Cosmetics and other personal care products are usually not the most dangerous items in people’s homes. Nonetheless, they are not entirely non-toxic, either. It’s highly inadvisable to ingest any kind of makeup or personal care product.
Can you die from eating makeup?
When children see something foreign or shiny, the odds are good it will end up in their mouths. Although it’s pretty unlikely that eating makeup will be fatal, some makeup products contain harmful substances that can make people seriously sick.
According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), the U.S. Congress hasn’t made any changes regarding cosmetic legislation since the late 1930s. Because of this, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate any of the ingredients in cosmetic products except for color additives.
What cosmetic ingredients should people avoid?
There’s a pretty long list of ingredients that should be avoided in cosmetic products. It includes:
- Butylated Hydroxy Tolulene (BHT): BHT is a preservative that is often found in lip gloss, lipstick, skin creams and eye shadow. It is not yet known whether BHT is a carcinogen, but the National Center for Biotechnology Information has connected BHT to higher absolute liver weight and higher liver-to-body-weight ratios in both men and women. BHT is found in several brands of cosmetics including L’Oreal, Cover Girl and Revlon
- Color pigments: Some color pigments can cause skin irritation, oxygen depletion and, in extremely rare cases, can even be fatal
- Cyclomethicone: Cyclomethicone is commonly found in hair care products, makeup and moisturizers because it allows certain products to dry more quickly and moisturizers to be more easily applied. Though more research into the hazards of cyclomethicone is needed, the medical community believes it to be toxic to the liver and gastrointestinal system
- Diethanolamine (DEA) and monotaholamine (MEA): DEA and MEA are foaming agents found in many shampoos, shower gels, soaps and facial cleansers; they have been linked to liver and kidney disease and disrupt certain hormones in the body
- Fragrances: Fragrances can contain thousands of chemicals, most of which are synthetic and can cause a wide array of side effects. Fragrances can have all kinds of undesired effects, ranging from mild skin irritation to serious mental health conditions and behavioral problems
- Kohl: Any eye products containing kohl could potentially contain lead. These products are illegal in the United States because kohl is on the FDA’s list of prohibited color additives. People should be mindful of this when travelling abroad, though, especially in the Middle East
- Parabens: Parabens are preservatives and present in all kinds of cosmetics; they are also an ingredient in fragrances. Parabens seem to mimic estrogen and may be associated with breast cancer. Some researchers also believe that parabens may also interfere with the male reproductive system
- Petroleum jelly and mineral oil: Commonly found in eye shadows, lipsticks, shampoos and foundations, researchers believe that petroleum jelly and mineral oil inhibit the skin’s ability to release toxins and disrupts skin function and cell development, which can cause the skin to age prematurely
- Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulfate (SLES): SLS and SLES are foaming agents that are sometimes found in toothpastes and shampoos; they are known to be eye, skin and respiratory irritants, and recent studies have suggested they may be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, which the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has classified as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen”
- Triclosan: Triclosan is often found in toothpastes and lipsticks and should be avoided. According to Mayo Clinic, triclosan “might contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant germs” and may cause liver damage or thyroid problems
Is it safe or dangerous to eat makeup?
There is no context in which eating makeup should be considered safe. While most parents likely worry more about their children ingesting bleach or other cleaning agents, the actual numbers suggest that cosmetics and other personal care products are the most common culprits.
According to the National Poison Data System (NPDS), the “most common” poison exposures in children younger than six are to cosmetics and personal care products. Experts have speculated that the high rate of exposure to cosmetics and personal care items is linked to these products’ attractive scents, which children associate with things like chocolate and vanilla ice cream or berry-flavored bubble gums.
Can you die from eating lipstick?
While the chances of lipstick ingestion leading to death are pretty slim, it’s not completely outside the realm of possibility. Many lipsticks actually contain lead, and in 2012, CBS published a news story outlining the 10 most dangerous lipsticks on the U.S. market according to lead content (in parts-per-million):
10. Stargazer 103 c: 4.12 ppm
9. Maybelline Color Sensational: 4.23 ppm
8. Cover Girl Continuous Color – Warm Brick: 4.28 ppm
7. L’Oreal Intensely Moisturizing Lipcolor – Heroic: 4.41 ppm
6. L’Oreal Color Riche – Tickled Pink: 4.45 ppm
5. NARS Semi-Matte – Funny Face: 4.89 ppm
4. Cover Girl Queen Collection Vibrant Hues Color – Ruby Remix: 4.92 ppm
3. NARS Semi-Matte – Red Lizard: 4.93 ppm
2. L’Oreal Colour Riche – Volcanic: 7.00 ppm
1. Maybelline Color Sensational – Pink Petal: 7.19 ppm
The FDA has stated that these findings shouldn’t concern people because the lead concentrations are so low, but many consumers are wary of any amount of lead. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics pointed out that lead levels build up in the human body over time, and lead-containing lipsticks could eventually lead to significant exposure levels. Symptoms of lead poisoning include:
- Developmental delay
- Difficulty learning
- Hearing loss
- High blood pressure
- Pregnancy complications
Considering the serious symptoms of lead poisoning, it may be wise for consumers to avoid these brands altogether.
Is eyeliner poisonous to eat?
Yes, eyeliner can contain any number of dangerous chemicals and should never be ingested. According to a 2016 Fox News report, eyeliners can contain:
- Carbon black
- Ethanolamine compounds
- Benzalkonium chloride (BAK)
- Prime yellow carnauba wax
- Formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing preservatives
- Aluminum powder
- Retinyl acetate or retinyl palmitate
- Heavy metals
- Titanium dioxide
This is a relatively long list, and not a single item on it is one that belongs in the human bloodstream.
What happens and what to do when a child eats makeup
When a child ingests makeup, the first thing people need to remember is to remain calm; it’s probably nothing to worry about and will likely just result in an upset stomach, diarrhea or a bit of vomiting. Parents whose children ingest makeup should, however, keep a close eye on them, watching for any signs of an allergic reaction.
Signs of an allergic reaction might include swelling of the face, lips or tongue, facial discoloration or shallow, labored breathing. If any of these signs are present, parents shouldn’t take any chances; they should contact a poison control center or seek emergency medical care immediately. If possible, parents should bring the product’s box or container with them and try to estimate how much of the product the child ingested.
What can people do to limit their exposure to dangerous ingredients in makeup?
To avoid exposing themselves to dangerous and unnecessary substances, the first thing people should do is read products’ ingredients labels carefully, and if a product contains anything dangerous, they should seek an alternative product.
People should also be wary of products that claim to be “natural” because, due to a lack of any real regulations, these claims are often baseless.
While the mortality rate from makeup is extremely low, there are lots of potentially harmful substances in cosmetic products that can cause other undesired effects. Indeed, makeup is a buyer-beware industry, so consumers are smart to tread carefully.