Your Complete Guide to Makeup Dangers and How to Avoid Them

Humans have been painting their faces since their earliest days to beautify themselves, to celebrate a religious ritual, to drive away evil or just as part of one’s overall look. Sadly, various makeup dangers have existed for nearly as long. Today the risks associated with using creams and cosmetics are fewer, but one must be well aware of to prevent some diseases, like eye and skin infections. The good news is that observing five simple rules and buying high-quality products with tested ingredients reduces the risks associated with makeup use to its minimum.


A Look at Makeup Dangers Through the Ages

Today, the beauty industry in the US brings over $56 billion a year in revenue, and that number keeps growing. The numbers of the past ages are nearly impossible to find, but one thing is clear, cosmetics have been an integral part of the culture for as long as it existed. The ancient people used natural ingredients, like henna and even crushed beetles to paint their skin and hair for ritualistic and hunting purposes.

Some of the cosmetics used in the olden times (with the early-to-mid 20th century being the latest example) were extremely hazardous. Some of the most notorious makeup dangers in human history are:


Today, the majority of people know arsenic only as poison from science class and crime fiction stories. However, in the beginning of the 20th century (and way before that) cosmetic products with arsenic were lauded for their ability to give ladies the "white pallor" so popular at the time of fair and waiflike maidens.

makeup dangers Arsenic

The funny thing is that renowned Dr. McKenzie’s Improved Harmless Arsenic Complexion Wafers, and other products of this kind, truly worked. This chemical really can make one’s skin whiter. The trick is that the effect occurs because arsenic destroys red blood cells, which are the carriers of nutrients and oxygen. Slow poisoning turns one pale, gaunt, and eventually results in slow and painful "wasting away" and death.

Those who believe extreme makeup dangers to be a thing of ‘extreme past’ should be aware that arsenic wafers remained popular in the 1920s.


Mercury, an extremely toxic metal which causes congenital disabilities, massive organ failure, and death when consumed, used to be an anti-blemish solution a little over a century ago. At that same time, it was also used as a medicine for syphilis.

As dangers of mercury are well-known today, one would think that it’s removed from the beauty industry. However, an FDA report from 2016 states that there are toxic products on the US market even today. The makeup dangers of mercury are as bad as that brought by the pills of old because the skin absorbs the toxin. The only difference is that this type of poisoning goes much slower, which makes it harder to detect.

Deadly Nightshade

Deadly nightshade, also known as belladonna, is one of the most toxic plants on the planet. Consuming it, even in "non-deadly" amounts increases the risks of cardiovascular diseases, gastrointestinal problems, and psychotic episodes.

makeup dangers Deadly Nightshade

via: Melanie Shaw/flickr

Still, women used eye drops with this toxic plant’s extract to dilate their pupils, which was considered attractive in the early 20th century. Judging by the popularity of anime characters with huge eyes in the modern culture, this trend remains.


In the early days of radiation studies, the Curies were unaware of how many makeup dangers will pop out of their discovery. Radium, which made one’s skin radiant, was added almost in every beauty product, from toothpaste to powders. All this took place around the 1920s.


Lead is another toxic metal that was used in makeup since time immemorial. It causes a variety of gastrointestinal and liver disorders. It’s also extremely dangerous to pregnant women and can cause congenital disabilities.

makeup dangers Lead

The saddest thing is that according to the FDA, lead is still used in cosmetics today. Its quantities are small, but do you really want to take those risks?


Parabens, phthalates, 1,4-dioxane, and ethylene oxide are all known and proven carcinogens. Still, they are included (often openly) into a variety of cosmetic products you can buy in any store today. Mostly they are a part of fragrant products, but parabens are a preservative used in almost any cream.

Infection and Inflammation

Skin and eye inflammatory reactions are the main danger of makeup today when the most toxic elements are banned in beauty products. Conditions, like acne, rosacea, blepharitis, and even dry eye syndrome usually occur because of mildly toxic elements in the makeup as well as improper hygiene.

The study Impact of Eye Cosmetics on the Eye, Andexa, and Ocular Surface also indicates that eye creams (retinoids in them) contribute to Meibomian gland dysfunction (leads to blepharitis, dry eye, and potential blindness).

5 Simple Rules on How to Avoid Makeup Dangers in the 21st Century

1. Always Read the Labels

Outright poisons, like arsenic and mercury, have been banned in the beauty industry for over five decades. However, you still need to look out for carcinogens. The majority of elements, like parabens, ethylene oxide, etc. will be listed on the labels, so you can avoid them simply by taking the time to study the ingredients list. Fox News has a complete list of makeup dangers to look out for on the labels.

2. Clean Your Skin, Eyes, and Brushes Thoroughly

makeup dangers Clean Your Skin, Eyes, and Brushes Thoroughly

Never go to sleep without removing your makeup with a proper cleanser. You also should use an antiseptic solution to remove any traces of bacteria and wash your brushes and sponges in warm soapy water at least once every two weeks.

3. Never Use Makeup Past Expiration Date

Note that all open eye makeup products, like mascara and liners, expire after three months from the moment you break the seal. Old mascara is the leading cause of makeup-related eye infections.

makeup dangers Never Use Makeup Past Expiration Date

4. Never Share Your Makeup

When makeup comes into contact with your skin, it can get contaminated with bacteria. You never know if the person you are lending it to (or borrowing from) has staph or other nasties.

5. Choose the Lightest Types of Makeup Products and Don’t Wear Them Every Day

Eye makeup, in particular, is to be avoided at least two days a week. If you wear a solid foundation with a high coverage, wash it off right after and apply a lighter water-based product.

Following these simple rules will help you avoid the majority of makeup dangers that still exist today. You also should keep an eye on the news to see which brands are the safest to use.

Do You Know How to Use Cosmetics Safely?

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