If looks could kill we'd all be in trouble right? Well, actually there is a lot of evidence to show that looks may not be able to kill but they certainly can be dangerous. Until recently very few of us realised that the products we use to enhance our beauty may not be as safe as we thought.

Drop Dead Beauty

Throughout history women have unknowingly used dangerous chemicals such as mercury, lead, arsenic and formaldehyde, as beauty products.

Cleopatra recognised for her bold and striking make up, applied malachite, lead sulphide, soot, antimony, manganese and copper to her eyes. No wonder the Egyptians had such wonderful imaginations with all those neurological damaging ingredients!

During the Renaissance many women, including Queen Elizabeth I used deadly white lead to whiten their face. This directly contributed too many deaths and disfigurements. In fact Queen Elizabeth herself was so disfigured that she refused to look in the mirror … and disguised her disfigurement with more white lead!

Women of the Victorian times, had somewhat wised up to the use of dangerous leads in face powder, replacing them with zinc oxide. However their knowledge still wasn’t complete, as lead, antimony sulphide, belladonna and nightshade were used to highlight eyesby making the pupils dilate and Mercury and arsenic used in lipstick.

Less then 80 years ago in 1933, Lash Lure mascara was introduced to the market place. Marketed as permanent mascara, it contained p-phenylenediamine an untested chemical that caused blistering and ulceration of the eye, which often lead to blindness, and in one case death.

We may cringe or laugh at the lengths women went to all in the name of beauty, but all of these substances were effective in achieving the superficial look that the women of the day sought. Lead did whiten their face, mercury did colour their lips red and nightshade did give them shimmering eyes.

Although mercury, lead, arsenic and formaldehyde may still be present in modern main stream cosmetics, they are normally only contain a very small proportion portions. Instead the modern cosmetics industry relies on a wide range of other chemicals such as sodium lauryl sulphate, parabens, petrochemicals, artificial colours and preservatives.

These ingredients are very appealing to cosmetics manufacturers as they are cheap and effective at what they do. Some of these chemicals were developed for industrial use; propylene glycol adds body and a smooth texture to products such as shampoo, but was initially was used as an industrial antifreeze. Whereas sodium lauryl sulphate is a foaming agent that started out as an engine degreaser- and amazingly still is used as an engine degreaser!

But how dangerous are these chemicals and what is the threat when they are in cosmetics?

Well there has been research linking many of these chemicals to cancer, skin aliments, allergies, and a host of other disorders. Cosmetics and chemical companies have countered this research with their own research stating that the ingredients are safe.

As with similar scientific debate, such as smoking and asbestos, in may take many more years of impartial research to know for sure what many of these new and exotic chemicals are doing to our health.

Cosmetics are always in contact with our skin. And therefore they can be absorbed through the skin and get into our blood system, where they can be transported all around the body. Some cosmetics ingredients are not easily eliminated from our body and can build up to harmful levels. Long term exposure to chemicals may be one of the causes of multiple chemical sensitivity, cancer, dermatitis and other minor, but annoying allergies. So the foundation or eye shadows that are applied daily could be more permanent than we think.

Is there an alternative?

Fortunately there is a wide range of natural, herbal, and organic cosmetic and Mineral Make Up that offer a great alternative to suspect chemicals. Let’s face it, who wouldn’t want to use a product made with rosehip oil instead of an industrial degreaser, or organic lavender oil instead of the 26 cheaper chemicals it takes to reproduce lavender’s fragrance!

So what should you look for and what should you avoid when shopping for natural, herbal and organic cosmetic and personal care products?

Read the ingredients list on the back of the package. By law the ingredients should be listed in order of the proportion in the product, so the first 4 or 5 in the list normally make up more that 80% of the product. So firstly look for natural products that you recognise in the list, such as almond, rosehip and aloe vera oil. Next make sure these are early in the list of ingredients as this means there is a high proportion of these ingredients in the products. Then avoid products that have lots of long chemical sounding names in the ingredients list, especially if these are the first 5 or so ingredients.

If you are more interested in knowing more about the ingredients in your products grab The Chemical Maze by Bill Statham. Its your perfect guide to food additives and cosmetic ingredients, ideal for meandering the maze of ingredients out there!

Remember if you think that a product may be causing irritation stop using it a try something else.

So don't make the same mistakes as Queen Elizabeth I and kick chemicals to the curb. You certainly don't need them to look and feel great. Embrace the natural and organic cleansers, moisturisers and mineral make up we have to offer, that not only makes your skin look great but feel great too!