most of the tested lip products contained high concentrations of titanium and aluminum. All examined products had detectable manganese. But the biggest culprit was lead detected in 24 products (75%), with an average concentration of 0.36 ± 0.39 ppm.
We also found in this lengthy investigation that several brands of mineral makeup contain many of the harmful ingredients we’ve been trying to avoid, like antifreeze, titanium dioxide, formaldehyde, mica, and talc.
Mamavation’s Green Beauty Guide with 80+ Labs on Indications of PFAS “Forever Chemicals” Final Results
Mamavation tested 83 beauty products from 49 different green beauty cosmetic brands, mostly mascara and lip products. To determine the concentration samples of each product, we took the median result of all samples that had detectable levels. The median exposure level of all detectable results was 30 ppm.
We then identified three exposure levels: anything above 30 parts-per-million (ppm) we considered high, anything between 10 ppm and 29 ppm we considered medium exposure, and anything beneath 10 ppm was low. Our measurements could detect organic fluorine down to 10 ppm, therefore anything lower was beneath the limits of detection of our chemical analysis.
The lab results told us that 65% of green beauty products had detectable levels of organic fluorine. Here’s the full analysis:
- 65% of green beauty cosmetic products tested had detectable levels of organic fluorine, while 35% of products did not have detectable levels.
- Of the products with detectable levels of organic fluorine, the range was from 10 ppm to 865 ppm.
- Of the products with detectable levels of organic fluorine, the median amount was 30 ppm.
- 8 products tested exceeded 100 ppm.
- Lipstick wearers beware — 76% of lip products had detectable levels of organic fluorine. Another exposure here is being kissed by someone else with lipstick that has detectable fluorine.
- 64% of mascara had detectable levels of organic fluorine.
Our interest in reporting and organizing consumer studies on PFAS is to inform consumers. Please keep in mind this is a snapshot of green beauty makeup products at one point in time. Our study does not represent every lot of every product. It also will not consistently represent what the consumer is exposed to based on how the cosmetic formulas separate and pool over time. So please expect varying levels from product to product and brand to brand.
We used a standardized test that is good for spot-checking, but not identifying specific PFAS chemicals. Therefore, what is done for academic research is far more sophisticated and the number of products would be larger. Having said that, this test is a good method to check to see if organic fluorine is present in the sample. Organic fluorine likely indicates the presence of PFAS. However, it’s possible that other ingredients like fluorinated pharmaceuticals, fluorinated plastics, or fluorinated cleaning product chemicals could end up in the final result.
Not Our Favorite Green Beauty Cosmetic Brands with High Levels of PFAS “Forever Chemicals”
In this category, you’ll find brands that had medium to high fluorine levels. This study saw a median of 30 ppm so we used that as our rank in this category. We have decided to put any brand with medium levels of fluorine and above in this section. Each brand mentioned below will have at least one product tested with over 30 ppm of organic fluorine. However, you’ll notice that a couple of brands in this section had one other product with non-detectable levels of fluorine and we linked up some of those products for you.
- Axiology: Axiology Lip to Lid Balmie-Watermelon (232 ppm organic fluorine)
- Alima Pure: Alima Pure L Velvet Lipstick – Rouge A Levres Velvet Lips (non-detect) & Alima Pure Natural Definition Mascara (33 ppm organic fluorine)
- Antonym Cosmetics: Antonym Cosmetics Lola Lash Mascara (non-detect) & Antonym Cosmetic Skin Esteem Foundation Dark (53 ppm organic fluorine)
- Au Naturale: Au Naturale Lip Gloss (52 ppm organic fluorine)
- Burts Bees: Burts Bees All Aflutter Mascara (357 ppm organic fluorine), Burts Bees Nourishing Mascara (357 ppm organic fluorine), Burts Bees Lip Shimmer (36 ppm organic fluorine)
- Clove & Hallow: Clove & Hallow Lip Velvet Liquid Lipstick (865 ppm organic fluorine)
- Coastal Classic Creations: Coastal Classic Creations Lash Drama Volumizing Mascara (non-detect) & Coastal Classic Creation Lipstain (541 ppm organic fluorine)
- Elate Cosmetics: Elate Mascara Essential Mascara (non-detect) & Elate Moisturizing Lip Gloss Radiate (145 ppm organic fluorine)
- Ere Perez: Ere Perez Avocado Waterproof Mascara (54 ppm organic fluorine) & Ere Perez Mango Lip Honey (18 ppm organic fluorine)
- FitGlow Beauty: FitGlow Beauty Lip Colour Serum (non-detect) & FitGlow Beauty Vegan Good Lash Mascara (37 ppm organic fluorine)
- Gabriel: Gabriel Mascara Black (21 ppm organic fluorine) & Gabriel Lip Gloss Ambrosia (37 ppm organic fluorine)
- Hynt Beauty: Hynt Beauty Mascara (31 ppm organic fluorine) & Hynt Beauty Aria Pure Lipstick (29 ppm organic fluorine)
- Ilia: Ilia Limitless Lash Mascara (non-detect) & Ilia Balmy Gloss Tinted Lip Oil Saint (35 ppm organic fluorine)
- Juice Beauty: Juice Beauty Phyto Pigments Ultra Natural Mascara (non-detect) & Juice Beauty Phyto Pigments Satin Lip Cream (33 ppm organic fluorine)
- Kosas: Kosas Big Clean Longwear Volumizing Mascara (non-detect) & Kosas Lip Oil Gloss (32 ppm organic fluorine)
- Limelife by Alcove: Limelife by Alcove Liquid Lips- Red (535 ppm organic fluorine)
- Mineral Fusion: Mineral Fusion Volumizing Mascara (62 ppm organic fluorine) & Mineral Fusion Lip Gloss (10 ppm organic fluorine)
- Poofy Glam Cosmetics: Poofy Glam HD Mascara (37 ppm organic fluorine)
- PUR: PUR Fully Charged Magnetic Mascara (33 ppm organic fluorine) & PUR Hybrid Balm CBD Lip & Cheek Balm (89 ppm)
- Pyt Beauty: Pyt Beauty Pump It Up Lip Gloss (non-detect) & Pyt Beauty Swipe Right 12 Hr Mascara (122 ppm organic fluorine)
- TOK Beauty: TOK Beauty Eyes that TOK Lash Enhancing Mascara (non-detect) & TOK Beauty Lip Tonic Kind (76 ppm organic fluorine)
- Young Living (Savvy Minerals): Savvy Minerals by Young Living Wish Lipstick (39 ppm organic fluorine), & Savvy Minerals by Young Living Mascara (29 ppm organic fluorine)
- Zerro & Co: Zerro & Co Mascara (non-detect) & Zerro & Co Lip Balm (58 ppm organic fluorine)
Better Green Beauty Cosmetic Brands with Lower Levels of PFAS “Forever Chemicals”
These are the green beauty products that have low levels of fluorine below 30 ppm. You’ll notice, we tested 1-2 of each brand and at least one of their products tested for detectable organic fluorine below 30 ppm. However, you’ll also notice that some of these brands had one product with non-detectable levels of organic fluorine, while another product had detectable levels. We are still linking up some of the products that had non-detect levels for you to make them easy to purchase.
- Bare Minerals: Bare Minerals Lashtopia Mega Volume Mascara (19 ppm organic fluorine)
- Bloom Bright: Bloom Bright Mascara (21 ppm organic fluorine)
- C’est Moi: C’est Moi Lip Gloss Bliss Color (11 ppm organic fluorine) & C’est Moi Muse Mascara (8 ppm organic fluorine)
- EcoLips: EcoLips Unflavored PlantPod Lip Balm (19 ppm organic fluorine)
- Honest: Honest Extreme Length Mascara (25 ppm organic fluorine)
- Inika Cosmetics: Inika Mascara (13 ppm organic fluorine)
- Josie Maran: Josie Maran Argan Black Oil Mascara (25 ppm organic fluorine) & Josie Maran Argan Infinity Lip & Cheek (non-detect)
- Kari Gran: Kari Gran Lip Whip Suji (26 ppm organic fluorine)
- Kjaer Weis: Kjaer Weis Red Liquid Lips (26 ppm organic fluorine)
- Mad Hippie: Mad Hippie Plum Cheek & Lip Tint (22 ppm organic fluorine)
- Pacifica: Pacifica Aquarian Gaze Water-Resistant Long Lash Mascara (21 ppm organic fluorine)
- Real Purity: Real Purity Lengthening Mascara (11 ppm organic fluorine)
- Rejuva Minerals: Rejuvena Tint Lip Gloss (14 ppm organic fluorine) & Rejuva Minerals Mascara (20 ppm organic fluorine)
- RMS: RMS Mascara (12 ppm organic fluorine)
- Saie: Saie Mascara Lengthening & Lifting Mascara (non-detect) & Saie Really Good Gloss Sweet (17 ppm organic fluorine)
- Tarte: Tarte Maneater Mascara (20 ppm organic fluorine)
- Thrive Causemetics: Thrive Causemetics Liquid Lash Extension Mascara (non-detect) & Thrive Causemetics Lipstain (28 ppm organic fluorine)
- Vapour Cosmetics: Vapour Elixir Lip Gloss (10 ppm organic fluorine)
- W3LL People: W3LL People Bioextreme Lip Gloss (18 ppm organic fluorine) & W3LL People Volumizing Mascara (non-detect)
- Westman Atelier: Westman Atelier Eye Love You Too Mascara (non-detect) & Westman Atelier Squeaky Clean Liquid Lip Balm (19 ppm organic fluorine)
Best Green Beauty Cosmetic Brands Sans PFAS “Forever Chemicals”
These brands did not have detectable fluorine at 10 parts per million in the products that were tested. This does not mean that they don’t have any PFAS, but it means that it was not detectable at 10 parts per million, which is the standardized test we used for this investigation. In the future, we hope to test down to lower levels as those tests & methods become more affordable.
- 100% Pure: 100% Pure Fruit Pigmented Mascara (non-detect), 100% Pure Lip Caramel Lip Gloss (non-detect), & 100% Pure Bamboo Blur Tinted Moisturizer (non-detect) (Use discount code “MAMAVATION20” for 20% off all 100% Pure products)
- Aisling Organics: Aisling Organics Mascara Black (non-detect) & Aisling Organics Lip Gloss (non-detect) [updated 5-23-22] (Use discount code “MAMAVATION10” for 10% off all Aisling Organic products.)
- Beautycounter: Beautycounter All-n-1 Mascara (non-detect), Beautycounter Beyond Gloss (non-detect) & Beautycounter Skin Twin Featherweight Foundation (non-detect)
- Crunchi: Crunchi Shattered Mascara (non-detect), Crunchi Datenight Hydrogloss (non-detect) & Crunchi My Alibi Concealer (non-detect)
- Doucce: Doucce Punk Volumizer Mascara black (non-detect) [updated 5-23-22]
- FITGLOW Beauty: FITGLOW Beauty Lip Colour Serum (non-detect) & FITGLOW Beauty Vegan Good Lash Mascara (non-detect), & FITGLOW Beauty Beauty Plum Lash Primer (non-detect) [updated 5-23-22 recently reformulated and non-detect] (Use discount code “Mamavation20” for 20% off all FitGlow Beauty products)
- Jane Iredale: Jane Iredale HydroPure Hyaluronic Lip Gloss (non-detect) [updated 5-23-22]
- H&M: H&M Maximalist Mascara Deep Black (non-detect) & H&M Sheer Lip Colour Heartfelt (non-detect)[updated 5-23-22]
- Henne: Henne Luxury Lip Tint – Desire (non-detect)
- Lily Lolo: Lily Lolo Natural Mascara (non-detect)
- MISMACK: MISMACK Amp’d Up Mascara (non-detect) [updated 5-23-22]
- Prim & Pure: Prim & Pure Mineral Lip Gloss for Kids (non-detect) [updated 5-23-22]
- Pure Haven: Pure Haven Mascara (non-detect), Pure Haven Clear Shine Lip Gloss (non-detect), & Pure Haven Tinted Moisturizer (non-detect)
- Root: Root 100% Lash Mascara (non-detect) & Root Wonderlip Ellie (non-detect) [updated 5-23-22]
- Sante Naturkosmetik: Sante Naturkosmetik Lipgloss No. 02 Nude silk (non-detect) [updated 5-23-22]
- Sappho New Paradigm Cosmetics: Sappho New Paradigm Maximum Intensity Vegan Mascara (non-detect), Sappo New Paradigm Essential Foundation (non-detect) (Use discount code “MAMAVATION2022” for 10% off entire order till Sept. 30th) [updated 6-29-22]
- Toups & Co Organics: Toups & Co. Organics Lip Gloss Ti Amo 310 (non-detect) [updated 5-23-22]
- Truvani: Truvani Lip Conditioner (non-detect) [updated 5-23-22]
Makeup brands with non-toxic nature can make the report of investigation make us to buy good products for our skin. Thanks for your report.
Baby Grafitty (https://babygrafitty.com/)
Can you look at Trestique? They make claims of being nontoxic and zero waste, but use recycled plastic containers.
Really beautiful article. Thanks For Sharing This article
Can you recommend eyeliner and mascara brands that don’t have harmful ingredients above? (separate from forever chemicals list ).
How about Korean make-up products? Have you ever tested them? I’m interested in Missha beauty products.
Hello, do you know anything about the DIME Beauty brand? Thank you!
Has anyone checked the osmosis beauty brand?
Great article, facts without extra water! This was useful for me, since I am now collecting a basket on the Sephora site, I want to use a promo code for a discount, and please myself. now I will be more careful in choosing products, and pay more attention to safe brands.
some brands that was posted as non roxic is wrong. Some that I searched have all the synthetic chemicals in it. This review is nothing but a bait for readers .
Like what product did you search for that was wrong? Can you provide an example?
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I am interested to know if Lemongrass Spa Products was a part of your testing at all? Thank you for all you do!
If you want natural products with no bad ingredients check http://www.youniqueproducts.com/carolaschimmel. And the best thing is 14 days money back guarantee. If your not satisfied about your products (also mascara, foundation etc), you can use this policy!
What do you know about Vapour? I use their foundation and lipsticks along with Jane iredale I know is good ! I do my research but like this article states you don’t ALWAYS know!! Thanks!!
Great article! Thank you for investigating and bringing this very important issue to light. As consumers, we have the power to vote everyday with our dollar. Let’s invest in companies who put consumers first & demand better standards.
Beautycounter really is changing the industry and I am eager to see what they do next! I love <3 their products, the lip conditioner & countermatch adaptive moisture lotion are my favorite. I really admire Beautycounter as they are guided by science and their level of transparency is unparalleled in the industry.
Yes, the science background combined with non-toxic principles makes them a very unique company and uniquely capable to lobby for change. They are one of the best kept secrets of female empowerment. Totally.
Thanks for the great overview! Always appreciate your reviews and insight.
Thanks for stopping by Madison!
A great deep-dive on a tough subject. Thank you, Mamavation for taking the time to write this article! I am thrilled to see the great lengths Beautycounter goes to on this subject, as I love their products and have been using them for a few years now.
Which prodct is your favorite?
Hard to pick–but one I definitely cannot live without is the Dew Skin Tinted Moisturizer!!
I was first sold on their shampoo and then found their makeup and it reminded me SO MUCH of the Estee Lauder Christmas kits I used to get from my aunt every year as a gift. Those gifts were so special to me every year because my aunt was my favorite person and she was VERY unconventional and fun. I miss her. But when I discovered how dirty Estee Lauder was, I threw it all away. I had mountains of old makeup. But the style of presentation of Beautycounter looks similar to what I remember and brings back those amazing memories…and it’s not killing me! YEAH!
My mom uses Estee lauder…I have to get her to switch….not an easy task!!!
Hi and thank you so much!!! I just started following all your articles and such and it’s been an educational experience! I am starting to change things I use one by one! I just started using Beautycounter so I was thrilled to read this!!! Do you have any info on: SeneGence products, or dermalogica products?
Mamavation – thank you always for your thoroughness. This is spot on! This blog highlights and answers so many of the current questions consumers, myself included, have every time they shop beauty products. I am a huge fan of Beautycounter, not only because I have full trust in their high performing products, but also because they do such important work on the state and federal level advocating for stronger and updated regulation in the personal care industry. Their work will hopefully change the beauty landscape for everyone. Until then, thank you for continuing to share this important information!
Well if you and everyone else keeps supporting them, they will be able to continue doing great work advocating for all of us! Thanks for stopping by!
Thanks for the thorough investigation and thrilled to see beauty counters transparency and rigor in selecting ingredients.
I’m glad you found someone you can support!
First time I am disappointed in your reporting- BC uses ingredients I wouldn’t use- fragrances, phenoxyethanol, among others. You didn’t include Poofy or Pure Haven (limited lines however). It would be nice if you didn’t contradict yourself (mineral make ups are a no, but Bare Minerals is “better”).
We are actually reaching out to Pure Haven & Crunchi & Lipsense today. We missed them but that’s really because I’ve never been sent their makeup before…and most of those natural brands HAVE sent me their makeup. But we are emailing them about heavy metals and how they test before we can rank them. If you work with one of them, you can help us!
1. Need current batch testing on heavy metals (within months of today)
2. Need the levels by which they test and reject for heavy metals. (Internally)
3. Need to know what lab they are using and (which if you send me those labs I’ll have)
4. Need to know how often they test. This is also important to get the top spot. Beauty counter tests Raw materials, when it’s mixed, and final product testing on each batch so that is what they have to beat.
5. Are they using the EPA or USP extraction method? (USP is preferred because you see it more concentrated)
We are emailing all the missed brands today and would love to include more in the best list!
All wonderful questions! I worry that Crunchi is one of the first companies to really throw stones at other more transparent companies, yet they offer no third party testing themselves (which in my mind is so much more important than offering ‘organic’ or ‘natural’ ingredients. I’ve had products from ‘natural and more crunchy’ brands that started growing molds and god knows what else in their products. I’ll take transparent and rigorous screening Over that any day!
This is NOT intended to be an attack on you- quite the opposite. Please do not take offense!
I feel that you are someone who is willing to take risks by posting the truth, and it is hard to remain unbiased as a reviewer. I, and it seems others, felt your article was contradictory and confusing to those new to the “natural” makeup world. Especially the mineral makeups. The explanation you have now given makes more sense, but it was unclear within your review. It was feedback and as mentioned, the only one of your reviews I couldn’t jump on board with. I appreciate all your hard work in helping educate. Truly.
We updated Pure Haven and Poofy Organics last night. Pure Haven we reach out and they were quick to respond. Unfortunately, they don’t test their makeup for heavy metals so they went in better. Poofy Organics got back to us quickly with their testing standards and they are similar to Canada so we moved them to best. Crunchi, we in fact had reached out to months ago and they didn’t respond. (I had to look into the record to tell you that because we keep tabs on that in the backend but I didn’t do those emails, Becky, our BSN researcher did.) But only 8 brands responded to us out of over 100 that first round. I’ve been told I’ll hear back from them today so I can either move them or keep them in better. If they share their heavy metal testing standards and they are in alignment with Candadian or German standards, we will move them up. If not, no.
That is perfect, and yes, heavy metal contamination is very real. There needs to be strict standards. I am not partial to any brand in particular. I mentioned the ones above simply because they are the ones I hear most often in the “natural” world. I use several of the brands you’ve listed (and will reconsider BC), but most importantly, your research is so important for consumers and everyone should subscribe. If it changes someone from the Bad Brands, that’s HUGE! Thank you for all you do.
This is in reponse to S.S. Mineral makeups are not bad, but we do need to look into heavy metals when they are used because they are typically full of them. They come from the ground and heavy metals also come from the ground. That’s what I’m saying. You CAN find minerals that are within Canadian standards…and German standards because other countries are doing this. BUT what’s really going on here is a lack of transparency in the industry in the United States. So instead of getting mad at me for calling attention to heavy metals in the industry, perhaps you should be asking those companies WHY they aren’t testing to safety standards that are present in other countries. That would make us all safer.
SS– Beautycounter does not use Fragrance.
I am shocked to not see Blissoma at the very top of the best list. I don’t think you can get safer or more natural than what this company offers. I have been using them for over a year (along with AnnMarie) and couldn’t be more impressed. Great work and thank you.
I love what this article is about, but couldn’t disagree more on your safe recommendation. I noticed you didn’t list didn’t list Poofy Organics in your cosmetics post and chose Beautycounter as #1 . I know Poofy Organics is 3rd party test for metals so we are safe for any minerals and mica used. And to my knowledge and research BC used synthetic preservatives, phenoxyethanol, other questionable ingredients, no/few organic ingredients, and did NOT test for metals. So, have things changed there? I ask because I want to make sure I still answer people’s questions when they ask how we are comparedto BC. Thanks! P.s. Poofy Organics is the real #1! You should look into them
We just emailed Poofy’s founder with very specific questions and as soon as she reponds, we will have that up there!
Did they ever get back to you? Thanks!
What about Azara brand ?
I truly beg to differ considering Beautycounter is the first company to step forward and actually lobbying in front of Congress in DC to change the lack of transparency for the entire Beauty industry. Beautycounter has never claimed to be organic and yes they use some synthetics but are not harmful. As for the Mica… They are the only company responsibly sourcing their Mica. One major thing I love about Beautycounter is their honesty and transparency.
Hey Ann! First pass at their ingredients looks pretty decent and now we have to email them about what is not on the packaging…that’s heavy metal testing. We’ll add them when they respond. Thanks!
Oh and for those who need to know it, beauty counter cross contaminates with gluten and is therefore going to be a risk for those with gluten issues. That info is available in any reps back office faqs.
Wow! Well you lost me at beauty counter. Sorry. They use Phenoxyethanol and talc and DO NOT provide their test results for heavy metals or even the thresholds for which they test. I know. Used to be a rep. I can tell you didn’t even contact some of the “better” brands. Some of those brands don’t have any of the ingredients you mentioned. It’s pretty clear there is a product and sales bias here. Anyone who can read a label and call a company could figure this out. Just lost my following.
Which brands can we use then?
I wouldn’t go by this list. She contradicts herself all over the place. So many of the ones she says are best, have the very ingredients she says to avoid. And some of the ones she’s said weren’t so good this time, she’s actually put on the best list of her mlm post just a few months ago. I follow healthy beautiful woke on Facebook and the ladies there recommend brands based on ingredients alone.
Thanks Didi.. just asked to join their page
Thank you for your response and listing a Facebook page option for good, unbiased research! I read the article and felt the same way. Unfortunately, mamavation has been a little off on her research. I will say I appreciate the time and effort she puts in and feel it is better to have someone using “regular products“ read this and start the change than have no change at all!
I just want to share that ingredients in themselves don’t always mean something- so much more goes into bigger questions such as 1. Where are they sourced, how are they sourced, what tests are being done (it isn’t required that companies test for heavy metals) Just because something is natural doesn’t mean it is safe. I think one of the problems
With color cosmetics is the cross contamination with naturally occurring substances such as lead, cadmium ect. Talc is controversial but if mined in a certified asbestos free area it can have less containment’s then other metals. Just pointing out that it can be complicated and so much more goes into safety aside from the ingredients themself. This is the one post I will put, I don’t want to get into a debate just sharing another perspective
And thank you Mamavation For brining so much awareness to the lack of transparency in this industry!
Well said. This.
It’s interesting you say that Didi, but I actually had a meeting with them where they gave me labs from December 5th, which is a current batch, on several different products that I was inquiring about. They gave me their levels of testing internally, and answered all my questions…and my questions are cray cray specific. I even got information on the extraction method, how they take samples from various parts of the plate when cooking for the labs, and how they are testing 3x for every product and every batch: raw materials, when it’s mixed, and the final product. I’m sorry you had such a bad experience with them, but I don’t sell for them and just went as an investigator and got more info than I actually needed.
Thank you for your investigative work.
Can you please test Ilia Multi Stick in your next batch of testing? I’m looking for a clean cream blush. THANK YOU for all that you do!!
You should do a bit more research Didi on several points on which you speak.
I will be transparent that I do sell BC however as a nurse clinician who has suffered heavy metal toxicity in the past, I do my due diligence. Didi, some of your facts are incorrect – there is no talc nor synthetic fragrance in BC. Let’s at least do our home work before we bash any brand.
There are some really great, clean brands doing amazing things in this sector. We are making headway but need to continue to educate people as this topic is not even on many peoples radar.
Thank you for your complete review of questionable ingredients.
Thanks for chiming in as a Nurse, Karen! That perspective is really needed here. We also use a BSN for research here so we are very supportive of nurses! My mom was a nurse too!
I was very serious when I said in the post that companies are downplaying the dangers of heavy metals to sell makeup. It’s very serious and doesn’t get enough attention. And the German requirements for makeup are really what I think is best…lips below 2ppm and face below 5ppm. There’s also a ton of mercury and cadmium to deal with as well. People forget WHY these dyes were created in the first place…cause people were literally losing their minds over heavy metals in makeup.
I’m hoping testing becomes required in the US like it is in Canada and Europe. For now, I’ll just be waving this flag until things change.
Karen, I’d just like to point out that there IS talc in many BC products… it’s SECOND on the ingredients list in the blush AND bronzer AND highlighter, as well as in eyeshadow, and I didn’t even check all of the products. I’m not trying to start a war, and I’m aware that BC’s talc is supposedly asbestos-free but I just couldn’t bypass your comment that “there is no talc in BC.” Wildly untrue.
First off you did not work for Beautycounter. 2nd if you had you would know those test are available and we are the most transparent company out there about our talc and everything behind it. It’s annoying when people make such false claims because they either 1. Sell for another company or 2 didn’t do well with sales in BC. BC is also, the only Beauty company actually lobbying and advocating in front of Congress in DC to pass laws to better regulate the beauty industry. Even if you don’t by from them they are trying to make it where all companies have to be transparent about their ingredients. Plus…. BC never claimed to be 100% organic or natural hence those words have no meaning in the Beauty industry. Bc goes above and beyond to prove and make sure all the ingredients in their products are the safest possible including the synthetic ingredients. Basically, what I’m getting at is BC is the most transparent company out there!
Was there any information found on Burt’s Bees cosmetics?
Yes, they are up there!
I’m confused Real Purity is not listed at all. I purchased their mascara from your recommendation links. I love it, but curious why it’s not listed.