• Lauren Kenney

The ugly truth about so-called beauty products

When Taylor Koffel was a little girl, all she wanted to do was dive into her mom’s makeup bag and play with whatever she could get her hands on.


“I always loved makeup, I used to get in trouble for stealing my mother's makeup and smearing her lipstick all over my face,” said Koffel, currently a sales representative for BeautyCounter.


Ahh..been there. The days when we didn’t have a care in the world related to what we were putting on our young faces.


But that's not the case anymore.


The industry is much more transparent now and we have more information. We now know we need to be wary of the ingredients and chemicals we are putting on our skin.


Did you know, there are more than 515 synthetic chemicals in cosmetics that are being absorbed into our bodies every day? Me neither.


As a personal user of multiple beauty products, I deserve the truth, and so do you.


The beauty industry is constantly changing. From new trends to new products to new brands, it can be hard to keep up with knowing each product coming on the market. And, unfortunately, a lot of the time, the makeup industry is not always honest.


Between false product claims, deceptive labeling and marketing trends, and a lack of clean ingredients, it is hard to decipher the truth.


Where it started



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Makeup and the idea of “enhancing” one’s natural beauty have been in existence for centuries. The earliest records of civilization using makeup are documented in Egyptian times. However, the ingredients used were often harmful.


Ingredients such as lead, arsenic, and mercury were once used in the 18th century to help women achieve the ‘standard’ look of beauty. Women would paint lead mixed with water all over their faces to achieve a pale white face. They would also apply mercury to skin blemishes and drop poison in their eyes to achieve dilated pupils.


But there was no such thing as product testing and no awareness for possible side effects that could arise from using products with such harmful chemicals that had dangerous and occasionally fatal side effects.


A woman who applied mercury to blemished skin could have caused birth defects to a newborn, experienced kidney failure, or even death.


Due to this, animal product testing emerged in the 1940s. While a lot of product users appreciated animal testing for its research, animal rights activists and organizations like PETA exposed the cruelty to animals which showed videos of suffering, dying animals.


In the present day, companies such as Beauty Counter, Glossier, BareMinerals, Charlotte TIlbury, and many others have gone entirely cruelty-free, meaning they do not test on animals, but instead test their products in a lab on things such as human cells, synthetic materials, and even sometimes human volunteers.


Although there has been a big shift in the beauty industry to go entirely cruelty-free, there is still a problem with the ingredients that companies use due to the fact that the FDA has not passed any laws regulating ingredients in cosmetics since 1938.


The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938 has been amended many times since its inception. The law began as a 19-page document. Today it is 692 pages. Most of the 692 pages address pharmaceutical and food regulation. The cosmetics-specific section of the bill is still only one-and-a-half pages long. Not very long given the long list of chemicals and ingredients that are being used in cosmetics.


Although the federal regulatory agency has banned certain ingredients such as triclosan which is commonly used in hand soaps, Cloflucarban, Fluorosalan, Hexachlorophene, Hexylresorcinol, etc; they still allow harmful toxins to be added to cosmetics.


These chemicals may not be as extreme as lead, mercury, and arsenic, it might be time for the FDA to take another glance at the law.


If I were to ask if you’re aware of what is inside your beauty products, it’s likely you are not able to determine helpful ingredients from harmful ingredients. What is really in our beauty products and what should be avoided?



What the beauty industry wants us to think



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How often do you actually know and understand what is in the “trusted” products you are putting on your skin every day?


Before joining BeautyCounter, Koffel had to go through several months of training, and product testing before she could hit the ground running.

It was that experience that made her realize how little she really knew about the products she had been using for most of her life.


“In the past, I was unaware of potentially harmful cosmetic ingredients, and I would buy whatever was popular at the drugstore and whatever my friends were buying,” said Taylor Koffel, a BeautyCounter representative.


But, skincare and the cosmetics we use on our faces should be specific to our skin type. Purchasing decisions based on your friends’ purchases is not the best approach. Why? Because everyone’s skin will react differently. It is best to do your own research, ask the experts, and choose products with clean and non-toxic ingredients.


Licensed esthetician Chris Bray, who is often asked by clients what products are best for them, noted that everyone's skin is different.


“I typically stay away from most drugstore and department store brands. I like to keep my clients on more clinical products like Sorella Apothecary. I also always recommended chemical-free sunscreens, such as La Viche, and the Sun Bum collection and I urge clients to use SPF 30 or above on the back of the hands, face, and neck,” Bray mentioned.


Buying cheap makeup seems like the easy way to go oftentimes, but there is a price to pay. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is even when you think you are purchasing a quality product.


Refinery29 just recently revealed that many products being sold online through websites like eBay and Amazon are actually counterfeit products purchased through the beauty black market.


Bray mentioned that experienced this when ordering eye glue for clients’ eyelash extensions via Amazon.


“I discovered that the lash glue I was receiving from Amazon, was a harmful glue that breaks down faster and contains formaldehyde. As the glue breaks down it releases a gas which is not good for your body, so I had to switch up my glues to be more pure,” says Bray.


It seems that as consumers we are really at a disadvantage. But, how often do we come across a product that does what it claims it will do?


“I think that the industry as a whole is highly exaggerated. You’re not going to find a cream that's going to improve reverse skin firmness; you need surgery to do that,” Bray said.

Also, the market can trick us into thinking that if one cream is more expensive than the other, then the more expensive one will work the best.


“Expensive doesn't always mean a better product and overall quality,” Bray said, adding that consumers should pay attention to ingredients instead of the price tag. “You want a product that has no parabens, sulfates, dimethicone, titanium dioxide, and a lot of the silicones are really bad for you. I always say that if you can pronounce it is probably ok.”


Don’t even think about it



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We all need a never-list. What exactly is a never-list? Well, it’s exactly what it sounds like, a list of ingredients that you should NEVER purchase in your cosmetic products. Below are five ingredients from BeautyCounters ‘Never List’:


  • Benzalkonium Chloride: A disinfectant used as a preservative and surfactant associated with severe skin, eye, and respiratory irritation and allergies. Found in: sunscreens, moisturizers.

  • Butylated Hydroxyanisole and Butylated Hydroxytoluene: Synthetic antioxidants used to extend shelf life. They are likely carcinogens and hormone disruptors and may cause liver damage. Found in: lipsticks, moisturizers, diaper creams, and other cosmetics.

  • Coal tar hair dyes and other coal tar ingredients: A byproduct of coal processing that is a known carcinogen. It is used as a colorant and an anti-dandruff agent. Found in: hair dye, shampoo.

  • Ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA): A chelating (binding) agent added to cosmetics to improve stability. May be toxic to organs. Found in: hair color, moisturizers.

  • Ethanolamines (MEA/DEA/TEA): Surfactants and pH adjuster linked to allergies, skin toxicity, hormone disruption, and inhibited fetal brain development. Found in: hair dyes, mascara, foundation, fragrances, sunscreens, dry-cleaning solvents, paint, pharmaceuticals.


What about the packaging?


Aside from a cheap dollar sign, many of the large corporate beauty companies will target certain audiences with their packaging. And even if you are buying a clean product, it’s important to consider if your packaging is ‘clean’ as well?


You know the saying never judge a book by its cover? Well, that goes for your cosmetics too. Sometimes the best things come in the worst packages. But sometimes we don’t pay attention to the packaging at all.


Bray believes that sometimes the packaging is just as important as the product.


“I believe that the packaging has a lot to do with the integrity of the product. A lot of packages are purposely designed to keep air out of the product in order to keep the product itself stable,” she said.


However, most consumers are not even aware of these details.


“When I would be out shopping I never really knew what I wanted/needed. The biggest thing that sold me was the packaging and price point. Really just whatever caught my eye,” Koffel mentioned before beginning her job at BeautyCounter.


So, the next time you're pursuing the beauty aisles at Target, think about opting for that drab container of coconut balm for your chapped lips instead of the pink sparkly concoction hanging next to it. Pretty isn’t everything. Scrutinize the ingredients.


Harvard Health reported that the average woman uses 12 products on her face daily, but just because we have something sitting on our shelf doesn't necessarily mean it's safe.


"Products are tested to make sure they don't cause short-term problems, such as skin irritation. But they're not tested for long-term safety," Dr. Kathryn M. Rexrode, associate professor of medicine and chief of the Division of Women's Health at Harvard Medical School, told Harvard Health.


Whether you want to ditch that drugstore mascara you've sworn by for the past five years or your favorite lipstick that your mother used to use or not, these facts do not lie.

So continuing to use your cult favorites is no harm no foul, try to keep a list of top five NOs the next time you head out to replenish your vanity.


“Have your expectations in check when buying your beauty products. I have found that most of the higher-end products make the biggest claims and almost everyone is disappointed. At the end of the day, just keep your skin healthy, clean, and exfoliated, that's the best any of us can do,” said Bray.


by Lauren Kenney


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