August 4, 2010

Musings of the Day: The Story of Cosmetics: Toxins in Your Cosmetics

I fear I’m not always conscious of what goes into my cosmetics. Pretty things are my downfall but I’m not always educating myself or paying attention to the ingredients that are in some of my cosmetics, skincare, and fragrance. Honestly, cosmetics aside, everyday products are potentially hazardous to our health as well. Items we depend on daily such as shampoo and deodorant. When I’m slicking deo on, I’m seriously not consciously thinking about how it might increase my risk of cancer, I’m just assuming is safe as can be.

The Story of Cosmetics is a short film by Free Range Studios, in partnership with the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.


Although the film has a “cute” feel, it actually frightened me a fair bit to learn that many personal care products I use daily contain dozens of chemicals which have not been assessed for safety. The Story of Cosmetics hopes to move the beauty industry towards safer alternatives by using green friendly production methods and hopes to encourage the government to create laws that will enforce the use of dangerous chemical ingredients in personal care products.

Wanna Muse with me?

Tell me, how conscious are you of ingredients in your personal care products? Cosmetics? Skincare?

Do you read labels?

Are you paying special attention to what exactly is in your shampoo, your toothpaste, your deodorant?

Do you unconsciously purchase products without paying attention to what might be in them?

How educated are you on ingredients?

Share it!

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About the Muse

Isabella MuseIsabella is just an average everyday geeky girl who doesn’t blend her eyeshadow correctly, wears too much blush, and hopes she never finds her holy grail products because she likes the thrill of the chase so much. Her mission is to bring you super honest reviews on makeup, skincare, fragrance and all things beauty. She’s in no way an expert on the topic and she sure as hell isn’t a super model. But she’s passionate about makeup and is seeking like-minded individuals that like pina coladas, getting caught in the rain, and ones that enjoy spending hundreds of dollars at Sephora without feeling buyer’s remorse. If you’re that person feel free to reach out and leave a comment or follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Bloglovin‘.

Leave a Comment


  • Hithlain

    I’ve known for years that for my shampoo products there is no FDA testing and no real backup to any claims. In fact, many shampoo companies will highly fudge the facts (ie: It makes your hair do ________ when really no shampoo can do that) and there is no policing for the industry.

    It surprises me that there would be lead in lipstick and stuff like that but I have heard things like foundation companies having to replace their mixing barrels every couple of months because the chemicals eat them away. And you are putting that on your face! Scary stuff. Natural makeups aren’t much better because there is no one policing the use of a “natural” label. :/

    I would like the FDA to start testing makeup and these claims. I am not really sure how truthful the claims of carcinogens in makeup are… after all, anything will kill you in large enough doses. It would be interesting to see anyway. In the meantime, I’ll keep wearing my makeup anyway 😉

    • the Muse

      hithlain god that’s scary. replacing their mixing barrels? that’s loco! sheesh! I could be easily scared not to wear makeup every again at this point LOL!

  • Storm

    Muse, please watch the video below:

    Annie uses a lot of scare mongering, but no real science! I made the point to someone that a lot of people are allergic to poison ivy, but some are not at all! Does that mean we should start using it in things? That is the same idea here–a few are reacting to things, lets do away with it! Now, I now you react to bismuth in mineral makeup, whereas I don’t (I had “an itch” for the first day or so and then it went away). But that doesn’t mean it isn’t safe–anyone can react to anything. My father’s sister and mother react to the common grass called “milkweed” in the South, so much so that they were on the verge of needing an epi pen (swollen face, couldn’t breathe). My nephew reacts to a huge list of common things, including fire ants (huge welts at the site of the bite instead of small bumps). This doesn’t mean we should eradicate the use of things.

    Annie’s ideas would take away everything that you can detect that causes cancer. Well, that includes extracts from most fruits, nuts, olives, beeswax, and honey. These are all naturally occurring things that we know to be good for us! We could still go to the store and pig out on apples and almonds drizzled with honey (oh, that sounds yummy) but we couldn’t buy anything made with those ingredients because the stuff that is bad for you (formaldehyde in apples) can be detected down to the parts per billion!

    Now, I’m pretty picky about things and I’m well aware of what is in things. So far, no solid research has linked cancer to anything in our products–the video about makes it clear where her research went wrong. But if this bill passes, we can no longer be well aware of what we’re putting into out bodies, because companies that ARE trying to actively go green and use natural products would be pushed off of and out of the market.

    We *do* know certain things hurt us: The Sun, cigarettes, drugs, asbestos, certain meds… but facial soap? No link, yet. I’m pretty picky about certain things, like I said. I’m moving away from non-stick pans and back to stainless steel, copper, and cast iron, because non stick pans are only safe for use if the cooking surface isn’t damaged. Over time, this surface *does* become damaged and you have to replace the pan/be careful about honestly toxic chemicals being released into your home. Moth balls are still on the market after it has been shown to cause breathing issues for humans and animals (you have to use them in certain places, that is all).

    Remember, this bill would have stricter testing for cosmetics than the testing for FOOD. The FDA already has restrictions in place, but the INDUSTRY is the one that takes the most initiative! When we know a certain type of pill causes issues, it is not pulled from the market until the FDA says so (I pointed out all the “supplements” and “cleanses” you can buy off the TV that are not FDA approved for use, but aren’t illegal). However, the cosmetics industry is VERY proactive, and if something is found to be an issue, they take it out when they can, before the FDA requires it–Big 3 in nail polish is my favorite example. The three chemicals are illegal to use in the USA, but most companies have Three Free products.

    *Storm, off the soapbox*

    • the Muse

      I’m still reading your comment storm and watching the video you sent, must give you a round of applause for such an outstanding comment babe!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Karrie

    I think the FDA should do makeup testing because it is their job to protect our health and safety regarding cosmetics. It says so on their website.

    But I don’t really care for little movies like this.
    They are too general in their statements and may cause an unnecessary panic.

    I do look at labels, but sometimes some ingredients are just a mystery to me until I can go home and google it.

    • the Muse

      ditto karrie. Sometimes I don’t look tbh and occasionally I do but most times it’s a mystery unless I am googling in store or at home.

      • Storm

        If they list all ingredients/parts of ingredients–that will be insanely confusing!

        • the Muse

          agreed storm. and plus, the average consumer is not well versed on much of this stuff. They just want to go to the store and buy deo without worrying about what’s IN it.

          • Storm

            Right, which is part of what this law is advocating. I’m a-ok with that. HOWEVER, the FDA already tests and approves dyes and other ingredients. I don’t believe they test finished products, but they do test ingredients. And so far, very little has been removed from the shelves by the government.

  • Storm

    The Mr. will tell you (well, if he read your blog he would), that I’m a lot of fun until you make me mad. Nothing gets under my skin like bad science and people threatening my makeup ;-D (Oh, there are plenty of others….) Thank you for the compliment. Here comes more?

    We’ve known for centuries that apple pips contain cyanide. But did you know that cherry, apricot, and peach pits do too? The last two could actually be harmful IF you pulverized it and ate it. (But who among us has ever eaten a peach pit? They’re HUGE!) Another fun fact: tapioca (the cassava root) contains a greater amount of cyanide and *is* harmful if not processed correctly. Natural products can be dangerous when used incorrectly. But I’ve never met anyone REPUTABLE in the industry that didn’t research all of their products. As consumers, we have to be active about researching what we buy and we have to be careful about the sources we use–too many are copy and paste, wrong, or use bad science. (I’m in grad for my English and Education M. Ed and I know all about reputable sources.)

    Someone said, “Nobody heard of cancer until the 80s” on the video response list. Well, sugar plum, nobody heard of AIDS either. But Ground Zero was a gay flight attendant that liked casual fun. AIDS kills more people than cosmetics–and nobody is introducing legislation or more research.

    Hithlain, I’d be interested to know where you heard about companies replacing their barrels and I’m interested to know why. Could it be that they’re using a cheaper barrel? Or a build up of product occurs OR they do so for sanitation purposes? I’m not saying you’re wrong, just that we don’t know for sure if that is the case. Also, remember that those barrels have a lot more product in them then you or I will ever put on our face and that they’re *probably* subjected to heat of some kind. As far as the lead in the makeup goes, please watch the video as he points out that Annie compares it to the parts per billion approved for CANDY, which will be eaten in larger amounts than lipstick. You are right that a lot of claims are not “true” about shampoo and such, which is why there are disclaimers. But, as I pointed out, there are commercials for remedies that aren’t approved. There are vitamins on the shelf which you don’t need and have been shown by true studies t be dangerous, yet the big companies don’t recall them. There are more recalls in children’s items (toys, clothes, car seats, cribs) and the automotive industry than in personal care. I’m not saying those industries aren’t safe–but how do you put a car seat out SO OFTEN that has to be recalled? There is rigorous testing for that and there is for the Cosmetics Industry. It has gotten safer over the years: remember, we’re no longer burning matches to smear as eyeliner.

    *Storm, off the soap box again…*

    • the Muse

      LOL Storm you are SO well versed on this topic 😀 <3!!!!!!!!!!!

      • Storm

        My brother is a lot older than growing up all I had to do was read/go to the library. It comes in handy now!

  • Rosalie

    That video is freaky for sure, but like Storm pointed out, maybe the law Annie seems to want in the video is a bit too strict. Seriously, cosmetics being more controlled that food!?

  • jenna

    *sigh* i’m horribly careless about the ingredients in my products…
    i know i REALLY should better educate myself but frankly i could be easily swayed to slather any beautifying product on my face if it promises to whiten, brighten, blush, plump, scent, or smooth me! and if it succeeds at doing such things i’ll sure as heck continue to slather!!
    i’ve tried reading paula begoun’s beauty bible and i found it quite overwhelming and boring. i really appreciate that people are out there looking out for the safety of us beauty junkies! i’m just saying i don’t have the capacity to learn it all myself.. i know i know bad me!!
    i tried to learn about the safer ingredients for shampoo and conditioner so i could maybe educate myself enough to find a good quality bargain shampoo rather than my pricey Aveda and there was a lot of talk about sulphates and sodium laurel and sodium laureth and i just got confused and frustrated and went out and bought the most expensive stuff i could get my hands on hoping it would be the safest.
    of course i’m really happy with it which is why i continue to live by “you get what you pay for”. i’m not proud of being an uneducated beauty snob but i totally AM!!!
    any other beauty junkies living in the bliss of ignorance?

    • the Muse

      i fear the same jenna. even Lush has some parabens in it so if you go that route you’re still in the same boat. It’s difficult figuring out what is and isn’t good for you 😛 LOL I’d say I’m living in ignorance bliss most days jenna 😀

      I think it’s fairly common. People just want to go and buy something, they don’t want to have to worry about whether it might, god forbid, make them sick!

  • Nia

    Thanks for running this! I think this should be discussed a lot more. A lot of people do not know what they are using every day. And a lot company pretend to be “organic” or “natural” and are in fact not really.

    My recent experience was with Aveda, when I walked up to them and asked them if their products contain silicones. The claimed “of course not” and I happily bought. Just recently I learned that they were lying to me and they contain silicones, even the worst one.

    You as a customer have rights, but sometimes you need a degree in chemistry to understand the list of ingredients. And you need to be very informed. It would definitely help to not allow brands to call their products organic or natural, even if they are not. We can influence a lot, but if we are not informed, we are taken advantage of.
    With so many things, the right thing to do is a good compromise.

    I have sensitive skin and therefore only can use certain face creams. But I am sure we miss an awful lot.

    Let’s all be a bit more critical and ask the cosmetic companies some questions about their ingredients and I am sure some things will change. And us being more informed let’s us make more informed decisions.

    Again, I love that you were running a story like this 🙂

    • the Muse

      aw so glad you enjoyed this post Nia 😀 xoxo! Mmm I’ve noticed brands tend to say no silicone and if you google turns out yes indeed they do. particularly hate this with hair care as silicones causes havoc with my hair!

      • Nia

        Same here, I have straight hair and with cones I look like a the Scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz.

        What annoys me was that she lied to me. Me not telling is another thing, but lying to my face is not acceptable.

        It’s really great to read that so many people are indeed looking at the labels and have an idea what they want or not. And we do not need to become experts over night, once every while a look at a label and checking up on it will help.

        • the Muse

          nia could be she didn’t lie but DIDN’T know. I find reps are not very knowledgeable sometimes 🙁

          • Nia

            Yes, I thought so too.
            Which in a way makes it worse, as they think their people are not clever enough to really inform them.

  • Phyrra

    Ug! That video is a bunch of crap! (no offense) It’s fear mongering, trying to use scare tactics! ‘AMG A TOXIC BABY!’ That woman didn’t do her homework, and used a bunch of half truths to make an emotional appeal to her cause and scare people.

    Yes, everyone should pay attention to the ingredients in what they’re using, but that stupid bill for the safety of cosmetics is only going to end up driving all sorts of indie companies out of business.

  • clementine

    Ahh, yeah, this thing again, hahahaha…

    It’s kind of interesting that Annie Leonard wants the cosmetics industry to be transparent, but honestly? If you’ve ever tried to look up even basic science articles, you know that there are a ton of competing claims about pretty much every “mystery chemicals.” It there weren’t any, they wouldn’t be mystery. So really, you could probably find support for any argument you want to make, and they could very well all be from legit sources.

    Likewise, it’s easy to throw a bunch of chemical names out there and call them scary, but that in and of itself is just preying on people’s general lack of knowledge about science. If tests were all perfectly conclusive, there wouldn’t be a need for so many labs and scientists to begin with. There are very rarely any guarantees for these things either way. As Storm said, people eat vitamin supplements all the time, yet studies have shown that taking vitamin E supplements will actually SHORTEN your lifespan. Ingesting them normally in food is much more helpful… but how many people bother to look that up? People have done worse things to themselves in the name of health; if you think make up is scary, what do you think goes into all your medicines?

    Anyway, there’s also a lot about cancer she doesn’t mention, like how it’s really kind of a normal part of life. As you get older, your DNA mutates and your immune system weakens, and that’s going to cause cancer. Do carcinogens help? Probably not. But on the other hand, you can’t get more toxic than chemotherapy, and that’s supposed to be the treatment.

    The key to healthy living is really to eat well, exercise, and and not overdo anything. The stuff you ingest is going to affect you much more than anything you put on your skin. Make up may not be 100% safe, but neither are microwaves, laptops, televisions, and cellphones. Doesn’t stop anyone from using those, though, right?

  • Heather / Eyeconic

    Storm is right, that lady’s full of shit. It’s just an elaborate attempt to blindly scare people into supporting the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, which would be AWFUL. Ridiculously strict testing for cosmetics would mean all the small companies that I like to shop from would have to shut down, they can’t keep up with that stuff in the way big companies can. It’s ridiculous- using baby shampoo on your baby is not going to cause a bunch of problems. Get real, Annie.

    • kiwikiwidragon

      Amen heather, a woman who is fighting this measure owns Great lady and a real fighter for the small crafter and the supply houses that would also be hurt by this poorly written legislation, it was active in 2008, but was tabled when the baking system crashed, but now its back with a vengence huh?

  • Ashley

    Sometimes I wish cosmetics weren’t even invented… I KNOW I said something sinful but it causes more drama than the cast of Jersey Shore!
    I tried paying better attention to my beauty products but it’s just really hard. I’m allergic to some natural ingredients AND chemical ingredients, so what’s the point? I’ll just use both. I do wish cosmetic companies tried a little harder to make cosmetics safer for everyone but our bodies are different & we react to diferent things. I care more about what goes into my body rather than what’s going ON my body.
    I mean, has anyone seen that one CSI: NY episode where this model was completey painted in body paint that was was laced with loooooads of ecstacy? The model died because her body absorbed all of that ecstacy! It takes a lot of body paint + ecstacy to kill a person if they’re painted in it but it takes 2 PILLS to kill a person. The fact is, overtime if you leave enough cosmetics products on your face you MIGHT die but more importantly, one chewed up peach pit can kill you. Ha I learned from CSI: NY that one crushed peach pit can produce enough cyanide to kill someone. It was a really good episode… I’m glad Storm brought that up cause I don’t think anyone watches CSI: NY but me 🙁
    I’m not saying (all) but some consumers should grow a brain & stop advocating natural over chemical or trashing companies about the ingredients in their products. Most of them don’t even know what they’re talking about, they’re like cyborgs who listen to only people like Annie. As customers we should educate ourselves in schools (not Google & Wikipedia) if we want to know what’s good & bad about the beauty products we’re using.

    • Storm

      It wasn’t from CSI! LOL It was from some book years ago…and my odd interest in spies (which would also make a good collection!).

      You’re right, there may be lead in a product, but we’re more likely to get sick from eating tainted food (peanut butter, anyone?)

  • mav

    this sure is an interesting post! i think all annie is trying to do is scare people. I watched the video that storm had commented about and that was amazing 🙂

  • Dana C

    Muse Baby,

    Let me explain to some of the things “about toxins in beauty products”. First off all good companies like L’Oreal Brands, Revlon etc all have Safety departments. Every formula I make goes through a safety test for the individual ingredients and the final formula. We follow the food and drug administration which is enforced by the FDA. Therefore all things we use are safe! We also do testing on humans before any product is launched! Also a lot of the ingredients have been around for decades and have been shown to be safe. Lastly, you are taking about products are your skin and not ingestion products. Beauty products are designed to only interact with the outer layers of your skin which is dead and gets sloughed off in a couple of weeks. Please reconsider your side.

    Mind you they tried to pass this act in 2005 and it was turned down. Let me list some of the effects that this could have on the industry

    All products will be required to go through extensive testing for ingredients of lead for example. I think lead should not be in any product. However, it has been shown that lead appears in lipsticks but at 0.0001%. It is usually due to the metal containers they are made in. You eat more metal and iron from cereal than makeup.

    Companies that cannot afford to have every batch and every formula testing will go under. So your small favorite companies that you love so dear like “Isle of Eden” etc will go under. All some businesses.

    The safe cosmetic acts claims that there are toxins etc. However they have no proof and there is no scientific data that suggests so. If there were it would not pass the safety department.

    The act would require that all companies the sell, distribute, make etc beauty products would have to register with the FDA. Which ones again small companies cannot afford.

    Also in this act the ask that all hair dyes be removed from the market. I do not know about you but I like my hair dyed and I bet people who have gray hair would not like it to be shown.

    Just remember the ingredients in formulas have been used for years, undergone safety testing, human testing, and they only interact with outer dead layers of skin. Lastly we follow the FDA so if you want to get upset with cosmetics then you should be upset with food because the same dyes and preservatives that are in food are in cosmetics.

    Sorry this issue just bugs me. To think that these non governments groups think that we would intentionally put carcinogens in our products and then give them to family and friends is absurd!

    • the Muse

      oh my god Dana I loved your comment 😀 no reason to apologize 😀 this is why I created the post, to invite open discussions about it! Great comment!!!!!!!!!!

    • Storm

      Oh, this whole hair dye thing is not going to fly. My mother refuses to let go of the bottle–she has been dyeing her hair for years, since the women in our family go gray very early.

      That is something I don’t understand: Why would anyone think making something you put ON your body go through testing that it more rigorous than the testing for food. is a good idea?

      Does anyone know what Annie’s objective is/why she is on this horse?

    • clementine

      And also, I mean… You can’t make a longterm profit from hurting people? For obvious reasons, it’s bad for business. Besides, harming consumer health would also prevent them from spending; I mean, let’s face it: if you really got sick and needed to pay hospital bills, the first thing to go would be luxuries like fashion and make up. If anything, I’d think big companies want to keep their customers around forever, because then you can keep buying their products!

  • Kyunghee

    i use all natural castile soap for my face, hair, and body. im currently using an organic moisturizer that is free of sls, parabens and petroleum. i learned about the cons of harmful ingrediants in our personal care items, and i freaked out so i went all natural as much as i can.

    as for makeup, i use whatever; lol i love makeup too much.

  • Dana C

    Sorry Muse. I know that you have not taken a side. Its just a “shockumentary” and it just bugs me.

      • LorraineER

        Agreed. Trying to sway people with misleading statements and cartoon babies being poisoned is crap. The thing is, I’m sure there will be people who believe every word without doing any research of their own.

  • Bora

    I’m afraid that Annie Leonard holds absolutely no credibility with me at all. This video insults my intelligence with its lack of facts and dumbed down rhetoric. I *do* agree that as consumers we should take responsibility and for the cosmetics we use and what we put on and in our bodies. It’s up to us to research and avoid hazardous chemicals. But this video is just scaremongering without purposes. Frankly I think the word “toxins” should be banned from this conversation. Tell me, what the hell is a “toxin”? It’s not got a clear definition but yet Annie Leonard throws it around in the video without any thought? Does she mean “poison”? Obviously not, otherwise she would be accusing the companies of poisoning and killing us which clearly has not happened.

    It’s so easy to point the finger at cosmetics companies: after all they’re rich and making money off us. But if anything, I think we’re more at risk of poisoning ourselves with our behaviours than anything we put on our skin. The risk of pouring pints of the “toxin” alcohol down our throats at the weekends, slipping down the stairs and ending our lives is much higher than a shampoo that stays on my scalp for less than a minute which I rinse off.

    There are some good points in the video (I didn’t realise that the industry was completely self-regulated for example) that are worth taking up separately but overall the video comes over as dumbed down political propaganda for Annie Leonard to ride herself towards legislative change so she can claim another victory for HER cause (not ours). I’ll bet her so-called worried “consumers” will be the first to complain if her changes are implemented the price of our “toxic” shampoos rise.

  • kiwikiwidragon

    this is such a difficult topic, some things are right, some are wrong, but most are opinion based. I will agree that some chemicals/additives are harmful, but everyone is different and exposure to said chemicals and an individuals reaction to products are different. preservatives, chelating agents, surfactants, and etc, etc. I am not going to rant or rave, its too broad based. Bottom line is the FDA is very concered about medicine and food safety and that will take the front row all the time. They also will make sure a product won’t make you blind from the first usage and that it doesn’t make false claims. beyond that what causes cancer, is harmful, or considered a hormone interupter is still under research. its a long process that takes years. How many people took Accutane even though the side effect list was a mile long? Did you expect that it would be harmless? it’s been pulled from the market and now the class action suits are flying this way and that. who is to blame in that situation? the fda? the doctor that distributed it, the patient that took it that could more than likely read all those side effects. a presciption was written for my husband years ago, after i read some of it, there was no way he was going to take that, he could live with the zits instead of the alternative which was a whole host of bad things.
    there is no easy answer, its a free country and there will always be less than healthy alternatives and its all in the personal choice.

  • kiwikiwidragon

    preservatives are a neccesary evil, without them, lotion would grow bacteria in as little as 24 hours.
    I purchased products from a company called daisy blue naturals, they boast no preservatives, all natural, blah, blah. Now, I also make my own lotions and scrubs and such. Preservatives suck, but those lotions from that company made my legs hot, bright, red and painful to the touch, like a sun burn or a bad spanking, the lotions i make don’t do this and they are all natural, same with burts bees and several others. Something was wrong in this product line. they are essential to lotion and cream lasting in your car or not giving you an eye infection. water is very unstable and that is what causes germs to grow. it sucks, but its true

  • Selenite

    Has anyone ever noticed that when people like this talk about “toxins” the actual toxins are almost never named? Strict regulations on cosmetic safety: yes. Scaremongering and half truths: no.

  • SJG

    The most ridiculous and asinine thing about this whole video (and there are lots and lots) is that Annie L paints herself on her other videos as a proponent of sustainability and reducing your carbon footprint, which basically means “don’t buy more than you need or can use.” Scaremongering such as she is doing flies completely in the face of that concept. By freaking women out about their cosmetics and problems that don’t exist, she’s in effect saying “toss your current products right now because OMG TEH CANCERZ and buy new ones.”

    As many people mentioned the companies who would be most hurt would be the small independent ones. Call me crazy but I think that right now the USA has other things to worry about.

  • Ashley B

    I think I’ll just use what I’ve been using. Live hard, die young, leave a beautiful corpse. Bury me in my Urban Decay!!

  • Angela

    I’m joining this discussion a little late (behind on my blogroll!) but I wanted to throw in my two cents. Everything about this video screams fearmongering and bias. I get so riled up about this topic and how many people are misinformed by baseless and illogical arguments. I’m glad to see that other readers of your blog aren’t fooled by this (and have made arguments better than I ever could have), because this definitely isn’t the case in some other blogs I read.

    I’m tired of hearing words like toxins, carcinogens, and chemicals thrown around. Anything that has a definite chemical structure is by definition a chemical, including water.