Does eye mascara contain toxic ingredients?

Does eye mascara contain toxic ingredients?

Amber Galt, Madison, WI

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has identified many modern skin care, hair care and cosmetics ingredients as hazardous. Such ingredients can be absorbed into the body through the skin, and may be loaded with potential irritants, carcinogens, neurotoxins or hormone disrupters. The potential health problems associated with brand-name cosmetics are many and varied.

Some cosmetics companies throw petroleum distillates, shellac and other preservatives into the pot when stewing up a batch of lash thickener, says Kim Erickson in her book Drop-Dead Gorgeous: Protecting Yourself from the Hidden Dangers of Cosmetics. Ingredients like shellac and quaternium-22 can induce allergies; others, such as phenylmercuric acetate, may cause skin irritation and blisters. Although the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) restricts the use of phenylmercuric acetate, a mercury derivative, cosmetic manufacturers are not required to register with the FDA.

Eye products sometimes contain kohl, which is made of heavy metals such as antimony and lead. Also called al-kahl, kajal or surma, this color additive has been linked to lead poisoning in children and is not approved for cosmetic use in the U.S. However, the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) warns it can be found in imported mascaras.

Perhaps the most dangerous ingredient found in mascara is not meant to be included—bacteria. According to Dr. Andrew Weil, author of Eight Weeks to Optimum Health, airborne bacteria rush into the bottle every time you open it. Preservatives break down over time, losing their ability to prevent bacterial growth that can cause infection and, in rare cases, temporary or even permanent blindness. Doctors and beauty experts recommend replacing mascara every three months, no matter how much is left. Throw it out sooner if it develops an unusual texture or odor.

CONTACT: CFSAN Cosmetics Program,; Dr. Andrew Weil,