9 Disturbing Ingredients That May Be Lurking In Your Cosmetics

Makeup and cosmetics have been used for thousands of years, but they haven’t always been as safe as they are today. Women used a lot of questionable things on the quest for beauty, like lead to whiten skin and belladonna to make their eyes sparkle, both of which can cause death and deformity. However, makeup has come a long way and undergone a lot of scrutinies, something you would expect for something that goes all over your face.

Unfortunately, while you probably won’t find any lead or belladonna in your makeup today that doesn’t mean there isn’t some super gross stuff that gets mixed in there that is perfectly legal.


For those not into the world of devilishly hot peppers, capsaicin is the compound responsible for that tingly burning feeling hot peppers give off and the primary ingredient in pepper spray. It is also a pretty popular ingredient in makeup. For women with sensitive skin and allergies to certain makeup, they will likely be well acquainted with a particular burning feeling when they apply some cosmetics. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always mean they are allergic to it because capsaicin has the same effect when applied. Typically it is used as an antibacterial and anti-fungal agent in lipstick. An added benefit is that the capsaicin can help your lips look a little plumper in small amounts, though.

Fish Scales

Cosmetics are no stranger to fish and shellfish by-products, which is why even putting on makeup can be dangerous for those with shellfish allergies. However, one of the most popular byproducts that you can find in cosmetics is fish scales, or rather the pearlescence that gives scales their shiny appearance. Pearlescence has the same effect on makeup – it gives it that alluring shimmer. Unfortunately, that shimmer isn’t flecks of glitter, it is more likely the shiny layer off of Herring scales.



Almost everyone knows that formaldehyde is used to preserve the dead in modern embalming, but most people probably don’t know that you can find it in cosmetics. Fortunately, you would have to have some decently old cosmetics to find it in there still today. Formaldehyde was classified as a carcinogen in 2004, which means it can no longer be used as a preservative in makeup. Still, I bet you can still find cosmetics from 2004 being sold out there somewhere. Not legally, though.

Bone Marrow

Unlike shellfish, using other land-dwelling animal byproducts in your makeup is still a pretty common practice. If it’s not specifically vegan, there is a pretty good chance something from animals is in there. When it comes to face creams, that byproduct is probably bone marrow. You see, marrow contains glucosamine, which when applied to the skin actually gives it that coveted youthful glow.


Urea is just a more label-friendly way of saying urine. Urea is a compound that is primarily disposed of in urine. It is actually why urine is useful for disinfecting things in a pinch. Urea is used in antiperspirants, moisturizers, shampoos, and even mouthwashes. It is a pretty good anti-inflammatory and also contains vitamins like A, D, E, and K. You just have to try not to think about the fact that it was harvested from pee.

On the bright side, you aren’t getting human urea in your cosmetics. Usually, it is harvested from horses because, well, they produce more urine than you.

Carmine (AKA Crushed Beetles)

Carmine is a popular ingredient on the watch list of many when it comes to buying sensitive skin-friendly cosmetics, but most people don’t know why. Aside from being an allergy trigger for sensitive skin, it is also because it is beetles. Carmine is made from ground up Cochineal Beetles, which isn’t label-friendly so instead, they say carmine, cochineal, or carminic acid. The beetles are gathered up, drowned, dried, and ground up to be used as a red dye. If you are a fan of blush or beautiful red lipstick, you might want to check it for carmine before buying.

It isn’t just used in cosmetics either, by the way. Anything red might use it like gelatin, juices, or even candy.


The good news is that you don’t need to worry about semen as an ingredient in your lipstick or eye shadow, and the even better news is you likely won’t find it many places without your consent. Semen, usually fish semen, is used in lotions and face masks because it is not only healthy for your skin but because it binds water really well. However, in certain salons, you can willingly get semen from bulls massaged into your scalp for a head of healthy and shiny hair. It’s gross and costs more than you’d expect, but you can’t argue with results.

Wool Wax (AKA Lanolin)

As an ingredient, wool wax, which is actually an oil produced on sheep’s wool called lanolin, isn’t actually all that gross. Unfortunately, the real problem with it is that it is the number one irritant among people with skin sensitive to cosmetics. Typically it is thick and viscous because its purpose is to prevent chapping, soothe dryness, and otherwise trap in moisture, so if you are sensitive to it, getting the lanolin off your face can be a bit of a chore.


Oh, it isn’t just semen that is good for your skin, so is your afterbirth. Like semen, typically you don’t accidentally buy cosmetics made of placenta since, among health nuts, it is actually a big selling point. Typically you will find face creams, particularly wrinkle removers, with hyaluronic acid and protein hydrolysate on the label, hormones extracted from the placenta. They are extremely effective at removing wrinkles and also promote new tissue growth.