Exeter, Devon UK • Jul 14, 2024 • VOL XII

Exeter, Devon UK • [date-today] • VOL XII
Home Science What makes up our make-up?

What makes up our make-up?

5 mins read
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Make-Up plays a huge role in many of our lives. From fully putting on a face for a night out, to stage make-up, to even a regular use of moisturiser, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that the UK spends more than £1.3bn per year on the substances that coat our faces. The chemical compositions of different cosmetics have come a long way, to the point where looking at the ingredients in modern make-up could become quite a confusing feat. Which components are safe, and which are harmful? Which chemicals are active and how do they work to give the effect we want them to? Here’s a brief run down…


Foundation is always made up of a base of oil, water or wax, which moisturise the skin. In addition to the base, the mixture includes a filler, which helps the colour spread evenly, and aids the smooth application of the substance onto the skin. To create the many different shades of foundation, pigments in various shades of red, yellow and brown are mixed to recreate natural skin tones.

These pigments include iron oxides or titanium dioxide. Different chemicals can also be included to have different effects on skin, such as salicylic acid for blemish prone skin, or avocado oil for dry skin. One of the more modern innovations in foundation formulae is to add ingredients that diffuse light, such as silicone, crystals or quartz. They create the illusion of an even finish so it’s difficult to detect flaws. underneath.


One of the greatest issues with chemical components in lipsticks is that the mouth is incredibly sensitive to toxicity, which means any ingredients must be rigorously tested. Thankfully, most of the components in lipstick are harmless, consisting of mainly a wax structure, often beeswax or carnauba, which have a high melting point, and so stop the lipstick melting on hot days. Oils such as olive or silicone help the product seal to the lips and provide gloss.

In order to create the colour pigments that are naturally derived are now produced synthetically, such as carmine and Alura Red AC. Unfortunately, reservations have been held by the beauty community over the amounts of toxic metals in lipsticks, such as lead and aluminium. While any contamination is incredibly low level as the EU specifically bans use of lead, it is impossible to eliminate contamination entirely, and so a potentially toxic build up is possible for lipstick users.


Mascara tends to include a carbon black or iron oxide pigment intended to darken lashes, a polymer to form the fi lm that coats lashes, preservatives, and a thickening wax or oil, mineral oil, or castor oil. One of the greatest problems concerning mascara is the growth of bacteria.

While most mascara brands contain an ingredient which breaks down to produce formaldehyde, to kill bacteria, after a certain period of time, this ingredient becomes inactive. Thus mascara manufacturers advise replacing mascara every three months. An urban myth surrounding the ingredients in mascara is that bat guano (faeces) is used as a colour additive. However, the FDA has only authorised the use of guanine, which although is present in guano, must only be extracted from fi sh scales.

As beauty standards over the centuries have changed, demands from cosmetics have changed also. While Egyptian women crushed carmine beetles to make red lipstick, Victorian women would have championed the use of arsenic baths and ammonia night washes to get the pale complexion that was so desired. Today, with advancements in synthesising chemicals, we have so many options which derive from natural substances, so do not rely so heavily on animal ingredients. One such popular substance were the cells from the nervous system of cattle or swine, increasing moisture retention on the skin’s surface.

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