Facing the Facts on Cosmetics


Cosmetics is a billion-dollar industry. The allure of a beautiful and perfect appearance promises romance, popularity, and acceptance and draws customers to a sea of choices at cosmetics counters around the world. But what do they really deliver?

While not magical, cosmetics can help keep your skin clean and feeling moist and soft. They can also make your skin look smooth, protect it against dryness, and close pores, which all help to create a healthy, rosy glow. On the other hand, beware of cosmetics that contain heavy oil-based moisturizers; they can cause an acne-like skin condition. If you have had such a reaction, you should switch to a water-based moisturizer with the label non-comedogenic, which means it doesn’t clog pores.

Cosmetics contain ingredients from both nature and the laboratory. One popular ingredient that is well advertised is aloe vera, a plant from the lily family. In very large quantities, it has anti-irritant properties. However, as an ingredient in a skin cream, it has little value. The same is true of vitamins. There is no evidence that vitamins are advantageous when applied to the skin.

Skin Creams

Skin creams are basically emulsions of either oil in water or water in oil. In an emulsion, tiny droplets of one ingredient are evenly dispersed throughout the other ingredients and held constant by “surface-active” agents called surfactants, which lower surface tension. The mixture is stabilized by other ingredients called emulsifying agents.

While there are several kinds of skin creams, all serve primarily to lubricate, soften, and moisten the skin. “Conditioning” creams used to be quite greasy because they contained large amounts of film-forming, fatty substances such as petrolatum, mineral oil, beeswax, spermaceti, and derivatives of animal and vegetable fats and oils. Present-day creams, however, are made to soften and moisten the skin rather than to lubricate it. Moisturizing creams are rich in substances that hold water and reduce evaporation. Their use softens the horny layer of the skin. Lanolin derivatives are effective moisturizers. They are treated to form an odorless, light-colored product containing about 25 percent cholesterol. This won’t be a problem for your heart unless you eat it.

Foundation creams have many of the properties of moisturizing creams but are designed to provide an undercoating for facial cosmetics such as powder and rouge. So-called “vanishing” cream is a greaseless foundation made with stearic acid, which gives a pearly appearance when it is combined with an emulsifying agent. To match various skin shades, vanishing creams are often tinted with pigments such as ocher, sienna, and iron oxides. They are given an opaque quality with agents like zinc and titanium oxide. At high concentration levels, the pigments and opacity agents will hide “blemishes” such as birthmarks. Bleaching agents are sometimes added to vanishing creams to lighten freckles and other brown spots.

Cosmetic Safety

Overuse of some cosmetics can cause allergies or other skin problems. If you have a skin rash that comes and goes, check for ingredients in your cosmetics such as fragrances and preservatives. Even if you have used a cosmetic for years without any problems, you can develop a sensitivity to one or more ingredients.

Using hair spray near heat or fire, or while smoking, is asking for trouble. Until hair spray is completely dry, it can ignite and cause serious burns. Also, inhaling aerosol sprays or powders can cause lung damage.

The most common injury relating to the use of cosmetics is from scratching the eye with a mascara wand. Eye infections can result if eye scratches go untreated. Such infections can lead to ulcers on the cornea, loss of lashes, or even blindness.

Some Safety Tips to Follow:

  • Never apply mascara while riding in a car, bus, train, or plane.
  • Never share makeup. Cosmetics become contaminated with bacteria that the applicator picks up from the skin.
  • Wash your hands before using makeup. This will help prevent exposing the makeup to bacteria.
  • Remove all makeup before going to bed. If mascara flakes into your eyes while you sleep, you might awaken with itching, bloodshot eyes, and possibly eye scratches or infections.
  • Keep makeup out of sunlight to avoid destroying the preservatives.
  • Don’t use eye cosmetics when you have an eye infection.
  • Throw away any makeup you were using when you first discovered the infection.
  • Never add any liquid to a product unless the instructions tell you to.
  • Throw away any makeup if the color changes or if an odor develops. Preservatives can degrade over time and may not be able to fight bacteria.

General Skin Care

Skin care begins with cleansing. Facial skin generally needs washing more often than other skin because it is oilier. People who use cosmetics have to wash their faces more often. Facial skin can usually take two or three washings with soap and water each day, but body skin fares better with no more than one.

There is no rule that says everyone must bathe every day. Daily bathing is normally not necessary unless some unusual condition exists. The secretions of sebaceous and sweat glands do collect on the skin, however, and decompose as bacteria act on them. The result may be an unpleasant body odor. Antiperspirant deodorants control perspiration and odor. These products are available as liquids, creams, lotions, sprays, sticks, or powders. Some disperse sweat into surrounding tissues before it can reach the skin surface; others block the surface opening of the sweat glands. Antiperspirants usually contain antibacterial agents to control odor.

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