Is Mascara Dangerous? I Talked to a Medical Expert to Find Out

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 14: A model prepares backstage at the Carlos Miele Fall 2011 fashion show during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week at The Stage at Lincoln Center on February 14, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images for IMG)
Source: Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

A friend of mine recently switched from buying mascara brands sold at drug stores and department stores to a "natural" brand of product sold at Whole Foods. She told me that she was doing this because she read that your average tube of mascara is dangerous — loaded with toxic chemicals. This friend was trying to care for me, of course. I have a really sensitive system: I break out in rashes and hives all the time, so I try to avoid products that are toxic in any way. But the thing is... I LOVE MASCARA. My mascara is my most prized piece of makeup. Honestly, I would happily give you all my shadows, eyeliners and lip glosses. Just don't take my Maybelline Great Lash!  

As far as I'm concerned, mascara is a god — a king of kings or queen of queens — and the top of the makeup food chain. Mascara is a two-second solution to the appearance of exhaustion: It takes me from drab to divine with little to no effort. It is my bestie. So I wasn't going to just take my friend's word as bond. NO! So what if we've been friends since kindergarten, and I know her to be well researched and rarely rash? NO! I needed to do the research about the dangers of mascara for myself, and while I was at it, I figured I'd do the research for you, too.  

In order to get the scoop on the dangers of mascara, I did some serious Googling and spoke to Dr. Jody Krukowski of the University of Kansas Medical Center's Department of Integrative Medicine. Unfortunately, what I found wasn't all that joyful....

MASCARA TUBES GROW BACTERIA

To be clear, your mascara is not crawling with potential infection when you buy it — but I'm willing to bet that the mascara in your medicine cabinet is ripe with all kinds of microscopic goodies. "The moist, dark environment inside of the mascara tube combined with normal daily eye secretions that get transferred from the mascara wand to the tube creates the perfect place for bacteria to grow," says  Dr. Krukowski. And because there are "many pores where eyelashes come out of the eyelids as well as glands and tear ducts, our eyes become very vulnerable to infection."

Dr. Krukowski went on to explain that a study done by the International Journal of Cosmetic Science that looked at 40 mascara samples taken from real women "found that 79 percent of these samples were contaminated with staph bacteria." Um... what? There might be staph infection in my mascara. Staph infection? Like boils and quite possibly death, staph infection? That's crazy. Crazy gross. Crazy scary and a crazy good reason to throw out your mascara every three months, which is the "best way to avoid bacterial overgrowth."

SOME MASCARAS ARE LOADED WITH CHEMICALS

According to Dr. Krukowski, "There are many dangerous chemicals found in mascara," and most common offenders are parabens, phthalatespetroleum products, and dioxane. These chemicals function as everything from anti fungals and preservatives to the base that makes mascara what it is — But they also have legit toxic fallout. For example, Dr. Krukowski told me that Phthalates are "cancer causing agents that damage the kidneys, liver, lungs and reproductive system," and  Petroleum products "have been shown to cause anemia as well as damage to the kidneys and nervous system." It is also worth noting that Dioxane and Parabens have both been linked to different types of cancer, including breast cancer. So yeah, when my friend said that mascara was toxic, she was right. 

HEALTHY AND SAFE MASCARA EXISTS

The news that mascara can be legitimately dangerous was absolutely devastating, and my immediate response was selfish. I found myself wondering about my brand. Are all mascaras to be avoided or is my brand — the beloved green and pink tube in my makeup case — still allowed to rescue me from pallid when I'm hungover? And furthermore, how could I find out about particular brands? Where, oh where, would I find this information? Surprise: There's an app for that (and a website). 

"The Environmental Working Group has their Skin Deep website where consumers can research all types of beauty products," says Dr. Krukowski. "They also have an app that can be downloaded that allows consumers to type in particular beauty products as well as search by bar code while in the store. The app rates the products from least harmful to most harmful per the ingredients." 

When you check out the website, you'll be happy to learn that Maybelline Great Lash gets a three on a scale of 10, with ten being the worst. And in case you were wondering, I can live with a three. 

Images: Giphy

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