What Are We Smearing on our Faces?

by Gwendolyn Anderson

Urban Legend vs. Harsh Reality of Cosmetics

Did anyone ever tell you that mascara is made of bat poo? I have to admit, I haven’t heard that since junior high, but I recall it almost every time I contemplate putting on mascara. How about urine in your facial cream? That’s even grosser! Common sense tells us that if these things were true, millions of women wouldn’t be rushing to smear the stuff on their faces. And yet you will be surprised to learn what we are voluntarily smearing on our faces.

Mascara, a cosmetic essential since Ancient Egypt, may have at some point, in some culture contained guano, bat poo, which has a pearlescent quality to it. There is an ingredient in mascara called guanine that is derived from guano. Guanine can also be derived from fish scales, and if it’s in your mascara, that’s most likely where it came from. Guano is a cash crop, of sorts, for its use as an effective fertilizer and an ingredient in gun powder – it would make an expensive ingredient for mascara. If you just consider for a moment the ease and availability of a guano harvest compared to that of fish scales, you can rest easy as you stroke that luscious, thick mascara on your lashes, unless you hate fish.

What about urea in facial creams? Urea, also called carbamide, is an organic chemical compound which essentially is the waste produced when the body metabolizes protein, according to www.wisegeek.com. We excrete it in our urine as well as perspiration. For a long time people thought natural urea was used in cosmetics, and in fact, it is in the list of ingredients on my mom’s facial cream! Urea was also, in 1857, the first natural compound to be synthesized using inorganic compounds. It is made from synthetic ammonia and carbon dioxide, and is still in use today in fertilizers and, among other things, my mom’s facial cream. Again, common sense tells us that using a synthetic variety is a lot more cost effective than harvesting urea from sweat and pee – even from sweatshop workers!

Whereas bat poo and people pee in your cosmetics is a bunch of bunk, there is one urban legend that’s true: lead in lipstick. Lead serves no purpose in lipstick, and you won’t find it on the list of ingredients. It seems that its presence may have something to do with the coloring agents. Whatever the reason, lead is very dangerous, especially when little girls use it to be like mommy. There is no safe amount of lead exposure because lead builds up in the body. At toxic levels, it actually lowers IQ and increases aggression. If you don’t want to grow stupider and meaner, you better start looking for a lead-free lipstick.

In October 2007, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics tested 33 popular brands of lipsticks at an independent lab for lead content. The results: 61 percent of lipsticks contained lead, including products by Loreal and Covergirl. View the report “A Poison Kiss”, to learn which of the brands tested did and did not contain lead.

After researching this article and learning about lead in lipstick, as well as other toxins I’ll mention in future columns, I’ve concluded that I should look beyond the cosmetic counter in department stores and drug stores and seek out some natural alternatives. And fortunately, they’re not all that hard to find. Some 1,244 cosmetic companies have signed a compact for safe cosmetics. Signing companies agree to disclose all the ingredients in their products, comply with ingredient prohibitions and restrictions, and substitute ingredients of concern with safer alternatives, among other safe practices. A complete list of these companies, along with their Web addresses, are found at http://www.safecosmetics.org/display.php?modin=50. It was actually a lot of fun browsing the Web sites of some of the many compact-signing cosmetic companies. I had no idea the variety of cosmetics, skin and hair care products that are available, and many for prices comparable to some of my old standby brands.

If you’re wondering how concerned you should be after reading this, why not get the low-down on your favorite cosmetics? Go to www.cosmeticsdatabase.com and enter the product name in the search bar. If your product has a red button next to it (scoring 7 to 10 on the toxic scale), you really should consider an alternative. Use the advanced search feature to get suggestions on new foundations, lipsticks, etc., that are free of known toxins, and you can search for organic and fragrance-free products at the same time.

Except for those days I stay in my PJs all day, I’m smearing my face daily with a variety of creams and colors. My skin is soaking this stuff up and I had no idea that some of it can be hazardous to my health. Now that I know, I don’t want to be just another pretty face – I want to be a healthy face too.

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4 thoughts on “What Are We Smearing on our Faces?

    1. Kelli,
      Thanks for the comment. I’m tickled pink whenever anyone takes the time to give us feedback – but I have to say, I’m especially thrilled to see you comment! Thanks for the encouragement!

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