Why You’ll Be Healthier if You Give Your Body a Make-up Break

A study by the non-profit Environmental Working Group (EWG) shows that American women unintentionally apply, on average, 168 different chemicals to their bodies each day. Many of those chemicals are dangerous to human health.

* Fragrances are the most common cause of skin problems, like contact dermatitis. They can also trigger asthma, allergies and migraine headaches. Yet more than five thousand different kinds of fragrances are used in our makeup, shampoo, and soap. Fifty percent of all personal-care products on the market contain added fragrance.

* Phthalates are industrial compounds that soften plastic, give perfume its slightly oily texture, and put volatile oomph in hair sprays and nail polish. But research shows that some women who are exposed to phthalates in the normal course of everyday life give birth to male babies with abnormal genitals.

* Parabens are a common cosmetic preservative that, like fragrances, can cause dermatitis and skin rashes. Parabens have also been detected in human breast tumors.

* Triclosan is an antibacterial agent added to soap, lotion, makeup and even toothpaste. Public health officials worry that our excessive use of products containing triclosan is leading to resistance to antibiotics.

No one product contains an overdose of any of these compounds. The problem is that most products contain some of these compounds, and because we’re using so many of these products every day, the impact adds up.

Should we cut back? In his recent documentary The Human Experiment, Academy Award winner Sean Penn makes a strong case that we’re all too exposed to chemicals that can harm our health. We assume that if a product is being sold, it is safe to use. Penn cites solid research claiming just the opposite is true, and encourages people to beware what they’re using — and how much. Manhattan dermatologist Fran Cook-Bolden is totally in sync with that message. As she told The New York Times, “Just two products, a gentle cleanser and a good sunscreen, are enough daily skin care for most people.” In the same article, Dr. Sarah Boyce Sawyer, an assistant professor of dermatology at the School of Medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, agreed, saying she advises all her patients to “…cut down on skin-care products and cut your skin-care budget,” too.

Still, it’s hard to fight the advertising onslaught that bombards women multiple times a day with messages that beauty is not in the eye of the beholder but rather in a tube or bottle of a synthetic product.

What can you do to protect yourself? First, inventory all the cosmetics and personal-care products you use on an average day. How many of them do you really need? How many of them do you apply because you’ve gotten swept up in an irresistible marketing campaign?

Next, commit to giving your body a break. At least one day a week, skip the heavy duty make-up and perfume in favor of little or none. It can be very liberating, and will end up saving you money, too.

Third, when it comes to specific products, get a handle on using less. Here’s how:

Nail polish – Don’t polish every day. Limit to special occasions, apply in a well-ventilated room, and use polish from companies that have eliminated phthalates, toluene, formaldehyde and other toxic chemicals from their formulations.

Hair dye – Avoid dark, permanent hair dyes, especially those containing lead and coal tar. Don’t begin dyeing hair until graying occurs. Go for highlights rather than dyeing your entire head. You can use “color gray” color sticks to treat roots rather than your entire head, as well.

Antibacterial soaps, lotions, shampoos – Use plain soap and water for hand washing. Avoid products with triclosan and other antibacterial agents, which have been linked to people’s increasing resistance to the antibiotics we need to fight disease.

Perfume – Limit to special occasions. When you do use it, apply it sparingly. Rather than spray perfume that you’ll end up inhaling, dab fragrance sparingly on your wrists and behind your ears. Use phthalate-free products made from plant-based oils. You can also make your own.  Dilute essential oils from herbs like lavender and flowers like roses and hibiscus with a little water or body lotion.

Make-up - Choose products made from plant-based or mineral materials that do not contain mercury or lead, phthalates, synthetic fragrances, or triclosan. Save the glamorous eye shadow and the glittery bronzer for special occasions. Natural is in, which means understated and minimalist rather than over the top.

Body lotion – Choose fragrance-free creams and body butters made with organic, plant-based materials. Again, avoid phthalates, triclosan, parabens and other chemicals you really shouldn’t apply day after day.

Here are some other ideas:

10 Natural & Handmade Eyeshadow Shades
5 Natural Lip Balms + Recipes to Make Your Own
All Natural DIY Recipes for Seasonal Skincare




Jetana A
Jetana A11 months ago

This is so obvious that I gave up makeup in 1969 (along with equally harmful bras). Go natural, grrls!

Cindy S
Past Member 11 months ago

wish I could afford natural

Marija Mohoric
Marija M11 months ago


Sue H
Sue H11 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

Amanda M
Amanda McConnell11 months ago

Thanks for sharing

Amanda M
Amanda McConnell11 months ago

Thanks for sharing

Ruth S
Ruth S11 months ago


Danuta W
Danuta Watola11 months ago

Thank you for sharing

Peggy B
Peggy B11 months ago


Crystal G.
Crystal G4 years ago

LOL My hair started turning gray when I was a teenager. AND I am supposed to have dark tones.