From the Romans to the Renaissance, make-up has played an important role in the shaping of society. Often a sign of wealth and beauty, men and women have long turned to lotions, potions and creams to help make themselves look and feel better. But the concoctions they created didn't always work, while worse, others had a positively detrimental effect on health. Take the 1600's biggest trend: porcelain skin. A mixture of carbinate, hydroxide and lead oxide was used to create flawless white skin but caused severe health problems that included muscle paralysis. A more natural look was favoured in the 19th century and less-harmful alternatives were introduced as people began to realise the damaging effects.
While extreme whitening pastes are rarely found in modern cosmetics, new and equally dangerous chemicals can be found in products available today - and it hasn't gone unnoticed. Governments and beauty companies alike are working on phasing out some of the most toxic ingredients, with 1,382 banned by the EU alone, but there is still more to do. Lead, a toxic contaminant, is still found in a wide variety of lipsticks in low levels while chlorobutanol still turns up in many cosmetics even though it can cause skin or tissue irritation and high exposure carries a small risk of neurotoxic side effects. Not only is it bad for the environment and extremely toxic for marine life, pronopol is also a skin irritant in large doses and can damage the liver if swallowed. Greater awareness of the detrimental effects of parabens, sulphates and other toxins has led to a greater demand for greener, healthier products, while others have decided to forgo commercially produced make-up altogether in favour of making their own. But do DIY cosmetics really work or are you swapping one bad choice for another? The Ecologist's Sophie Laggan put DIY make-up to the test.
'The train was late again last night so the last thing I wanted to do was slave away in the kitchen making my own make-up. With that daunting prospect in mind, I enlisted the help of my doting fiancé. Miraculously, within minutes, we have managed to conjure up some homemade lip balm, mascara and blusher. Well that was easy.'
'Today's test is all about endurance and so far so good. My colleagues are none the wiser and my face feels decidedly fresh. It's now midday and the make-up has faded although this is no different to my conventional face paint. A quick touch up and I’m good to go.'
'Insisting we watch a war film, which is always guaranteed to make me weep, my fiancé and I put on Downfall. 156 minutes later and I'm a blubbering mess. Although my face is slightly smudged, there is no mascara massacre and I don't bear too much resemblance to a panda. A gentle wipe of the face later and you would never know I had been crying for two hours from my mascara, although the bloodshot eyes are a slight giveaway.'
Get involved: the recipes
3tbsp sweet almond oil
8 to 10 drops of essential oil (optional)
On a low heat, melt the beeswax in a saucepan with the sweet almond oil and honey. Leave to cool for a few minutes if you wish to add essential oils. Pour into small pots and store in the fridge.
Sophie's verdict: 'Soft and great tasting, I could be fooled into thinking this was a leading brand. Add cranberries for a festive addition or make a large batch to create perfect stocking fillers.'
Aloe vera gel
Mix the charcoal with aloe gel to form a paste. It's possible to pour the mixture into your old mascara tub if the neck is wide enough and then simply apply using the brush. Alternatively, hunt down a cylindrical tube that fits the bill.
Sophie's verdict: 'Producing the same results as my normal mascara but with the bonus of soft lashes. Needs reapplying as it doesn’t stick like a conventional concoction but is worth it for the panda-eye prevention.'
1 tsp dried beetroot powder
1 1/2 tbsp coconut oil
1 1/2 tbsp beeswax
Melt the mix on a low heat and then pour into a glass jar to cool.
Sophie's verdict: 'The blusher was subtle but could be built up for a more dramatic look. Can also be used as a tinted lip balm.'
No time to make your own? Then try one of these:
Green People Pure Blush, £19.40
A certified organic blusher with jojoba oil, beeswax and sunflower oil, Green People Pure Blush is made with natural minerals for subtle colour. While it does tend to look a little insipid with only one coat, it can be built up to produce a rosy pop of colour. Better still, there's no carmine, mineral oils, parabens, petrochemicals or phthalates.
Get it: www.greenpeople.co.uk
FairSquared Organic Vegan Lip Balm, £1.99
A tasty, long lasting lip balm in a handy recyclable tube made from natural and organic ingredients. Available in vegan varieties - the beeswax free option - it is free from petrolatum, parabens and sulphates, GMOs and cruelty.
Get it: www.fairsquared.co.uk
NATorigin Lengthening Mascara, £13.50
Winner of the Best Natural Mascara category at the Janey Lee Grace Platinum Awards and Best Mascara in the Green Parent Natural Beauty Awards, the entire NATorigin range is the only cosmetics brand currently approved by Allergy UK. Organic arctic raspberry oil, red algae extract, organic shea butter and organic jojoba oil nourish and protect lashes while the colour lasts all day.
Get it: www.natorigin.co.uk
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