All mascara formulas are made up of a combination of oils, waxes, and preservatives, that are natural or synthetic. Some of these oils, waxes, and other ingredients are totally safe, while others are, well, not so safe.
Seven companies own 182 beauty brands, and four of the seven own virtually all of the cosmetics brands. L’Oreal, for example owns Lancome, Maybelline, Yves Saint Laurent, Essie, Garnier, NYX, Giorgio Armani, Ralph Lauren, The Body Shop, Vichy, Biotherm and more.
Earlier this year a class action lawsuit was filed in California against L’Oreal, USA Inc. which claims certain L’Oréal and Maybelline waterproof mascaras contain undisclosed per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) that can be toxic to humans. PFAs and PFOAs might be familiar, they have been in the news a lot over the last few years after the toxicity associated with them was exposed in the movie “Dark Waters” (worth watching if you haven’t yet, streaming on Netflix).
According to the lawsuit, PFAS are toxic to humans at even “extremely low levels,” and their presence in cosmetic products is therefore an important factor to consumers in considering what makeup to buy. The lawsuit alleges that L’Oréal’s failure to disclose the presence of PFAS in its waterproof mascaras—and its representations that the products are safe, effective and high-quality—has caused consumers to purchase more of and pay more for the items than they otherwise would have.
PFAS are also intentionally added as ingredients in a range of cosmetic products, including lotions, conditioners, cleansers, nail polish, shaving cream, foundation, lipstick, eyeliner, eyeshadow, and mascara. These PFAS are used in cosmetics to condition and smooth the skin, making it appear shiny, or to affect product consistency and texture.
Undisclosed PFAs are enough to warn consumers to avoid L’Oreal mascara, but what about the ingredients they do list? Let’s take a look.
L’Oreal Paris Voluminous Lash Paradise Mascara
Paraffin - increases viscosity - petroleum-based wax - non-reproductive organ system toxicity
Potassium Cetyl Phosphate - limited information available
Copernicia Cerifera Cera/Carnauba Wax/Cire De Carnauba
Ethylene/Acrylic Acid Copolymer - binding agent - contamination concerns (METHACRYLIC ACID, ACRYLIC ACID, and 2-ETHYLHEXYL ACRYLATE); non-reproductive organ system toxicity
Styrene/Acrylates/Ammonium Methacrylate Copolymer - colorant - possible contaminant, styrene, is known carcinogen; endocrine disruptor; central nervous system toxicity
Synthetic Beeswax - binding - petroleum based wax; possible skin irritant
Bis-Diglyceryl Polyacyladipate-2 Polybutene - synthetic conditioning agent - limited information available
Cetyl Alcohol - fragrance ingredient - non-reproductive organ system toxicity
Steareth-20 - emulsifying agent - contaminant concerns include ethylene oxide (a suspected carcinogen) and 1,4 dioxane (known carcinogen)
Glyceryl Dibehenate - softening agent
Steareth-2 - emulsifying agent - contaminant concerns include ethylene oxide (a suspected carcinogen) and 1,4 dioxane (known carcinogen)
Phenoxyethanol Hydroxyethylcellulose - contaminant concerns include ethylene oxide (a suspected carcinogen) and 1,4 dioxane (known carcinogen)
Acacia Senegal Gum - adhesive & fragrance ingredient - concerns include immunotoxicity and non-reproductive organ system toxicity
Tribehenin - conditioning agent - enhanced skin absorption
Caprylyl Glycol - humectant
Glyceryl Behenate - emulsifier - absorption enhancer; skin, eyes and lung irritant; restricted use in cosmetics is recommended
Sodium Dehydroacetate - preservative
Hydrogenated Palm Oil - increases viscosity - contamination concerns (ORGANOCHLORINES, PCBS, and BENZO[A]PYRENE)
Disodium EDTA - chelating agent (binding) - enhanced skin absorption; non-reproductive organ toxicity
Butylene Glycol - solvent - skin and eye irritant
Rosa Canina Fruit Oil
Sodium Laureth Sulfate - emulsifying agent - contaminant concerns include ethylene oxide (a suspected carcinogen) and 1,4 dioxane (known carcinogen); non-reproductive organ system toxicity; skin, eyes and lung irritant
Tetrasodium EDTA - chelating agent (binding) - enhanced skin absorption; non-reproductive organ toxicity
Maltodextrin - thickener
BHT - fragrance ingredient - concerns include immunotoxicity and non-reproductive organ system toxicity; cancer; contaminant concerns include ethylene oxide (a suspected carcinogen) and 1,4 dioxane (known carcinogen)
Propylene Glycol - preservative - Propylene glycol has been shown to cause dermatitis, kidney and liver damage, and to inhibit skin cell growth. It can be absorbed by the skin and is stored throughout the body.
Centaurea Cyanus Flower Extract
Propyl Gallate - preservative - skin and eye irritant
[+/- May Contain / Peut Contenir Ci 77491, Ci 77492, Ci 77499/Iron Oxides Ci 77007/Ultramarines(synthetic colorant)] Fil Code T279681/1
Elate Cosmetics Essential Mascara
Canadian made and created for even the most sensitive eyes, this water- and sweat-resistant formula helps your mascara stay put, even when you’re on the go. Made with organic white tea, it’s packed with antioxidants for healthier, stronger lashes. Apply a light coat for plump, lengthened lashes, building for the desired volume. Plus, it’s multi-use, doubling as a product to keep those eyebrows in place all day.
Aqua - water
CI 77499 - black iron oxide
Hydrogenated Olive Oil Stearyl Esters - conditions
Stearic Acid - emulsifier, enables water and oil-based ingredients to mix
Copernicia Cerifera (Carnauba) Wax - hypoallergenic and moisturizing
Cetearyl Alcohol - prevents oil and water from separating
Glycerin - keeps mascara on lashes
Myrica Pubescens (Bayberry) Fruit Wax - conditions lashes and holds mascara in place
Pullulan - softener
Staying away from toxic ingredients is our main MO, and when it comes to makeup, choosing an actually clean and effective mascara is important. Particularly, when it's so close to our eyeballs!! The cherry on top is their packaging. Elate mascara comes in a recyclable plastic inner tube, encased in bamboo. The bamboo is water processed and can be composted, just crush the bamboo tube and compost. Thoroughly wash and recycle the rest with your household recycling.