What’s in your makeup?

The average woman spends more than £12,000 on makeup in her lifetime. I am sure I have spent more! But what is the truth about cosmetics and their ingredients? Do you know how to read your labels? What really goes into makeup and why you should care?

The conventional beauty and personal care industry is minimally regulated in America, more so in Europe. Over the years, the US has banned 22 chemicals outright while the EU has banned 1,300 chemicals. One study looked at heavy metal levels in lipstick and found that women who apply lipstick two or three times a day can ingest a significant amount of cadmium, aluminium, chromium, manganese and lead. In 2007 lead was even found in Burt’s Bees tinted chapstick! The worst offenders are pharmacy and department store brands, often used by teenage girls.

In a post-Brexit UK, we are already facing the prospect of lower food standards as we lose the protection of existing European legislation. I strongly believe this is going to negatively impact the cosmetics sector. How, as consumers, can we protect ourselves from undesirable ingredients if there is no proper regulation?

Read the labels on your products carefully. When my patients join the clinic they receive a resource document with a hefty dirty ingredients directory so they can understand what ingredients to avoid for their endocrine-disrupting, carcinogenic, allergenic and toxic properties.

Phthalates, parabens, talc, silicones, Phenoxyethanol, mineral & synthetic colourants, synthetic fragrances, nanoparticles…the list of potentially harmful ingredients found in conventional cosmetics is long and these are just a few examples.

Ingredients to Avoid

Here are some of the most common endocrine-disrupting chemicals you should avoid:

Phthalates are plasticising chemicals. Some appear on product ingredient labels, but many may remain undisclosed, hiding under the term “fragrance.” Phthalates are linked with hormone disruption, asthma, cancer, damage to liver and kidneys, birth defects, decreased sperm count, and early breast development in girls and boys. They can also be found in a wide range of personal care products, from nail polish to shampoo. Phthalates have been linked to reproductive disorders, birth defects, asthma and cancer.

Parabens are preservatives that are used in many cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and food products. They have been linked to breast cancer and reproductive toxicity. They are often present in deodorants & skincare products.

Phenoxyethanol is a preservative commonly found in skincare products, sunscreens and cosmetics. It has been linked to reproductive problems and organ system toxicity.

Synthetic fragrances can contain hundreds of chemicals whose health effects remain mostly unknown but have been linked with cancer, birth defects, allergies, and other adverse health effects. Synthetic musk compounds have even been found in breast milk and human tissue.

Talc is often used in colour cosmetics and powders, and use is linked with ovarian cancer, asbestos contamination, allergies and respiratory irritation.

Colourants can be natural, derived from natural materials like plants, insects, minerals, or heavy metals so may have toxic effects, or even thinking about the bigger picture, mining methods and their sustainability implications.

So how can you find out if your make up is clean? I recommend using apps and websites like Think Dirty, EWG’s Skin Deep & Cosmethics.


Cramer, D. W., Vitonis, A. F., Terry, K. L., Welch, W. R., & Titus, L. J. (2016). The Association Between Talc Use and Ovarian Cancer: A Retrospective Case-Control Study in Two US States. Epidemiology (Cambridge, Mass.)27(3), 334–346. https://doi.org/10.1097/EDE.0000000000000434

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