What’s in Your Makeup?

Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on October 13, 2021
photo of mascara

If you wear makeup, you may want to know what’s in it. All makeup you buy should have the ingredients listed. But you’ll have to know how to read the label.

Here are words and phrases you might find on a makeup label:

D&C black No. 2 and other color additives. These ingredients that give makeup its color need FDA approval for use near the eyes. Many of the ones that require the agency’s nod start with “D&C” or “FD&C” followed by a color and a number.

Hypoallergenic.  Products that earn this label are supposedly less likely to cause an allergic reaction. But the term is not a guarantee that you won’t have one. There are no federal standards or definitions on the use of the term to ensure that these products are less irritating to sensitive skin than others. “All natural” or “organic” products may still cause allergic reactions, too.

Alcohol-free. In cosmetic labeling, the term "alcohol" alone refers to ethyl alcohol. “Alcohol-free” means the product does not have ethyl alcohol. The product may have other alcohols, such as cetyl, stearyl, cetearyl, or lanolin alcohol. These so-called fatty alcohols have different effects on the skin than ethyl alcohol does. Isopropyl alcohol, which you may think of as drying the skin, is rarely used in cosmetics.

Cruelty-free or not tested on animals. Although this implies that the product has never been tested on animals, at some point, most ingredients in cosmetics have gone through testing on animals. Look for the words "no new testing" or "not currently tested" to show that this product doesn’t use any ingredients that required additional tests on animals. Keep in mind that there is no legal definition for these terms.

Noncomedogenic. These ingredients are less likely to clog pores and cause acne.

Shelf-life (expiration date). This refers to the amount of time a product remains fresh and safe to use under normal conditions of storage and use. Storing cosmetics in warm, damp places, like a bathroom, can lead to earlier expiration.

What Else Is In Your Makeup?

It's easy for germs to make their way into your mascara and other makeup. Do not share mascara with other people. If you do, you will swap germs and make infection more likely.

Never add water or your own saliva to dried-out mascara. Doing so adds germs. It's best to throw mascara away after 3 months.

Also, make sure you remove your mascara before you go to bed at night. Mascara flakes can fall into your eyes while you sleep and cause an infection.

Show Sources



National Institutes of Health.

FDA: "How FDA Evaluates Regulated Products: Cosmetics," "Cosmetic Labeling & Label Claims."

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