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Dear Paula’s Choice Research Team,
I’m appalled at the number of lipsticks and blushes I own, and I know it’ll take me ages to use them all up. How long can I keep them before I can assume they’ve gone off and begun to harbor bacteria?
—Cara, via email
It’s easy to fall in love with a lipstick or blush, but there comes a point when it’s just time for a breakup!
A 2013 study published in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science followed the daily beauty routines of 44 women (ages 18 to 28). It found that 70% of them were using at least one type of expired product—primarily mascara, eyeliner, or eyeshadow—and that 67% of the eye makeup contained potentially harmful levels of bacteria, including Staphylococcus species, Corynebacterium species, and Moraxella species, all of which are common in bacterial skin infections. Yuck!
So, what should you do with your collection? Take inventory and make a best guess as to how old each product is. Lip products (lipstick, gloss, and liner) last 2–3 years, whereas foundations and concealers last 6 months to 1 year. Powder-based products should be tossed after 2–3 years, while mascara (regular or waterproof), liquid, and pencil or gel eyeliners last only 4–6 months.
Of course, even if your product is within its expiration period but has begun to smell odd or if the texture has changed dramatically, it’s time to toss it.
Dear Paula’s Choice Research Team,
I have a question about foundation primer and sunscreen. You wrote that a good serum can take the place of foundation primer, which is great, but don't you need to put a good layer of sunscreen on after your serum, and before your foundation (even if your foundation has SPF)? If that’s the case, then it seems to me that the sunscreen would have to act as primer. Thoughts?
—Paula, via Facebook
Whether you apply a primer or not, sunscreen is always the last skincare item you apply. Because of this, the SPF product you use must have a feel and finish that can work similarly to (or better than) a standard foundation primer. When you find the right sunscreen for your skin type, concerns, and preferences, you’ll know—although you may need to try several before you get to "the one"!
Now, if you want to use primer, or a serum in place of primer, and use one of those products as the last step in your morning skincare routine, the trick is to make sure the foundation you apply provides broad-spectrum sun protection and is rated SPF 25 or greater. And you need to apply it liberally and evenly because sheer or spot application isn’t likely to provide enough protection.
Of course, going this route, you’ll still need to apply sun protection (not makeup) to your neck. If you forget your neck area, over time, your neck will eventually look much older than your face!
Dear Paula’s Choice Research Team,
I have been searching for a medium-coverage foundation for normal to oily skin. I have melasma on my forehead and I am very self-conscious about it. Can you recommend a good foundation to conceal this type of discoloration?
—Bobby, via Facebook
Happy to help! We're big fans of Rimmel's Stay Matte Liquid Mousse Foundation, which provides medium to full coverage for oily to combination skin, holds up really well all day long , and comes at a great price!
If you prefer to shop for foundation at Sephora or department stores (where shade testers are readily available), we also recommend Make Up For Ever HD Foundation, Kat Von D Lock It Foundation, and Hourglass Immaculate Liquid Powder. All of these are brilliant for oily skin.
As for the melasma, you probably know it’s difficult to eliminate due to the depth of discoloration. A multi-prong treatment approach is needed, involving the following:
You may need to combine the above with a series of in-office laser or light-emitting treatments from a dermatologist. Those can be pricey, but when combined with great skin care and ongoing, daily sun protection (it’s really important, even when it’s cloudy), you should be able to significantly improve or perhaps eliminate the melasma.
Dear Paula’s Choice Research Team,
I am 50 and have extremely oily skin; I have to blot 2–3 times a day. I'm confused over the talc or silica in powders and other mattifiers...just what are the best makeup products for oily skin?
—Maria, via Paula’s Choice YouTube channel
Some of our team definitely know the trials and travails of having very oily skin! Both talc and silica have merit for oily skin, but it's really more about the overall formula of the powder you are considering.
A formula with talc or silica can be beneficial if its formula is mattifying and if these ingredients are toward the beginning of the ingredient list. But, if the product also contains emollients, then the "shine-free" effect won't last. Thus, it's best to look for sheer, dry-textured powders for blotting/shine absorption, as these won't cake on the skin, but will still keep you shine-free. Make Up For Ever’s HD Pressed Powder is excellent, as is Revlon’s Nearly Naked Pressed Powder and Neutrogena’s Shine Control Powder.
You can also consider blotting papers (we list our favorites here) and you might examine your skincare routine to make sure you’re not overdoing it with moisturizers or moisturizing products.
I love the look of makeup when it's done with makeup airbrush systems. The result just seems more flawless than anything I can do on my own. Any thoughts on whether it's worth the money and effort to learn how to use an airbrush system properly?
Airbrush makeup can look beautiful, but it also is a bit deceiving. I recommend you don't base your decision to use airbrush makeup solely on the "after" pictures; they don't give you the full picture—all the extra effort it takes just to prepare to apply this type of makeup, as well as the amount of time it takes. It's not something the average woman will want to bother with every day.
As you may be able to tell from my comments, I'm not a big fan of airbrush makeup. I know some people find it appealing, and it can look great when properly applied, but you've got to consider the following:
The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics released independent lab results demonstrating that lead can be found in top brands of lipstick. Should I be concerned about lead in lipstick?
Kate, via email search
The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (a coalition of consumer advocacy groups spun from the Environmental Working Group) recently released a report about lead in several well-known brands of lipstick. Lipsticks from 33 cosmetic lines were tested by international company Bodycote Testing Group and the conclusion was that just over half of the samples contained lead. Interestingly, the tests were only done on red shades of lipsticks (so who knows if the red dyes may be the source of lead, meaning other shades of lipstick from every cosmetics company are lead-free). Of course, this common sense mode of thinking didn't strike anyone at the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, and they were swift in crafting a press release that is the very definition of fear mongering.
The report incorrectly states that lipstick is ingested like candy. It mentions the FDA's 0.01 parts per million limit for lead in candy, and that no such safety limits exist for lipstick. (Of course, one wonders why the Campaign isn't calling for candy recalls to protect the health of children, but that's another story.)
What's missing is that women aren't eating lipsticks in the same manner they do candy (or food). In fact, the amount of lipstick that's actually ingested is minuscule compared to what comes off on coffee cups and other objects.
The iota of truth in this misleading, scare-tactic report is that a minute amount of lead may be present in some dyes used in cosmetics. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) there are trace amounts of lead in certain FD&C coloring agents. FDA separates color additives into two categories. These are colors that the agency certifies (derived primarily from petroleum and known as coal-tar dyes) and colors that are exempted from certification (obtained largely from mineral, plant, or animal sources). Only approved substances may be used to color foods, drugs, cosmetics, and medical devices.
The FDA requires coal-tar dye manufacturers to submit test samples from each batch of color produced. These are then tested to confirm that each batch of the color is within established specifications. These certified colors are listed on labels as FD&C, D&C or external D&C. Using the uncertified versions of color additives that require certification is illegal in foods, drugs, cosmetics, and medical devices. To assure consumer safety only certain dyes can be used around the mouth and around the eyes.
Interestingly, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics' report on lead in lipsticks does not provide a single reference demonstrating minute amounts of lead in lipsticks are a problem. All of their sources have to do with occupational and/or environmental exposure to heavy metals (lead included), not cosmetics usage. Without question, lead is a harmful substance; however, there is simply no proof that the tiny amount that may be in some lipsticks is causing harm. Actually, quantifying this would be difficult given the amount of lead we're exposed to on a daily basis. According to the Cosmetics, Toiletry and Fragrance Association (CTFA), "The average amount of lead a woman would be exposed to when using cosmetics is 1,000 times less than the amount she would get from eating, breathing and drinking water that meets Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) drinking water standards,"). The European Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association (COLIPA) agree with CTFA's comment.
Why is the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics blitzing the media with their report on lead in lipsticks when the average person gets more lead exposure simply standing on a busy street corner in a major city or drinking tap water? Granted, this group's concern is cosmetics, but rallying for lipsticks with trace amounts of lead to be recalled and immediately reformulated is making a mountain out of a molehill. What might have been more convincing (though still not unequivocally damning of lipsticks) is if the group had consulted a medical team to take blood samples from women who wear lipstick and those who do not. They could then test both groups' blood for lead, and any differences would be reported. I suspect the reason such a test was not done is because the results wouldn't show a statistically significant difference between the two groups, and thus the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics wouldn't have a story.
The whole issue of not just lead in lipsticks but the litany of so-called "toxic chemicals" in our personal care products drew the ire of Dr. Gary Moss. England-based Moss is the Professional Lead for Pharmaceutics and Drug Delivery at the University of Hertfordshire. Dr. Moss's area of expertise is how drugs and other chemicals penetrate the skin barrier and their safety profiles in pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. His summation of the whole hysteria involving "toxic" cosmetics is as follows:
"...in the case of cosmetics, which are normally supposedly applied to intact, healthy skin, it is unlikely that the components will penetrate it. (This is mainly, but not exclusively, due to three things; their physicochemical properties, how long the skin is exposed to them, and the nature of the formulation). These products are usually washed off in the morning and then replaced. Simply put, these molecules do not cross the skin barrier in significant amounts. Very few chemicals actually do-one of the reasons for the lack of success of transdermal drug delivery. Regular removal by the body keeps these levels well below toxic thresholds."
If you're concerned about lead exposure, you'd be much better off having your home's paint, soil, and water supply tested than opening your makeup bag in fear that adding color to lips will spell certain doom.
I am in my late 50s and I am noticing that my lips do not seem as defined as they once were. I am finding it harder to apply lipstick either with a tube or a brush because the outer portion of the lip is less defined. Is this a normal part of aging? Other than using a lipliner, which seems out of fashion at the moment, is there anything you can suggest?
Abby, via email search
It is absolutely an "age" thing, and it is also affected by whether or not you did or still do smoke, how much sun exposure you've had, and the genes you inherited from your parents. As we grow older our lips become less defined and for many almost seem to disappear (Source: Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, November 2005, pages 1634-1641).
Your dilemma explains some of the overabundance of lip-plumping products on the market. They don't work, but the desire to have lips a la Angelina Jolie, Julia Roberts, or Cameron Diaz is significant, and women of all ages want the same sensual appearance as the models and celebrities we gawk at in magazines and on television. Full lips have been the standard of beauty over the past 20 years or so (as opposed to the 1920s and '30s when thin, Cupid's bow, pursed lips were cover girl basics).
Lip pencil that obviously shows through your lipstick is definitely not in fashion (and hasn't been since the '80s). It is equally problematic to try to change the shape of your mouth with a pencil because as the lipstick wears off, it will look as if you missed your mouth. The only real solutions are medical, and they involve dermal injections to enhance the shape of the mouth. Sorry, I wish I had better news but unless you can be comfortable as you are, this change can only be remedied by a talented cosmetic dermatologist or plastic surgeon.
Are there any powder eyeshadows available that contain sunscreen? I'm asking because I get the feeling that when I apply an eyeshadow with a brush over the sunscreen I use, the brush seems to clog a bit and the powder seems to stick to the brush rather than spread over my eyelid. It's different when I skip the sunscreen on the lid; then it seems I can build more color and intensity easier. Or is it okay to skip sunscreen on the lids altogether? I try to wear sunglasses most of the time, but when that isn't possible I still want to be protected.
Rumia, via e-mail search
Your question about the sunscreen over the eyelid is excellent. I appreciate your diligence in wanting to take care of your skin all over. I agree it is best not to skip the eyelid area when it comes to sun protection, and sunglasses with complete UV protection are best for the entire area in general. However, so far as I am aware, there are no eyeshadows that include sunscreens. But there definitely are foundations that do (my line has several, and so do Revlon, Neutrogena, Maybelline, and Clinique), as well as concealers (particularly Revlon), and powders (my line and Neutrogena). Put your foundation or concealer over your eyelid, dust the eye area with powder, and then apply your eyeshadows. That should get you the protection and results you are looking for (and definitely less creasing and gunk buildup on your brush!).
In terms of color saturation from your eyeshadows, depending on the color of your skin, you may want to consider eyeshadows from companies known for their deeper pigment coverage, such as M.A.C., Makeup For Ever, Trish McEvoy, and Iman.
I bet this is a question that you have never been asked. I am 63 and have noticed I am getting more and more fine blonde facial hair. What is the best foundation to use to get to the skin and what would you recommend for removing facial hair without damaging the skin? I have sensitive skin and don't want to do anything to make matters worse. I find so many of the foundations I've tried are too thick, and with all that peach fuzz just doesn't blend. Please help me if you can.
Sandy, via email search
You're right, this question is a first, but it also is completely reasonable. When it comes to dealing with fine facial hair and applying foundation, your best bet is a lightweight liquid foundation that offers a soft, silky finish. Cream, cream-to-powder, stick, and pressed-powder foundations contain ingredients that tend to grab onto the tiny hairs and make them look coated, magnifying their appearance. Liquid foundations applied with a sponge, not your fingers, blending in a downward direction with the hair growth (not against the hair growth) should get you the results you're looking for. Avoiding pressed powder altogether may be a good idea, but you can experiment by applying a sheer dusting after knocking the excess off your brush before you touch it to your face.Liquid foundations to consider are Lancome Color Ideal Precise Match Skin Perfecting Makeup SPF 15, Cover Girl TruBlend Makeup, Stila Perfecting Foundation, L'Oreal True Match Super Blendable Makeup SPF 17, and Almay Nearly Naked Liquid Makeup SPF 15. It may be worth the expense to have a professional makeup artist teach you some application techniques.In terms of removing unwanted facial hair, there are limited options, which include depilatories, waxing, electrolysis, or laser hair removal. (I do not recommend shaving because you'll be dealing with grow-out and the daily stubble that goes with it.) Laser treatments are the most effective and offer the longest-lasting results, but they are also the most expensive. In addition, lasers aren't as adept at removing light-colored, fine hairs, which is what you're dealing with. You may want to begin with a gentle depilatory--though "gentle" is a relative term because the active ingredients in these products aren't particularly mild--such as Nair Face Cream. But be sure to test it on a small area first to be confident your facial skin can tolerate it. If that proves unsatisfactory, have an aesthetician try facial waxing on a small patch of skin to see how you tolerate that procedure. If it works, you can consider ongoing treatments coupled with a prescription for Vaniqa, a topical lotion whose active ingredient (eflornithine HCl) is designed to slow the growth of unwanted facial hair. Results vary, but you won't know how well it works for you until you try it for a few months.
I was very surprised to see that you disapprove of natural scents like lavender. What is your opinion on natural raw materials in cosmetics? At the moment thousands of synthetic ingredients are used in cosmetics. These ingredients can harm both humans and the environment. Have you heard about the European Union's REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation of Chemicals) organization? They have a program detailing the use of chemical raw material/ingredients that helps identify harmful substances and places this information into a database that is accessible to the public.
Kindly give me your advice on good natural cosmetics and your opinion on all those chemical material/ingredients. Or is commerce more important to you than health?
Mrs. T., via email search
Dear Mrs. T.,
I appreciate your concerns, but I do include many "natural" ingredients in my products, and, yes, I do care a great deal about my business. But as a cosmetics company that recommends many other companies' products in addition to my own, I always put the needs of the consumer first. (No other cosmetics company recommends products from lines they don't sell, not even companies that own other lines. You would never hear someone at the Clinique counter recommending a product from Origins or Prescriptives, despite the fact all are owned by Estee Lauder Corporation.)
What I always disapprove of are any ingredients, natural or otherwise, that are harmful or problematic for skin. Your belief that only synthetic ingredients can be harmful is incorrect. Poison ivy is natural and you wouldn't want that in your skin-care products. Lemon smells great, but get a bit of that on a tiny area of open skin and it can become inflamed and infected (inflammation hurts the skin's healing process). Even water can be dangerous, and not just because you can drown in it; more simply, too much water can break down the skin's protective layer. Basic table salt (NaCl) is fine, but when it's broken down into its components of sodium and chloride you have two natural, but dangerous, substances. I could go on and on. The same holds true for synthetic ingredients, some are assuredly problematic for skin, but many provide incredible benefit and we couldn't function without them.
In terms of lavender, as a scent I think it is wonderful, and you can atomize or light aromatic candles to your heart's content. But on the skin, research indicates it can cause problems. On my Web site's Ingredient Dictionary section I provide the following information explaining my concern about lavender extract:
Lavender extract and oil. Primarily a fragrance ingredient, though it may have antibacterial properties. There is no research showing it to have any benefit for skin (Sources: Phytotherapy Research, June 2002, pages 301-308, and Healthnotes Review of Complementary and Integrative Medicine, www.healthwell.com/healthnotes/Herb/). It can be a skin irritant (Source: Contact Dermatitis, August 1999, page 111). It can also be a photosensitizer (Source: Family Practice Notebook, www.fpnotebook.com/DER188.htm). Current research indicates that components of lavender, specifically linalool, can be cytotoxic, meaning topical application causes skin cell death (Source: Cell Proliferation, June 2004, pages 1365-2184).
One more point: The Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals (REACH) group doesn't refer only to "synthetic" ingredients; it covers natural ingredients as well. That is, even REACH does not automatically assume that natural is equal to being safe.
I love the fact that someone is finally doing some decent research on skin-care products and cosmetics! Thank you! My only request is that perhaps you could expand into doing some research on the vitamins (for internal consumption) that are available. It is so hard to find decent research and it's extremely scary ingesting something when you have no idea what's actually in it! I think that if you did this, or perhaps formulated your own vitamin line, this would help women strengthen their skin and experience beauty from the inside as well as outside.
Kelly, via email
I appreciate your vote of confidence, but I have more than I can handle just trying to keep up with the research and data involving the cosmetics industry. However, there are two fairly reliable sources in the world of vitamins and dietary supplements I would encourage you to check out: www.drweil.com and www.consumerlab.com. Both of these sites have fascinating, consolidated, easy-to-understand research and consumer information on the world of vitamins. Dr. Andrew Weil is known for his objective articles on health and alternative health options, and consumerlab.com tests vitamins and herbal supplements, revealing which ones do or don't contain what they claim on the label.
A friend of mine recently went to a well-known department store to purchase lipstick. Upon finding a color she wanted to try, the sales associate handed her the tester without cleaning it with alcohol or, at the very least, a tissue. The associate said it has been proven that germs don't remain on lipsticks, so cleaning the lipstick testers between uses is unnecessary. Is this true?
Linda, Edmond, Oklahoma search
Regrettably, the salesperson is 100% wrong: Germs can and do remain on lipsticks, especially those that are used frequently, and that includes department-store lipstick testers! Most lipsticks contain a preservative system that can handle the germs introduced from one person during normal use (say, morning application and then touching up your lipstick after lunch), but these preservatives are not strong enough to counter the germs and bacteria introduced by multiple users over a period of time. Who knows how many people have used the very lipstick you just picked up to test, and whether they had a cold sore or a cold?
The FDA examined this issue in 1989, and took samples from several department-store lipsticks (and other cosmetics) to determine just how germ- and bacteria-laden they were. According to the report, 5% of the samples "were seriously contaminated with things such as molds, other fungi, and pathogenic organisms." The report concluded that shared-use cosmetics (which lipstick testers certainly are) pose a greater risk of becoming contaminated than the same product when purchased and used by a single person (Source: http://vm.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/cos-safe.html).
It is the FDA's recommendation that women who want to test lipstick at cosmetics counters should insist on single-use, disposable testers, or ask the salesperson to open a new tester for you, which is an unlikely prospect, as most counters only have the testers displayed and they can't open a new one for every customer, or what would they have left to sell? On the other hand, it is completely reasonable, and should be standard practice for a salesperson to wipe off several layers of the lipstick tester with a clean tissue, then spray or dip the tester into isopropyl alcohol to disinfect it before use. Alternately, you can forgo trying the lipstick on your mouth and instead swatch it on your hand or arm. This is not the same as putting the color on your lips, but it will give you an idea of how well the shade â€œreadsâ€ on your skin. The final (and least convenient) suggestion is to purchase the shades you wish to test and return those that do not look as you expected or desired. Most department stores (particularly Nordstrom) have excellent policies for returning cosmetics.
Will you give me some makeup tips for large pores on the nose? Foundation fills in pores, but then what do I do to make them appear smaller? I am very self-conscious about this and all of the pore-minimizing products seem to help only for brief periods, then I am back to where I started, with my pores exposed for the entire world to see.
Debbie, via email search
I wish you would have let me know more about what products you are using, as that would have given me a better idea of whether or not your skin-care routine is making matters worse or if the type of makeup products you are using don't hold up. When it comes to skin care, products that are too emollient can cause makeup to move and pool within enlarged pores. Makeup products that aren't matte won't hold up for very long.
For skin care, it is very important for you to avoid as much as possible applying any emollient or slippery products on your skin, especially over the areas where you have large pores. That will help a lot. For makeup, consider using a truly matte finish foundation like Revlon ColorStay, Stay Natural Makeup SPF 15, or Clinique SuperFit Makeup ($19.50), then follow up with an oil-absorbing powder like Almay Skin Stays Clean Pore Minimizing Pressed Powder ($10.89). Over particularly stubborn areas, you can apply a matte concealer like my Paula's Select No Slip Concealer ($7.95), which should help a lot.
Even after all that you may still have problems. Oil production is controlled by hormones and that cannot be controlled topically. When oil is produced during the day, it can cause the makeup you applied to pool and make pores visible again. Touching up your makeup will take care of this. Use oil-absorbing papers or a tissue to dab off excess oil and then reapply concealer if necessary, or simply repowder your skin.
I recently contacted Estee Lauder about most of their foundations having either an SPF 8 or 10 in them. I asked them why they don't all have SPF 15. Their response was "they have no plans to expand their foundation line at this time." Can you tell me why some foundations are not up to SPF 15? Do they really protect your face with an 8 or 10?
Robin, via email search
My recommendation to use an SPF 25 or greater is based on information provided by the American Academy of Dermatology and The Skin Cancer Foundation, as well as numerous other medical societies around the world. Why some cosmetics companies continue to ignore that well-publicized information about sun protection is beyond me; but then, there is much that cosmetics companies do that I find either bewildering or disappointing.
It is important to point out that a product with an SPF 8 or SPF 10 can protect your face up to the intended rating. Remember, the SPF number is based on the following formula: for fair-skinned individuals who can stay in the sun for 20 minutes before their skin begins to burn, then an SPF 8 protects the skin 8 X 20 minutes = 160 minutes, or about 2 1/2 hours. An SPF 10 protects the same person 10 X 20 minutes = 200 minutes or 3 1/3 hours. Although you are getting some protection, the problem is with the amount (hours) of sunlight your skin is exposed to on any given day, especially considering that the sun's harmful UVA rays can penetrate window glass.
After reading your article about not matching eyeshadow shades to one's eye color in a recent newsletter, I wanted to share a memory of my days as a young college student in the late 1960s/early 1970s. On a holiday visit home to New York, I stopped at the Ritz Salon on Fifth Avenue (I think it was in the Pierre Hotel or on a street corner nearby). A very patient, helpful makeup artist tried to match me with the right colors. His recommendation for my hazel/brown eyes was-would you believe it-celery! I loved it. I thanked him for being so patient, and asked his name. He said, "It's a kind of funny name. It's Way Bandy." I never forgot his kindness and only years later did I realize how important he had become in the industry. I probably wouldn't wear "celery" today, but it seemed so right at the time! And what a memory!
Hollis, via email search
Thank you for this charming walk down memory lane. Not many people will remember Way Bandy, but he was and is without question the most influential makeup artist who ever lived. Nearly all professional makeup artists (at least the talented ones), whether they know it or not, apply makeup based on his work. Way Bandy died in 1986 of an AIDS-related illness. His book, Designing Your Face, brilliantly showcases his concepts and designs. The book is out of print, but you can still find it on auction sites such as www.ebay.com or on www.amazon.com.
I enjoyed reading in your July 17, 2003, Beauty Bulletin about the limitations and lack of scientific procedure for a cosmetic company's testing of their products. I have a personal story to share.
During the early 1990s, I was hired by Avon as a cosmetic tester. There were a lot of ladies in my area of New York who did this for a little extra money. Avon would give us samples of various new products to use and then we had to come in to be checked by a dermatologist for "results." Of course, each time we came in we were also asked for our personal evaluation and filled out a form about how much we liked the product. We were paid a sum of about $25 or so per test, with the final compensation being tied to the number of times we had to come in during the testing period.
Anyway, what I finally understood, albeit a bit later, was that if you wanted to be called back to participate in other testing you were supposed to rave about the product. Silly me--I thought they were looking for an honest evaluation in an effort to improve the product.
In fact, I sometimes found the products I tested too perfumed and some creams made my eyes sting. After honestly reporting my negative reaction a few times too many, I was simply not called to do more tests. That's when I realized that one of the ways companies like Avon get to say how wonderful their products are is by dropping anyone from the testing panel who has a complaint. If you wanted to keep getting free cosmetics and get paid for using them, you'd better say you love it and leave it at that. So much for scientific studies!
Maxine, via email
Your story is fascinating! Thank you for letting us in on a part of the cosmetic business that always sounds better than it actually ends up being.
There is an article being circulated over the Internet that certain lipsticks contain lead, which is one of the ingredients that may cause cancer. Part of the message stated that "The higher the lead content, the greater the chance of causing cancer. After doing a test on lipsticks, it was found that the Yves Saint Laurent lipstick contained the largest amount of lead. Watch out for those lipsticks that are supposed to stay longer. If your lipstick stays longer, it is because of the higher content of lead. Here is the test you can do yourself, 1) Put some lipstick on your hand. 2) Use a 24k-14k gold ring to scratch on the lipstick. 3) If the lipstick color changes to black then you know the lipstick contains lead."
I just wanted to know what your opinion is of this--is any of it true? Is it indeed harmful? I'm sure many women out there (including myself), end up accidentally ingesting minute quantities of lipstick every time we wear it.
Connie, via email search
First, to be absolutely clear, lead is never added to lipstick! And beyond that, it is ludicrous to suggest lead has anything to do with long-wearing lipsticks, or that gold in any form can detect lead. Lead-based house paint, a major source of problems because of its lead content, can't be detected by scratching it with anything. While Yves Saint Laurent lipsticks are overpriced, they do not contain lead.
The one iota of truth in this offensive and devious Internet email is that a minute amount of lead may be present in some dyes used in cosmetics. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) there are trace amounts of lead in certain FD &C (Food, Drug and Cosmetic) coloring agents. FDA separates color additives into two categories: (1) colors that the agency certifies (derived primarily from petroleum and known as coal-tar dyes) and (2) colors that are exempted from certification but approved for use (obtained largely from mineral, plant, or animal sources). Only approved substances may be used to color foods, drugs, cosmetics, and medical devices.
The FDA requires coal-tar dye manufacturers to submit test samples from each batch of color produced. These are then tested to confirm that each batch of the color is within established specifications. These certified colors are listed on labels as FD &C, D&C, or external D&C. It is illegal to use the uncertified versions of color additives that require certification in foods, drugs, cosmetics, and medical devices. To ensure consumer safety, only certain dyes can be used around the mouth and around the eyes.
In regard to the gold-ring test, www.urbanlegends.com explains that "rubbing various metals across lipstick smears made on sheets of white paper produced dark brown marks". The streaks that supposedly herald the presence of lead in one's lipstick are in reality dark marks produced by the testing agents themselves. Gold, silver, copper, and pewter leave these trails no matter what they're rubbed against, in the same way that pencils make marks on whatever surfaces they are trailed along."
Urbanlegends.com went further to expose one other relentless lipstick myth. Have you heard this one--that the average woman who wears lipstick throughout her life will ingest between 4 and 6 pounds of lipstick? The improbability of this tall (and stomach-turning) tale leaves no room for doubt: it isn't possible. Think about it this way. The average tube of lipstick contains about 0.15 ounce of product, so if a woman were eating 5 pounds of the stuff, that would be the equivalent of 530 whole tubes. As urbanlegends.com states, "The average woman isn't even likely to own  lipsticks during her lifetime, let alone use them right down to their nubs, with none of her lip rouge ever being kissed off, left on the edge of her coffee mug" or fork, spoon, or wiped off on a Kleenex.
One other point: lead does not cause cancer (though it is listed as a possible carcinogen from some sources). It does, however, cause brain and nerve damage, particularly in children (Sources: Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/tfacts13.html, and Cell Biology and Toxicology, 2002, volume 8, issue 5, pages 341-348).
An article in Consumer Reports (August 2003) suggests that scare-tactic emails repeatedly forwarded around the Internet are often a way for spammers to collect email addresses. Passing these lies around helps contribute to the nightmare known as spam. You can chalk this lipstick myth up to hundreds of others lurking around the Internet. When bizarre, unsubstantiated information like this comes your way, two of the best sources for finding out the truth are www.snopes.com/toxins/lipstick.asp and www.urbanlegends.com.
I need to know how I can condition my eyelashes and get them to grow fuller and thicker. Just as with the mascara that I apply daily, I would like my lashes to be full and thick again without the application of mascara. Is there anything I could use? I was told once from a beauty consultant at Essence magazine to use mineral oil on my eyelashes at night. Can you confirm this?
Sherry, via email search
I am sorry to tell you this but the product you are looking for doesn't exist. If it were possible to grow thicker, fuller lashes there wouldn't be hundreds of mascaras on the market, with new ones being launched every month. Unfortunately, mineral oil does not help eyelashes to grow, nor does it help anything to grow! It is simply a good moisturizing ingredient, period. Lash growth (or the growth of any hair, for that matter) has nothing to do with how moisturized the hair is. If anything, applying mineral oil to lashes will cause mineral oil to get in your eye, creating a filmy, greasy mess. Regrettably, there is really nothing you can put on your lashes to help them grow.
Albeit a temporary fix, a good mascara application is the best way to make your lashes look more full and lush. Click here for more on mascara application tips.
I recently read an article in my local newspaper that discussed how sunscreen in foundation is not reliable. I wanted to bring this to your attention and get your thoughts since you very much advocate foundation with SPF.
Cathryn, via e-mail
The article you found was referencing a study conducted by Dr. Zoe Draeolos that was published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, October 2001, entitled "Degradation and Migration of Facial Foundations." Dr. Draeolos's work as a dermatologist who really and truly does product testing is impressive and considered dependable and unbiased. However, I wouldn't conclude from her study that all foundations with sunscreen are completely unreliable and therefore unusable for sun protection.
Though the summary of the study was that you would need to reapply a foundation with sunscreen at least every two hours (or apply a sunscreen over it) for continued protection, on closer look this conclusion was not based on any sunscreen testing as such. Rather the results were based on examining 12 participants who applied the following foundations: Clinique Pore Minimizer (which is no longer made), Neutrogena Healthy Skin SPF 20, Revlon Color Stay SPF 6, L'Oreal Visuelle (also no longer made), Cover Girl Ultimate Finish, and Estee Lauder Impeccable SPF 20. Over an eight-hour period "the migration of the iron oxide pigment [the coloring agent] over the skin surface was monitored in 12 white female subjects with dry (4 subjects), normal (4 subjects), and oily (4 subjects) skin." Following application, each participant was photographed with a specialized video that magnified the skin. What the pictures revealed was that after two hours the foundation began to travel into facial lines and that eventually, by the end of the day, it also had moved into the hair follicle. About the movement, the study commented that "This was particularly true for those participants who had oily skin and for those who used the cream-to-powder foundations." Cream-to-powder foundations are often the greasiest types of formulations (especially in the case of Lauder's Impeccable).
I agree that this study poses concerns that require further investigation, but please realize that the study did not test whether or not sun protection was still present, it just noted that the pigment colors of the foundation migrated into lines and hair follicles. There was no UV skin testing done at any point, which is the only way to know how much sun protection (if any) is still present.
In other words, did the sunscreen protection degrade because of the migration with the foundation's color? Sunscreen testing would have been pointless for this study because three of the foundations didn't even have sun protection (and one only had an SPF 6). More precisely, the conclusions were based on the assumption that the sunscreen efficacy dissipated in relation to the pigment movement. That means the conclusions concerning what happens to sunscreen protection when foundations with sunscreen are used were not based on actual testing or proof, but rather an educated guess which was that if the iron oxide pigments in the foundation migrate, the migration must take the active sunscreen agents away with it.
Another issue is the unrealistic expectation that you're going to reapply your foundation with SPF (or apply a sunscreen over your previously applied foundation) every two hours! That advice is impractical in every respect, because for most women it would mean redoing almost every other part of your makeup, from concealer to blush, eyeshadow, and eyebrows as well. What would be far more helpful would be to touch up your foundation during the day with a pressed powder that has an SPF 25 or higher and that also has UVA protection.
On an anecdotal, personal note, as someone who is diligent about wearing foundation with sunscreen and a moisturizer with sunscreen on my body (both containing titanium dioxide), after two months in Florida last year the only part of my body to not get a drop of color was my face. There was a decidedly noticeable change of color on my arms and hands.
More importantly, application and wear is an issue for all sunscreens. Another study went so far as to suggest that reapplying your sunscreen twice in the morning before you go outside would be best because most people simply are not putting on enough the first time (Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, December 2001). Liberal application as well as even, smooth application is critical. From there, how your sunscreen wears should be monitored so you know you're not sweating it off, rubbing it off, washing it off (particularly for the hands), or degrading it by virtue of your own oil production. I know this is a lot to pay attention to, but it is our first line of defense against photodamage, which is truly what causes the skin to wrinkle.
I just read the latest issue of your newsletter (January 2002). I have to say I don't know how you keep going. So many women seem determined to criticize your work and doggedly believe the outrageous claims that the cosmetics industry throws at us. It's really sad.
No matter how many people accuse you of being unfair or not impartial by criticizing other companies' products to promote your own, please do not give up. The information you provide is invaluable to those of us who are willing to listen. Reading your books has made a huge difference in how I shop for products and I see a definite improvement in the appearance and health of my skin.
I may still waste money on fad products or overpriced potions with outrageous claims, but at least I do it with realistic expectations. Yes, I still wear blue eyeshadow sometimes, but I know what shade is most flattering to my coloring and thanks to you I know which eyeshadows work the best for the best price. Keep up the good work, and I hope you never get discouraged. Or if you do, read letters like mine and know that you are making a difference.
Mary, via e-mail
Thank you for your supportive comments! Letters like yours do make a difference in my life and are exactly why I keep doing what I do.
I am looking for makeup recommendations that will make me look older. Yes-older! I am 35, but often pass for a teenager. I have had one professional makeover. They suggested dark brown eyeshadows for a very dramatic look, stating that more makeup makes you look older. The look does make me look older and is fine for evening, but I think it is a little too heavy for the office. Do you have any suggestions?
Susan, via e-mail
Generally, a "full" makeup application will make a younger-looking woman appear older, as most teens do not take the time (or have the skills) with this makeup application. Make sure the colors you choose are strong but not too bold and never use pastel or glossy/shiny shades. Stick with matte textures in sophisticated hues of browns, taupes, caramel, rust, gray, burgundy, rose, berry, and so on. Also, make sure your lipstick is carefully applied and is an opaque, matte texture. Glossy or greasy lips with only minimal color look younger. Have your eyebrows professionally shaped and maintain the shape at home with careful tweezing. An evenly-manicured brow with a soft arch can also look more mature. Learn how to define and fill in your brow for a more elegant look, and wear at least 2 to 3 coats of mascara. Do line your eyes as that enhancement always adds a more sophisticated look.
Make sure your office wardrobe and choice of accessories is not adding to your "young" look. Tailored clothing that fits well is also a sign of elegance and generally not associated with youth. Hair also plays a large part in looking more mature. Long hair is generally more youthful while shoulder length is considered more serious and practical.
Received your book, "Don't Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me", for Christmas, and really enjoyed all the work you have done and the valuable information. I am looking for a "makeover." I am a "mature" woman and [it] seems that I have been applying makeup the same way for many years. I'm changing on the inside and certainly ready for a change on the outside. Do you have any suggestions as to where I can go to get a new look without walking away spending $200?
Pat from Boston, MA
I do not recommend specific places or persons to see for makeup consultations, but there are lots of great options out there. What's most important is that you are comfortable with the process and have realistic expectations. Some women expect too much and end up disappointed, while others aren't sure what they want and end up succumbing to another person's idea of how they should look. The final choice of what to use (and what to buy) and how to apply it is always up to you. What you may want to do is visit your favorite department store and observe the women in the cosmetics department. Do any of them have a "look" you admire? Chances are, if a cosmetics salesperson's makeup appeals to you, she will be able to share tips and application techniques with you. Another idea is to call some makeup artistry lines such as Trish McEvoy, Laura Mercier, Bobbi Brown, or M.A.C. and book a 30-minute appointment for a makeup application. Focus on one or two areas at a time, such as cheeks and lips or foundation and concealer, and let the salesperson know you are checking up on different options and want to see what they have to offer. Do not feel pressured to buy. You can always offer a $5 or $10 tip if that makes you feel less guilty for not purchasing anything, though this is not required! After you have had a few of these appointments, you can take what you liked and create a new look from there. It's helpful to take along a small notebook to jot down product names, shades, prices, and special tips you want to remember.
As a final tip, avoid shiny or iridescent colors around the eye area, as these exaggerate wrinkles or less than perfect skin! Shiny makeup is the trend of the day, so you may need to specifically request matte colors. And beware of overly glossy lips (another trend these days), not only doesn't the color last, but if you have any lines around your mouth the color will bleed into them faster than you can blot your lips!
I recently went to the Laura Mercier counter and got the Blush Ivory Oil Free Foundation. They also tried the Porcelain Ivory on me, which was too pale, and the Warm Ivory was too peach. The Blush Ivory seemed to be the closest match and disappeared into my skin. When it came to getting a matching powder I had a little trouble. I wanted to get the pressed powder. The makeup artist at the counter said the Translucent shade would be better for me so as not to change the color of my foundation. To my way of looking the Translucent shade looks rather white and the Mercier Ivory shade looks yellow. Do you agree with the notion that the Translucent color is a better route for me? Which direction do you recommend?
Diana, via e-mail
While you were at the counter your best option would have been to place each powder over one side of the face and see which had the best effect. Foregoing that piece of information as a general rule it is best to use a pressed powder that does not alter the color of your foundation to keep the appearance natural and even. It is always best to choose a powder that is as close to the color of your foundation as possible. I know a "Translucent" shade sounds like it would be best but in actuality, there is really no such thing as a Translucent shade as the powder material itself has color and that will impact the color of the foundation and skin.
I have a question regarding makeup: eyeshadows, pencils and lipsticks, etc. I have read that many, if not most makeups contain a toxic ingredient called Aluminum Lake. I have read that it is not good for women to be putting this on their skin, as it absorbs into the skin and is a toxin. I have learned that a person can go to health food stores and purchase makeup without these ingredients. Can you tell me what you know about this? I am concerned.
Theresa, via e-mail
While there is reason to be concerned about dyes used in cosmetics, you should know that the FDA and other world monitoring groups are too, and many if not all problematic dyes have been removed from the market. Though there is potential for allergic reactions with dyes, the risk of carcinogenic effects has been all but eliminated. In regard to the specific dyes you have asked about, I have seen no substantiated research about these being a problem. Actually, calcium and aluminum lakes are used in the food industry and are considered some of the safer ones out there!
I would like to know which lip color makes teeth look whiter or at least less yellow? I have heard multiple, contradictory answers about blue-based (cool) tones being better than yellow-based (warm) tones and vice versa. Since everyone is putting so much effort into trying to whiten their teeth, which lipstick enhances the white effect?
Judi, via e-mail
It actually depends more on the actual discoloration of your teeth and the actual color of the lipstick and how it looks on your natural lip color. In essence that means you need to try on varying shades and see what works. The general rule you've probably heard is that yellow tones don't contrast with and downplay the yellow of your teeth while blue-tone lipsticks would (making the yellow look more yellow). But rather than playing this game (which doesn't camouflage much, even if you find the right match), consider talking to your dentist about a teeth-whitening treatment; it's pricey but it works brilliantly, and then it doesn't matter in the least what lipstick shade you wear!
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Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books on skin care and makeup. She is known worldwide as the Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula's Choice. Paula's expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international television including:
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The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to helping you sort through the myths and half-truths of the cosmetic industry. With their expert advice, you’ll have the facts you need to take the best possible care of your skin.
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