Cartoon drawing of a woman in a bathroom, with skull and crossbone flags on all her cosmetic items.

Photo credit: Story of Stuff Project

A couple of days ago, dreaming of summer and the beach, I stopped by the MAC counter with my girl Eesha to pick up some waterproof eyeliner. It may only be March, but I am prepared for a hot sweaty beach, dammit! Waterproof eyeliner requires a serious remover though, so I headed to the drug store and bought something I thought would work well on a recommendation. While in line I noticed that this remover had an ingredient list, and I decided to look up some ingredients on the old internets to see what was up with them. Well, I did not get too far – the very first ingredient I looked up on the cosmetics database had a big, checked box next to cancer. WHAT?

Ok, so I get it – the cosmetics database makes it clear that it’s the ingredient that has been linked to cancer, not products that contain it. And that depends on much I use and how often I do so.  But it sounds kind of scary. And what about the workers at the eye makeup remover factory? How much are they getting dosed?

me, holding a blue bottle of neutrogena oil-free eye makeup remover

Damn you Neutrogena, with your minimalist graphic design that makes it seem like your shit isn't full of junk! Look at that eyeliner though: Day 2, going strong.

I guess I could have looked up in advance what removers out there are a little safer, but I really wish that no one would sell women poison makeup remover on the down low. Once I started thinking about it, I thought about all the products that I use that don’t have ingredient lists, and I almost flipped out. All the makeup I use – ALL OF IT – is apparently full of toxic ingredients. How can I handle making sure I don’t poison myself?  Can this really be on me?

The cosmetics industry and the chemicals used are pretty scary, and keeping track of them is extremely difficult. Even if we have the time, knowledge, and wherewithal to look up every ingredient in all our cosmetics – think about the privilege there – what about the products that don’t have ingredient lists? What about ingredients for which there’s just not enough research for us to know?

This whole thing made me think of a wonderful video that was partially responsible for me even thinking about looking up cosmetics ingredients in the first place: The Story of Cosmetics. It’s from the Story of Stuff Project, and I highly recommend their first video and all the others they’ve made – they are simple, informative, and on-point:

Watch in other languages, or with footnoted script here.

So watch out folks, and pay attention next time you hear about chemical industry regulation. If you can handle it, check out the cosmetics database and search the products that you use, but putting this on individuals is not the solution. Either because we can’t afford the $40 natural makeup remover or because we simply don’t have the time, knowledge or scientific savvy to look up and understand what all this research means, it’s clear that the solution has to be bigger: We need to work to make sure toxic products don’t make it to the shelves. Check out the campaign for safe cosmetics, or get involved with on the side of workers at nail and hair salons – overwhelmingly women of color – by checking out the National Healthy Nail Salon Alliance.

For those of you looking for eyeliner that stays on through showers, swims, and sweat, this MAC liner will really, really do it for you – in this department, it is the shit. Seems MAC doesn’t release the ingredients that go in its stuff, though, so who knows what’s in that. I don’t even want to guess.