I read a great article over at The Universe of Discourse about the 10 questions everyone should be about to answer about science. It inspired this post on 10 things that everyone should know about their cosmetics.
1. What is a cosmetic?
In the United States, the official definition of a cosmetic as stated by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) is
“articles intended to be rubbed, poured, sprinkled, or sprayed on, introduced into, or otherwise applied to the human body…for cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness, or altering the appearance”
This definition includes more than just lipstick, blush and eyeliner. It also includes things like skin moisturizers, perfumes, lipsticks, fingernail polishes, shampoos, conditioners, permanent waves, hair colors, toothpastes, and deodorants etc. Pretty much any personal care product, except soap, is considered a cosmetic by the FDA.
Note that cosmetics are only supposed to alter the appearance. Anything that is “intended to affect the structure or any function of the body…” is a drug.
2. What ingredients are in your cosmetics?
In the United States, all legitimate cosmetic manufacturers follow the guidelines of the PCPC (Personal Care Products Council). One of these group’s requirements is to list all the ingredients on every product sold. Companies also have to follow specific listing guidelines based on the amount of each ingredient in the product. See this post on How to read an ingredient list for more information.
3. Do expensive products work best?
This is one of the most common misconceptions about cosmetics. Price and performance are not related. Some of the best cosmetics you can find are available at your local grocery stores for reasonable prices. The things you buy at department stores or specialty shops have not been shown to work better. In fact, the best scientific research is done by companies like P&G, Unilever, and L’Oreal. The same companies who make the grocery store products. Be careful not to fall for the halo effect.
4. Are there animal ingredients in cosmetics?
While some companies claim mainstream store brand cosmetics are full of animal ingredients, the truth is they aren’t. Most companies have stopped using animal ingredients because they don’t provide much extra benefit and there are suitable alternatives. For a list of animal ingredients that are still used see this animal cosmetic ingredient post we recently wrote.
5. Do cosmetic companies lie to you?
YES and NO. For the most part, large cosmetic companies do not lie to you. Any claims they make about their products are regulated in the United States by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC requires that companies can not blatantly lie about their products. You’ll find many small or internet-based companies do actually lie about their products, but the things you can buy in the stores rarely contain outright lies. However, cosmetic companies are not above subtly misleading you as we describe in this post about how cosmetic companies trick you.
6. Are cosmetics tested on animals?
Despite what you read on the internet, animal testing is still done in the cosmetic industry. And every company is using ingredients that at some point have been tested on animals. It is not something that companies want to do. It is expensive, morally contentious, and terrible for a company’s public image. The incidence of testing is certainly much less than in the past. You can read more at this post we did about animal testing of cosmetics.
7. Do cosmetics cause cancer?
No. At least that’s what governmental bodies, industry regulators and the American Cancer Society conclude based on all the best research available. This is not a thing that you need to worry about. See this post for more about cosmetics and cancer.
8. What cosmetics do you really need?
This depends on what you want. Strictly for health reasons, you need cleansing products like body wash. To have soft, supple skin you’ll need a daily skin moisturizer. To protect your skin, you’ll need to use a product with SPF. To keep your hair from getting unruly, you’ll need a moisturizing shampoo or a daily conditioner. And if body odor is a concern, an antiperspirant, deodorant or body fragrance is needed.
9. Do cosmetics ever expire?
Yes, some cosmetics do expire. OTC products like antiperspirants and sunscreens actually have expiration dates. These dates are based on ingredient efficacy tests. Most cosmetic chemists would recommend getting rid of any cosmetic that is older than 1 year. It’s rare that stability testing is done on products for longer than this amount of time. If you want to know if your cosmetic is still good, see this post on 4 ways to tell if your cosmetic has expired.
10. What is the best way to prevent wrinkles?
The best way to prevent wrinkles is to avoid smoking and always use a sunscreen. For reversing wrinkles, proven treatments include botox injections, plastic surgery, topical retinoic acid, carbon dioxide laser resurfacing, and injections of cross-linked hyaluronic acid. Expensive creams and lotions are rarely effective. One other option is to embrace your changing face and make the most of what you’ve got.
What crucial beauty questions did we miss? Leave your comment below.