5 pounds of makeup?

A post over at the Goody Blog (which is so fun!) tonight is highlighting a study claiming that women who use make-up daily absorb 5 pounds of chemicals into their body yearly, and encouraging women to use multipurpose products to cut down on the number of potentially interacting substances.

While I don’t disagree with the thinking here (who wants an extra 5 pounds of chemicals?), I do take issue with the quoted fact.  It just seems really high to me.  How do you measure such a thing accurately, anyway?  How do you compensate for the lipstick that disappears when you blot?  When you drink morning coffee?  When you kiss your kids?

So I clicked over to the source to find out.  The initial article was published in The Telegraph (London).  Perfectly respectable paper, right?  So the facts are clear, right?

Let’s read a little closer.  The first line of the article says:

“Women who use make-up on a daily basis are absorbing almost 5lb of chemicals a year into their bodies, it is claimed.”

Whoa, there!  It is claimed?  Who claims it?  How?  Who perfomed the study?  Were the results published in a referreed journal?  Who funded the study, and what did they have to gain from the results?

The article never says.  But let’s read on.

“…Richard Bence, a biochemist who has spent three years researching conventional products, said: “We really need to start questioning the products we are putting on our skin and not just assume that the chemicals in them are safe.  We have no idea what these chemicals do when they are mixed together, the effect could be much greater than the sum of the individual parts.” Mr Bence, an advocate of organic beauty products,”

Whoops!  You had me at “advocate.”  What we have here is a study that is not entirely free of bias.  Regardless of experimental design, a biased principal investigator can be a sign of a questionable study.  Other signs would be funding by a particular organic beauty product line, lack of publication in the standard peer review journals, etc.  We don’t know if this study fits those criteria or not, though, since the details are omitted from the Telegraph article.

My point?  Don’t panic.  Although there may be some truth to this statement, it certainly isn’t a proven fact that women absorb at least / at most / on average / or even sometimes 5 pounds of chemicals through their skin each year.  At least, not based on this article.


11 Responses to 5 pounds of makeup?

  1. NYfriend says:

    If you want to check out products in use in your home, including soaps, toothpaste, etc., here’s a great site to start with:


    Then click on “Skin Deep: Cosmetic Safety Database” in the lower right.

  2. Amy says:

    Good point. It’s so easy to just read an article by “experts” and assume it’s the truth. It’s important to remember to read critically!

    Thanks for the info & the reminder!

  3. diatribal says:

    I was looking at that article and thinking the same thing last night. Thanks for posting it !! Now, I don’t have to!


  4. Binky says:

    Absolutely. It’s necessary to be media savvy and to do your own research. I’d go so far as to say that there are very few things in life that should be taken at face value. Most everything requires further introspection.

  5. Kelly says:

    Hi, I’ve been reading your blog for a few weeks and find myself inspired by your strength and courage with each new post. Stay Strong.

    In regards to this Telegraph article, I was curious about the biochemist-advocate, Richard Bence. With a little help from dear Google, it’s interesting to find that there is a biochemist named Richard Bence existing in the UK who also happens to own and run an Organic Skin Care line. One must wonder if that it the same individual… http://www.beingorganic.com Decide for yourselves 🙂

    Thanks for the story.

  6. Spacemom says:

    I always wonder about “organics” when they can be chemical too…

    I love posts like this…when you dare to read between the lines…

  7. Bon says:

    i’m always fascinated by sourcing articles and quotes regarding claims, as more often than not, the more dramatic a claim is, the more likely it seems to be that the speaker has some kind of product to sell, or money to be made in an opposing camp.

    that said, i don’t really believe in research without “bias”, in the sense that bias simply means the perspective through which information is viewed. and in any area where scientific or statistical data meets the messy world of human usage and interaction, there has to be a lens or perspective shaping a research study, making decisions, leaving some data in and excluding other data. which is not to say that many studies are far more transparent and reliable in their claims than others…but i think they still reflect a version of bias, just not necessarily the kind of bias we get up in arms about.

  8. Ally says:

    Way to parse that one down to its fallacies. Thanks for sharing this with us.

  9. Monica says:

    I don’t care if it’s true, I’m using this “fact” to get my mother in law to shut up about me not wearing make up at all.

    PS You should read the book freakanomics in your “spare” time – there’s lots about people that claim this or that with no scientific basis for their statements. It’s a good read.

  10. canape says:

    If this is true, then I know so many women whose entire weight gain in their adult lives could be chalked up to wearing too much makeup.

    Love handles? No, I just wear too much foundation.

  11. ByJane says:

    terrific deconstruction…

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