Synthetic or Natural Ingredients?
We’ve all heard the saying “you are what you eat.” But in this article, we want to talk about how makeup can also affect your skin – and why some ingredients might be better for you than others.
A quick look at the cosmetic aisle of any store makes it clear that there is a lot of variety out there when it comes to makeup products. And with so many options available, choosing one type over another can feel like an overwhelming task. The good news is that with a few considerations, you will have no trouble finding something that is perfect for your needs!
The first step in selecting cosmetics should be deciding if you want synthetic or natural makeup. There are pros and cons to each type of makeup, and if you are interested in learning about them, keep reading.
‘Natural’ and ‘synthetic’ are words that refer to a substance or compound, but they mean very different things in different contexts.
Synthetic chemicals have been engineered in the lab. Natural substances occur naturally (duh!). It's important to note that nature doesn't really play by our rules when it comes to making these substances. So just because a compound is naturally occurring doesn't mean it's safe, and just because it's synthetic doesn't mean it could harm us.
Basically, think of natural vs synthetic like this: Natural = Organic (it’s good) Synthetic = GMO (it’s bad)
But it's a little more complex than that…
A big problem with the 'natural is good/synthetic is bad' mantra is that all of us are exposed to chemicals every day, some naturally occurring and some synthetic. Regardless of whether they're natural or synthetic, if they never existed on this planet before we created them in the laboratory, it's a safe bet that they could have unintended consequences on our bodies (e.g. did you know zinc oxide is naturally occurring BUT it does not occur in nature as nanoparticles? When its particle size is reduced to nano, it can penetrate the skin).
Therefore, we should only be concerned about whether or not something is toxic, not whether or not it's natural or synthetic.
It is important to be on the lookout for products that contain heavy metals. Heavy metal toxicity can lead to acute health problems such as headaches, dizziness, and anemia, but it can also cause long-term complications that are less visible at first glance. Unfortunately, these types of complications aren't always obvious or easy to detect when you're young, and they often go unnoticed until they have a chance to do serious damage over time.
The FDA has set a limit of 3 ppm for arsenic in cosmetics, but this is only voluntary. Brands would have to regularly test their products for contamination to know where they're at. In the 2013 survey by the FDA, trace amounts were found in some beauty products including hair colorant and face powder darkener (among others). Some people worry that these limits are not helpful enough because they don't account for cumulative exposure throughout one's lifetime or requirements rather than recommendations from regulators.
On top of these, there are many studies that demonstrate that nanoparticles (declared as nano) can be toxic to the human body. Nano particles are extremely small and can enter cells easily, and this has raised concerns about whether or not they actually reach our bloodstream through regular skin exposure. Studies have found nanoparticles in the blood after inhaling them or ingesting them internally, and many believe that this is a big concern when it comes to topical application as well….especially because they seem to cause damage on DNA level before manifesting themselves into any other visible symptoms.
Formaldehyde is a chemical compound that's been found to be carcinogenic in humans. It can come from natural sources like forest fires, but it's mainly used as an ingredient for cosmetics and personal care products because of its ability to preserve the product without introducing microorganisms.
Health Canada discovered that 10% of the cosmetic and personal care products contained formaldehyde, chemicals that release formaldehyde upon coming into contact with water (including shampoos), and other ingredients which can trigger allergies. The Canadian regulator limits the use of this chemical in cosmetics to 0.2%.
Allergic reactions to cosmetics are common and they're not always caused by the intended ingredients. It could be due to a combination of residual amounts from several different sources, including preservatives, fragrances, or other added ingredients. Usually it's easier to develop an allergy or intolerance if you've been exposed on a regular basis for too long without giving your body a break. If you happen to be allergic, the reaction may show up right away.
Mercury has been a highly toxic heavy metal for decades. The FDA limits Mercury to 1 ppm in most cosmetics, but eye products are allowed up to 65ppm and some skincare products have even tested as high at 30,000 ppm! With no one policing the industry compliance is voluntary (yet if you're not compliant it can lead to serious consequences), so they will only take action after someone reports blatant violations like these shocking numbers of mercury-containing cosmetic items that were found this year with levels of over 10 times what's legal.
If you're looking for safe cosmetic products , there are some things to keep in mind:
Avoid synthetic fragrances – These are one of the most common allergens in cosmetics and personal care products, second only to preservatives. Most people can develop an allergy or intolerance at any time but it's easier if you've been exposed to certain ingredients regularly on a long-term basis, so it pays off to cut them out as much as possible while your body is still healthy.
The FDA limits certain potentially harmful ingredients in cosmetics to 0.02% or less, but this is only recommended as opposed to a mandatory requirement and does not take into consideration cumulative exposure throughout one's lifetime.
Be wary of nanomaterials – Nanoparticles entered the realm of cosmetics in the late 1990's when some companies decided to try them out as color additives in their products. Soon enough, more and more cutting-edge beauty brands were using nanoparticles for anti-aging and anti-wrinkle claims, despite the fact that no extensive testing has been done on whether or not they cause damage on DNA level before manifesting themselves into any other visible symptoms (and there are already plenty of nerve-wracking studies that demonstrate nanoparticles' ability to cause DNA mutation in human skin cells).
Due to the fact that it's not mandatory for brands to provide detailed ingredient lists, it can be next to impossible for you to tell whether or not a product contains nanoparticles. In fact, some products may even contain both natural and synthetic ingredients together (since they are so similar in appearance) and if there is no way of differentiating them on the label, you're stuck with no way of knowing which one of these ingredients is actually present in the formula.
Next time you shop around for safe cosmetics, pay attention to the Leaping Bunny, cruelty-free and sustainably sourced labels on your cosmetics.