Midterm Topic: Clean Cosmetics

            For the midterm and my final project, I wanted to focus on makeup. My inspiration for wanting to touch upon this topic is twofold. Last year, when I was in Professor Vesna's Honors 177 Collegium, I stumbled across a project from a then student in DESMA 160, Yuna Park. Her project went into detail about chemical free cosmetics. She wanted to focus on creating an app that detailed all the harmful chemicals within specific products, and, to my recollection, also provided healthier alternatives to some makeup compounds. Additionally, I notice my girlfriend always seeks out chemical-free alternatives to the products she uses, but the problem she often finds is that while there are a plentiful number of options out there, most of them are not long-lasting. She likes to frequently mix products so she ends up having to throw out most of her unused healthier alternatives since they expire far too quickly. 

            For my project in this class I would like do a spin-off of Yuna's project last year and focus on creating either a do it yourself ("DIY") kit made entirely of toxic-free materials or creating a makeup solution that has all these healthy alternative compounds already mixed in. The problem I will inevitably encounter is creating a solution set that is both 'clean' and long-lasting.

            I will start my project by first dissecting exactly what these toxic compounds are and their specific purpose in the chemical composition of makeup solutions. This can potentially open up many pathways of the makeup/skincare market (I expect to find many parallels in the compounds used in both skincare and makeup treatments) that I can look into: moisturizer, sunscreen, cleanser, concealer, lipstick, blush, brow gel, mascara, highlighter, etc.

            From my initial research, I have come to find that makeup was first introduced by the Egyptians more than 7,000 years ago. Since then, it has transitioned from a particularly lethal product used primarily by royalty to a more safety conscious household item, albeit still filled with dangerous substances. Some compounds that are especially concerning include phthalates (agent responsible for fragrance), lead (commonly found in lipstick), formaldehyde (indirect byproduct), PEG ("petroleum-based compounds"), butylated compounds (often recognized in blushes), and parabens (used for shelf life preservation), which is the notorious ingredient widely known since 2003 for disrupting the endocrine system and causing breast cancer. There are certainly more to mention when I dig into the weeds for my project, but these will seed my preliminary research.

Ancient Egyptian women

From a study conducted by the University of Virginia

            Once I have identified the primary agents in toxic-filled makeup, I will begin searching for alternatives to these compounds. I imagine this is what will comprise the bulk of my research since I will need to not only find healthy solutions but also materials that can be sustainable for longer periods of time. My starting point will likely be to delve into the products issued by Sephora through their "Green at Sephora" initiative that was launched in March 2018. 

Green at Sephora

            I imagine my final product will be an illustration of a DIY kit directed for more individual use or an actual solution that could be extrapolated to more of a commercial setting. If I choose the later, there are more economics involved, but that could potentially lead to a business venture down the road. At the time of this blog writing, I am leaning more towards creating an actual mixed physical or liquid solution that could ultimately be mass produced. If someone from the Honors 177 class was interested in designing the label for this product, I would love to team up with him/her. 


Patrick, Neil. “Interesting History of Cosmetics or Makeup.” The Vintage News, 27 June 2015, www.thevintagenews.com/2015/06/26/interesting-history-of-cosmetics-that-will-surely-capture-your-attention/.

theorganicbunny. “Mac Makeup Toxic Archives.” Organic Bunny, 29 Mar. 2015, www.theorganicbunny.com/tag/mac-makeup-toxic/.

Robin, Marci. “Sephora Is About to Make Shopping for Clean Beauty Products WAY Less Confusing.” Allure, Allure, 11 May 2018, www.allure.com/story/clean-at-sephora-category-filter-by-ingredient.

Sims, Susan. “Ancient Beauty, Toxic Cosmetics.” Cardiff University SHARE EJournal, 8 Feb. 2015, cushareejournal.wordpress.com/2019/03/29/ancient-beauty-toxic-cosmetics/.

Dubs, Zoe. “So What Exactly Are Parabens? The Truth About Skincare's Biggest Bad Guy.” ELLE, ELLE, 21 Aug. 2018, www.elle.com/uk/beauty/skin/articles/a36356/what-are-parabens/.

Unknown. Ancient Egyptian Women. Photograph. 2016. https://www.historicmysteries.com/role-of-women-in-ancient-egypt/.

University of Virginia. 4 Chemicals in Makeup to Avoid. Photograph. 2019. https://uvahealth.com/locations/profile/facial-cosmetic-reconstructive-surgery.

Sephora. Clean at Sephora. Photograph. 2018. https://www.allure.com/story/clean-at-sephora-category-filter-by-ingredient.