makeup health effects
Sarah Biren
Sarah Biren
March 9, 2024 ·  7 min read

How Kidneys, Skin, and Brain Change Every Time You Put On Makeup

The popularity of makeup products today seems to be greater than ever before in human history. Business Wire states that the global cosmetics market reached a staggering $460 billion in 2014 alone. Experts anticipate that the global market for beauty products will continue to rise at an annual rate of 3.8% in the next five years. We’re all witnesses to just how big the beauty industry is. Just thinking about the huge number of beauty products we see today can be overwhelming. Beauty is taking over even social media sites like YouTube, which had a total of 123,164,115 beauty subscribers in 2015. These numbers speak for themselves, and what they’re telling us is that we are becoming a society of makeup junkies.

Enhancing our features – but to what cost?

Decorative cosmetics and makeup brushes on a white background, top view
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Humans have used makeup for at least 5,000 years for the purpose of enhancing features and hiding perceived flaws, such as the first signs and symptoms of wrinkles. And although there is nothing wrong with wanting to beautify yourself occasionally, makeup becomes a problem when it creates psychological dependency. A study carried out by The Renfrew Center Foundation found that almost half (44%) of all women said they felt unattractive without makeup. But the problem with relying on makeup to build your self-esteem does not end there. More and more medical practitioners, scientists, and consumers are becoming increasingly concerned with how makeup affects our physical health.

Read More: Christie Brinkley Says She Has Skin Cancer

The Dangers Of Makeup Products

Make-up brush with pink powder explosion on black background
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All makeup products, from foundations to setting powders, contain a great number of chemicals, some of which may even be dangerous to your health. The way certain chemicals in makeup interact with our skin can lead to skin dryness, flaking, and even allergic reactions. But what is concerning is the fact that these chemicals have the ability to penetrate the deeper layers of our skin and enter our bloodstream. If these chemicals happen to be toxic, then chronic exposure to them presents a significant health risk.

Makeup has been a realistic danger for quite some time now

Make-up brush with pink powder explosion on black background
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A study published in the Journal of Archaeological Science found that the bones of Japanese children from the Edo period contained levels of toxic metals a dozen times higher than the safety threshold. [1] The researchers said that the cause was the use of white facial powder by breastfeeding women that contained dangerous levels of lead and mercury. Another study from 1991 collected samples of kohl eye makeup from third-world countries and found that many samples had dangerous levels of lead as well. [2]  But things don’t seem to be much different these days. A recent study released by the Breast Cancer Fund (BCF) for their project The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics found that almost half of all kids’ Halloween makeup products tested contained banned and harmful chemicals. [3] 

Some of The Harmful Chemicals Found By The BCF Study

hand of scientist holding flask with lab glassware in chemical laboratory background, science laboratory research and development concept
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However, most of these toxic chemicals were found at very low levels and as such should not have immediate adverse health outcomes. Furthermore, makeup can be bad for the state of your skin. Those wondering how to get rid of acne are often faced with the dilemma of wearing or not wearing makeup, as makeup is known to clog pores.


99.995% fine cadmium isolated on white background
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A soft, bluish-white metal that studies have linked to kidney failure, bone disease, and even cancer. Researchers believe that cadmium becomes toxic at levels well below limits set forth by the World Health Organization. [4] The FDA conducted a test of heavy metals found in popular cosmetics (see here). Cadmium was found in several Estee Lauder, Jafra Cosmetics, l’Oreal, Yves Rocher, Revlon, Proctor and Gamble, Mary Kay, and Jane & Co products including powder eye shadows, cream eye shadows, eye primers, and foundations. [5,6]

Read More: Common Blood Pressure Medication May Increase the Risk of Skin Cancer


Selective focus of toluene liquid chemical compound in dark glass bottle inside a chemistry laboratory with copy space. Aromatic hydrocarbon used in petrochemical industry.
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A study suggests that paint-thinner (found in nail polishes) can damage the nervous system and lead to neurological disorders such as dementia. Toluene is found in several nail products as well as some hair dyes. [7,8]


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Benzophenones are used in products to protect against UV light. An article published in Dermatitis, states that benzophenones can cause allergic reactions such as skin rashes and even anaphylactic shock. [9] Benzophenones are found in lip balms, foundation, nail polish, fragrances, shampoo, conditioner, hairspray, and baby sunscreens. [10]


Chemical components on the shampoo label: parabens . A hand holds a blue jar and a magnifier, where the harmful ingredients of a detergent are written in close up.
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These chemicals are added to cosmetic products to prevent bacteria overgrowth. Parabens are potential endocrine disruptors and one study even found the presence of these chemicals in breast cancer tissue, raising further concerns about its safety. [11] Parabens are commonly used in perfumes and colognes, but can also be found in shower gels, and shampoos, conditioners, and lotions. [12]


red, black and white Danger, Contains Lead warning sign
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A heavy metal is present in a great number of makeup products, especially those with pigments, such as foundation, eye shadow, lipstick, and eyeliner. Lead is highly toxic when it enters the bloodstream and has been found to cause neurological disorders, infertility, and cancer. Lead is most commonly found in lip products, including lipsticks, lip glosses, and lip liners. It is also found in hair dyes, mascaras, eyeshadows, blushes, and foundations. In an FDA lab study, lead was found in measurable or trace amounts in every product tested except for baby powder and most lotions. [13]

Read More: 7 Health Benefits of Aloe Vera Body and Skin Will Love


Woman's Hand Using Talcum Powder On Grey Background
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A mineral used in powder makeup, pressed powder foundation, blush, and liquid foundation. The mineral was found to be often contaminated with asbestos, a known carcinogen. According to a review published in the European Journal of Cancer Prevention, there has been a large number of studies linking talc powder to ovarian cancer. [14] Talc is most famously found in baby powders, but it is also present in deodorants, feminine hygiene products, powdered eyeshadows and foundations, lipsticks, and facemasks. [15]


High Fashion model metallic silver lips woman in colorful bright neon blue and purple lights posing in studio, beautiful girl, trendy glowing make-up, colorful metal make up. Glitter Vivid neon makeup
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While most of these chemicals don’t come in amounts that are scientifically proven to cause adverse health outcomes, chronic exposure to toxins from daily use of makeup may be a reason for concern as explained by Julia R. Barrett from Environmental Health Perspectives. [16] If you want to protect your health and your good looks, then reading labels carefully and reducing the amount of makeup you use can protect your health. Consumers have become quite health conscious over the years, and we are seeing a rise in natural beauty products as a result. Examples include Josie Maran Cosmetics, ILIA, Dr. Hauschka, Physicians Formula, and many others. It’s also a good idea to practice makeup-free days, which can significantly reduce your exposure to harmful chemicals that may be lurking in even the best makeup products you own. Another thing to keep in mind is to purchase makeup from reputable companies that sell clinically-tested products, as these are less likely to contain harmful ingredients.

Read More: Want better skin? Try this DIY coconut oil baking soda facial cleanser


  1. Nakashima, T., Matsuno, K., Matsushita, M., & Matsushita, T. (2011, January). Severe lead contamination among children of Samurai families in Edo period Japan. Retrieved from
  2. Parry, C., & Eaton, J. (1991, August). Kohl: A lead-hazardous eye makeup from the Third World to the First World. Retrieved from
  3. Engel, C., Nudelman, J., Rasanayagam, S., Witte, M., & Palmer, K. (2016, October). Pretty Scary 2: Unmasking toxic chemicals in kids’ makeup. Retrieved from
  4. Järup, L. (2002). Cadmium overload and toxicity. Retrieved from
  5.  Hepp, N. M., Mindak, W. R., Gasper, J. W., Thompson, C. B., & Barrows, J. N. (2014, May/June). Survey of cosmetics for arsenic, cadmium, chromium, cobalt, lead, mercury, and nickel content. Retrieved from
  6. Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. (n.d.). Potential Contaminants – FDA’s Testing of Cosmetics for Arsenic, Cadmium, Chromium, Cobalt, Lead, Mercury, and Nickel Content. Retrieved from
  7. Filley, C. M., Halliday, W., & Kleinschmidt-DeMasters, B. K. (2004, January). The effects of toluene on the central nervous system. Retrieved from
  8.  Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. (n.d.). Toluene. Retrieved from
  9.  Heurung, A. R., Raju, S. I., & Warshaw, E. M. (2014, March/April). Benzophenones. Retrieved from
  10. Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. (n.d.). Benzophenone & Related Compounds. Retrieved from
  11. Darbre, P. D., & Harvey, P. W. (2008, July). Paraben esters: Review of recent studies of endocrine toxicity, absorption, esterase and human exposure, and discussion of potential human health risks. Retrieved from
  12. Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. (n.d.). Parabens. Retrieved from
  13. Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. (n.d.). Potential Contaminants – FDA’s Testing of Cosmetics for Arsenic, Cadmium, Chromium, Cobalt, Lead, Mercury, and Nickel Content. Retrieved from
  14. Muscat, J. E., & Huncharek, M. S. (2008, April). Perineal talc use and ovarian cancer: A critical review. Retrieved from
  15. Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. (n.d.). Talc. Retrieved from
  16.  Barrett, J. R. (2005, January). Chemical Exposures: The Ugly Side of Beauty Products. Retrieved from