Heavy metal makeup

A recent test of makeup found an alarming number of cosmetics containing heavy metals – cumulative poisons that aren’t only bad for human health but that of the wider environment.

Canada based Environmental Defence tested 49 face makeup items including foundations, concealers, powders, blushes, mascaras, eye liners, eye shadows and lipsticks. 

The group then had the products tested for the following heavy metals:


The testing found at least one of the metals above were found in the 49 different face makeup items. On average, products contained four of the eight metals of concern – and none of these were listed on the product labels.

The percentage of items with detectable metals:

Arsenic 20%
Cadmium 51%
Lead 96%
Mercury 0%
Nickel 100%
Beryllium 90%
Thallium 61%
Selenium 14%

While all these metals are prohibited from being intentionally added to cosmetics in Canada, Environmental Defence says there are no accepted standards for impurities in cosmetics.

Heavy metals accumulate in the body and when reaching a certain level can start causing a variety of health problems including cancer, neurological disorders, kidney and renal problems. As far as I know, of the above, Selenium is the only one that is actually also beneficial to human health, but in very small amounts and in a different form. 

While the amounts may be small in cosmetics, given our exposure to heavy metals from other sources, it’s just an additional load our bodies are better off without.

That’s (very briefly) the human health side of things, but what’s it got to do with the wider environment? 

At the end of the day, makeup is flushed down the drain or wiped off with various products and thrown away. This discarded makeup just adds to the stream of other toxins we’re assaulting the environment with.

My views on makeup have changed greatly over the years, partly due to my mother’s death at the age of 50. My mother took great pride in her appearance. Actually, it was a mix of pride and self-esteem issues. She felt she needed the makeup, which is very sad. I cannot remember her ever walking out the door without full makeup (until it was too late). 

While makeup didn’t kill my mother directly, unknown to her and us at the time, she had Bright’s disease – a kidney issue that killed her. The disease wasn’t caused by the makeup, but all the toxins she applied to her skin and hair daily over decades played their role in accelerating her demise.

Ladies, please do yourselves and the environment a favor and look into what you are applying directly to your skin. In relation to lipstick, you’re probably ingesting some of that, so it becomes even more important to ask yourselves “what’s in that product?” when making a cosmetics purchase decision – and bear in mind there are “green” alternatives for most cosmetics.

Guys, we have a role to play in all this too – we need to start complimenting women more on their natural beauty. We reinforce the use of cosmetics by our wives, girlfriends, mothers, sisters and friends if we only tell them how good they look when they use this stuff or take particular note of other women who do. It’s a conditioning we need to break – heavy makeup usage is a facade and a ritual that enslaves some women; literally taking months off their lives just in the time they spend applying it and removing it – and the time they spending working in order to buy cosmetics.

We need to encourage women who use cosmetics because they feel they need to due to the expectations of others (either real or perceived) instead of truly wanting to, to reduce usage or stop buying cosmetics altogether – and in either case, at least raise awareness of some of these issues and that there are alternatives.

Society has set an unrealistic benchmark for beauty and it’s time that changed – for the good of the planet as well as people.

You can download the full Heavy Metal Hazard report on cosmetics here, which also names the brands that were tested.