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Can Makeup Harm Your Skin?

December 13, 2021


Can makeup harm your skin? This is a question people have often asked themselves as they apply pigments to their face and body. Making healthy choices is such a focus nowadays; you’ve cleaned up your diet, started the process of changing your skincare and haircare products to natural brands, but what about your makeup?

Your daily makeup routine would be to cleanse then add a primer, foundation, setting powder, mascara, eyeshadow, blush, and lipstick before you even step out the door to make your way to work. You’ve probably been thinking that changing your makeup for healthy, non-toxic variations will be an annoying task, but have you thought of the damage you could do to your skin if you don't?


Cosmetics are vaguely defined as: a preparation applied to your body, particularly the face to improve its appearance.

Cosmetics is a giant “catch-all” retail category for ALL makeup and skincare products. Various types of cosmetics include:

  • Creams and lotions for face and body
  • Cleansers
  • Makeup 
  • Makeup remover
  • Shampoo and conditioner
  • Hair styling products
  • Perfume
  • Face masks
  • Nail polish

And anything else you put on your skin and hair!


People often talk about having bad skin, but there’s no such thing as bad skin. If you’re having trouble with acne or dry patches on your skin, it’s because your skin is damaged, not bad. So, how has your skin become damaged?

The pores on your skin will soak in whatever you put on them. When you use cosmetics that have chemicals and harmful toxins in them, they can penetrate through the outer layer of the skin (epidermis) and clog your pores.

The pores become clogged because the cosmetics you’re putting on your skin damage it and leave your skin dry or inflamed. This leads to your skin becoming itchy, red, and sore. Your pores must be kept clear to prevent acne, inflammation, and itchy skin conditions.


Phthalates, an ester of phthalic acid, are used in cosmetics as a binding agent. It’s been identified that phthalates are one of the endocrine disrupter compounds found to cause substantial health issues.

These issues can include:

  • Reproductive abnormalities
  • Endometriosis
  • Male fertility problems
  • Skin allergies
  • Asthma
  • Testosterone production levels to drop
  • Premature births
  • Weight gain

Phthalates to avoid:

  • DBP (dibutyl phthalate)
  • DMP (dimethyl phthalate)
  • DEP (diethyl phthalate)
  • DEHP (di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate)
  • BzBP (benzyl butyl phthalate)


Makeup can cause acne in a few ways: not cleaning your skin before and after you wear makeup, wearing makeup to bed, not washing your hands before applying makeup, and not keeping your brushes and sponges clean. 

Makeup in itself doesn’t cause acne, but toxic chemicals in the makeup can cause irritation and block pores which leads acne-producing bacteria to form.

Using your fingers to apply makeup is another way to transfer bacteria from your hands onto your face. Also, your fingers apply more pressure to the skin on your face than a blending sponge or a brush, and this can cause irritation.


Keeping your skin clean is the most beneficial thing you can do for your skin when it comes to adding makeup. Whether you have a daily cleansing routine, or you cleanse after you remove your makeup, adopting a pre-makeup cleansing routine will help your skin to not only breathe but will kill off any bacteria that may be present.


Acne is caused by a bacterium build-up resulting from blocked pores. When your skin isn’t thoroughly cleansed, dead skin cells are left on the skin and make their way into the pores and block them. Once the pores are blocked, your skin cannot breathe, then the bacteria grows on your skin which leads to itchy skin, inflammation, and acne.

If you don’t remove your makeup and cleanse your face, it too builds up and blocks your pores, which leads to acne and dry skin conditions.


Choosing to use natural makeup can help your skin by adding extra nourishment from its natural ingredients. Natural makeup can include antioxidants within their ingredients which help to form a barrier against environmental damage like UV rays, wind, smoke, and exhaust fumes.

The real benefit of natural makeup products is that you’re typically not adding harsh chemicals to your skin, and the added benefits are that they may offerbeneficial nutrients and antioxidant protection for skin.


The toxins in everyday makeup can damage your skin, there’s no doubt about it, though many makeup brands would say they adhere to the safe limits of ingredients that include toxins. But any amount of toxic makeup is not great for your skin and health.

Use a transparent brand of natural or organic makeup to source your beauty products, and read the ingredient labels. Avoid parabens, pthalates, heavy synthetic fragrances, petroleum and mineral oil derivatives, urea, sulfates, products with high amounts of denatured alcohol. (More on these later.)


It’s a common blunder to fall asleep with your makeup still on your face. It’s been a hectic day at the office or you’ve arrived back from a night out and now you're extremely sleepy and don’t want to do anything but jump into bed.

But leaving your makeup on can lead to all sorts of problems for your skin health. Take mascara and eyeliner, for instance, they can flake off and end up in your eyes. If makeup particles get into your eyes, it can lead to eye infections.


Infections on the skin can also occur by not updating your makeup regularly and not cleaning your brushes and blending sponges. Bacteria builds up in your makeup, brushes, and sponges contaminating them, leaving you with a significant chance of contracting an infection or breakouts on your skin.

Any brushes you dip into a container should be clean beforehand, otherwise you can cross contaminate your makeup. Makeup sponges should be cleaned with mild soap after each use and left to air dry. Generally its recommended to clean your brushes on a weekly basis.


We’re all guilty of holding onto makeup that’s past its prime, either because we can’t afford to buy more, or it still has plenty in the bottle. But over time your makeup gathers bacteria and many cosmetics (mascara in particular) can turn after a short period of time.

It’s tempting to hold on to makeup until it’s finished but the increasing dangers of a severe infection are only one more application away.

All makeup has a shelf life, whether it’s natural makeup or makeup that includes chemicals. Here's how long you should you keep these specific types of makeup products:

  • Lip gloss: 2 months
  • Liquid eye liner: 3 months
  • Mascara: 3 – 6 months
  • Liquid eye shadow: 12 months
  • Liquid foundation: 12 months
  • Liquid concealer: 12 months
  • Lipstick: 12 months
  • Liquid primer: 12 months
  • Powder based foundation: 18 – 24 months
  • Powdered concealer: 18 – 24 months
  • Powdered eye shadow: 18 – 24 months
  • Pencil eye or lip liner: up to 3 years


Kohl – Could contain lead unless it’s made from all-natural ingredients of organic charcoal (instead of lead), plant oils, and the soot from various nuts, seeds, and gum resins.

Talc (Magnesium Silicate) – used as a filler in many powdered cosmetics.Testing has revealed that long-term exposure to the chemical has the potential for hazard to humans.

BHA(Butylated Hydroxy Anisole) – a preservative known as anendocrine disruptor, can affect the immune system and reproductive organs.

Urea – is a synthetically made compound produced in a lab and it is widely used in cosmetics. It consists of ammonia and carbon dioxide. Used to boost the shelf life of cosmetics and slow down the loss of moisture in the product. Urea can cause skin irritation and affect the reproductive organs.

Products that can contain urea are:

  • Facial moisturizers
  • Facial cleansers
  • Anti-aging creams
  • Body lotions
  • Eye creams
  • Foundations
  • Shampoos & conditioners, styling mousses and foams
  • Acne treatments
  • Aftershave
  • Lip balm/treatments
  • Mascara
  • Sunless tanning products
  • Antiperspirants/deodorants
  • Cuticle treatments
  • Nail polishes

Sulfates – known as Sulfates or SLS (sodium lauryl sulphate, and sodium laureth sulphate) are the more common ones found in cleansers such as a face wash, shampoo, body wash, toothpaste and more, are known as surfactants. A surfactant has the ability to foam up when water is added to it and they are powerful grease removers. Sulfates are known for being skin irritants, causing dry, itchy skin, and redness.

Phthalates – as we touched on above, phthalates are binding agents in cosmetics. They are known endocrine disrupters.

The above ingredients are used as preservatives, stabilizers, or anti-caking agents.

Other ingredients to avoid are:

Triclosan – harmful to our lungs, eyes, skin, and endocrine function.

Tocopherol acetate – causes irritation to the respiratory tract and can lead to asthma.

Perfume – or fragrance, is a broad term for adding scent to products. Perfume and fragrance as an ingredient can causeupper respiratory tract irritation and affect the natural hormone balance.


Adding harmful chemicals to your body through your makeup can be one of the triggers to the cancer gene. Many chemicals have been found to be human carcinogens - substances capable of causing cancer.

The risk of having cancer is elevated by how long you’ve been exposed to and how much of the chemical has entered your body.

The chemical compounds react with the cells to change your DNA and turn normal cells into cancer cells and multiply at an alarming rate.

  • Coal Tar– various studies have shown coal tar is a known carcinogen and prolonged use can cause an increased risk of cancer. Whereother studies have found otherwise, you may need to decide for yourself if it’s safe or not. Can be found in hair dyes, shampoos, dandruff/scalp treatments, and redness/rosacea treatments.
  • Parabens  mimic the human compound of estrogen. Added estrogen has been linked with affecting the reproductive organs and changing normal cells to cancerous ones, causing breast cancer. Can be found in foundations, moisturizers, anti-aging creams, and products with fragrance in them.
  • Crystalline silica(quartz dust) is linked to lung cancer and has been found in mineral makeup, lipsticks, lip gloss, eyeshadow, eyeliner, foundation, sunscreen, lotion and shampoo.
  • Petrolatum – found mainly in lipstick, an ingredient that can be contaminated with PAH (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) that have been found to be possiblecarcinogens.


  • Never apply eyeliner along theinside of your eyelids. This blocks the oil glands that keep the cornea protected and can lead to eye infections.
  • Never rub or wipe your eyes when wearing mascara or eyeliner, this will cause the product to crack and fall into your eyes, again potentially causing eye irritation or an infection.
  • Never share your makeup with your friends. It may seem like a good idea when you’re all together getting ready for a night out, but your friend may have a cold sore or skin infection you aren’t aware of - and vice versa.

  • Always wash your hands before you apply your makeup. Bacteria can be present anywhere. If you forget to wash your hands you can transfer the bacteria to your face that can lead to a serious skin condition.

  • Always moisturize your skin before applying any makeup. Adding foundation to dry skin only exacerbates a dry skin problem. Using a moisturizing mask or a moisturizing cleanser before applying makeup will help to keep skin hydrated.

  • Always take off your makeup before going to bed.


The ingredients in makeup that are toxic can cause premature aging by drying out the skin and contributing to wrinkles and sagginess. Makeup leaves a layer on the skin that blocks the pores and stops moisture from getting into the epidermis (top layer of skin).

Aging skin can be prevented. Always look at the ingredients in your makeup, if it’s not naturally derived, it may cause dryness, itchiness, acne, and wrinkles.

So, the answer to the question “can makeup harm your skin?” is that no, the makeup itself doesn’t harm your skin, it’s the ingredients included in the makeup that cause harm, as well as poor personal care practices.

But now that you know more about how makeup could harm your skin, you can follow the guidelines here to improve your daily routine and defend the health of your skin.