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Blogs that inspire & educate


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By now you’ve probably heard the stat that the average woman applies hundreds of chemicals to her body every day, and that we absorb 60 per cent of what we put on our skin.


From moisturizer to mascara, you may be risking exposure to less-than-beneficial chemicals when applying your favourite traditional makeup.

That’s why a growing number of women are opting to explore “natural” makeup and personal care products. In fact, the international natural and organic cosmetics industry recorded growth of 15 per cent to around $23-billion US in 2010, and double-digit growth rates are expected over the next few years.

However, figuring out what to look for isn’t easy. Not all synthetic ingredients are harmful, and not all natural ingredients are safe! Then mix in marketing hype like “gentle” and “hypoallergenic” and separating fact from fiction can be downright tricky.

We thought we would provide a few things to avoid when shopping for that new lipstick or eye shadow. This is by no means a conclusive list (you’d be reading for days!), but is a primer on some of the key ingredients and chemicals you may want to stay away from.

Mascara contains several ingredients that may be harmful to our health, such as:

  • Parabens – These mimic the hormone estrogen, which can play a role in the development of breast cancer. Parabens are commonly listed on product ingredient labels as methylparaben, propylparaben, ethylparaben and butylparaben.
  • Phthalates – Phthalates are chemicals that are capable of damaging the kidneys, lungs, liver, and reproductive system.
  • Sodium Laureth/Sodium Laurel Sulfate (SLS) – According to the EWG, there is a concern that SLS can cause irritation to the skin, eyes, or lungs, and a moderate concern for risk of organ system toxicity.

When shopping, look for mascaras that do NOT contain mercury (phenylmercuric acetate and thimerosal) or formaldehyde (pentaerythrityl hydrogenated rosinate, quaternium-15, and imidazolidinyl urea). Natural and organic mascaras leave out ingredients like preservatives, parabens, mineral oil, chemical dyes, and fragrance.

Eye Shadow
On average, eye shadow contains 26 chemicals, although not all are a problem. Two of the more worrisome ingredients include:

    • Crystalline Silica – Crystalline silica can be found in many brands of eye shadow. It is also a carcinogenic when inhaled as well as a respiratory toxin. (Note that hydrated silica is safe and non-toxic, and currently rated a 0-2 by the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Website.  It has not been classified as a carcinogen, and is safe to use in cosmetics and food products.)
  • BHA & BHT – Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) BHA are preservatives used in a number of eye shadows. There have been rising concerns due to animal and human health studies indicating carcinogenicity, endocrine disruption, development toxicity and allergies.

Look for eye shadows that are free from petrochemicals, like acrylates, petrolatum, and polyethylene. For sensitive skin, especially around the eye, natural and organic eye shadow options can reduce irritation.

If you look at the ingredients found in mainstream lipsticks it might leave a bad taste in your mouth!

  • Lead – A 2008 Health Canada study tested 26 lipsticks and found lead in 21 of them. Although lead is prohibited in lipsticks, it is a known carcinogen and neurotoxin. It can cause learning, language and behavioural problems.
  • Coal Tar Derived Dyes – Although many coal tar dyes are prohibited in Canada for use in eye makeup, they are allowed in lipsticks. Coal tar derivatives are used to create a range of eye-catching colours, like the popular Red #40. If ingested, coal tar derived colouring can cause headaches, nausea and skin irritations.
  • Propylene/Butylene Glycol (PG) – PG is linked to possible brain, liver, and kidney abnormalities as well as respiratory and throat irritation, and skin rashes and dermatitis.
  • Petroleum Distillates – Found in lipstick (as well as mascara and foundation) petroleum distillates are a suspected carcinogen.

Truly safe lipsticks are free of the parabens, BHA, heavy metals and the chemicals listed above. In my next post, I’ll be addressing greenwashing and pink washing!

Looking for more resources? Check out these:

Campaign for Safe Cosmetics

David Suzuki Foundation – The Dirty Dozen

Health Canada’s Cosmetic Ingredient Hotlist

Sources for this post: Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, Canadian Cancer Society, David Suzuki Foundation, Environmental Working Group, Health Canada, U.S. Food and Drug Administration


About terra20

At terra20, our story begins with building a home. In 2006, founder Steve Kaminski was building a home for his family from the ground up. While watching a hockey game with friend Bill Stewart, Steve mentioned how difficult it had been to find eco-friendly products, and wouldn’t it be nice if there was a single source eco-department store?Read More Posts By