Makeup is any substance people apply to their skin or nails for either decoration or disguise. The decoration may be subtle (such as glitter or nail polish) or fantastic (such as the kabuki-style makeup worn by members of the band Kiss). The use of makup as disguise is sometimes extreme; everyone has seen movies in which actors are made up to look like zombies, aliens, or other inhuman monsters. However, in daily life, makeup is most often used to create the illusion of an excellent complexion.
In short, most people use makeup to cover up perceived or real flaws in their skin. Got freckles? Unwanted shine? Pale eyelashes? Spotty nails? Large pores? Redness? Dark circles under your eyes? Puffiness? Spider veins? Scars? Bruises? Blackheads? Fungal infections? Makeup can smooth it all over and make your skin look (if not actually be) unblemished and healthy.
Wearing makeup is a very personal act that helps some people feel more attractive and confident. "Putting your face on" is a cherished daily ritual for some people. But it is also a highly social act.
If you are an American woman in mainstream society, many people will expect you to wear makeup, and failing to apply it as others do can have negative consequences. If a woman wears more makeup than other women in her social group, she may be deemed to be promiscuous, trashy, or stupid. In some workplaces, a woman can be scrupulously clean and dress well, but if she fails to wear makeup, her coworkers or boss may judge her to somehow be lazy or unfeminine and therefore a less worthy person. Conversely, if an American man wears noticeable makeup, people may well assume him to be homosexual.
So why wouldn't a person want to wear makeup?
There are many reasons:
1: Health Concerns
Some women have extremely resilient skin; they could slather on a foundation of 80% motor oil every morning and not get a single pimple. Other women at the opposite end of the spectrum are not so lucky. They have "problem" skin that is prone to blackheads and acne and other infections, and wearing makeup, no matter the maker's claims that their products are noncomedogenic and hypoallergenic, makes their skin worse.
So, what's in makeup that could create skin problems? Plenty:
- Formaldehyde. You may be familiar with this chemical from its use in preserving dead frogs for your high school biology class. It's still used in nail polishes as a hardener, and formaldehyde resins are used in rouges and face powders. Formaldehyde is an irritant, and it's known to cause cancer.
- Dibutyl phthalate. Banned in Europe, this chemical is widely used elsewhere as a plasticizer in nail polishes. It's also a teratogen that can also cause allergic reactions.
- Dyes such as Benzyl Violet 4B (aka Violet 2). The state of California has declared Violet 2 to be a cancer-causing agent. It's also likely to trigger skin reactions in sensitive people. Other dyes can cause similar reactions.
- Stearalkonium hectorite. This is used in a wide array of cosmetics; it may chemically change to nitrosamines while on the skin, which are known to cause cancer.
- Methylparaben. There's evidence that this common cosmetic ingredient may affect a person's hormone levels and in turn increase the risk of some cancers. It can also trigger allergies in sensitive people.
- Salicylic acid. This is added as an anti-acne ingredient to some cosmetics. However, many people with sensitive skin find that it causes irritation that can make skin more prone to breakouts. It can also increase a person's sensitivity to ultraviolet light and make them more prone to skin damage from the sun.
- Glycolic acid. This is an alpha-hydroxy acid used in many cosmetics to smooth wrinkles. It can cause irritation in sensitive people; it can also make you more prone to UV damage.
- Coal tar. This is used in some lipsticks, mascaras and eyeliners as a blackening agent. It's carcinogenic.
- Lanolin. This natural moisturizer derived from sheep's wool is touted for its mildness, but it can trigger severe allergic reactions in those sensitive to it. The less purified lanolin is, the more likely it is to cause trouble in people who react badly to wool. Other natural ingredients, particularly botanicals, can pose the same problem.
- Sunscreens like PABA, cinnamates, mexenone, and oxybenzone. These can be allergens to sensitive people, and they can also ironically make a person more sun-sensitive.
- Lead. In 2007, product tests commissioned by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics indicated that many brands of red lipsticks contain unsafe levels of this heavy metal, which is known to cause high blood pressure and damage the brain and kidneys at toxic levels.
- Bacteria. Most cosmetics don't start out contaminated by pathogenic bacteria, but it's very easy to contaminate liquid or powdered makeup with bacteria from your fingers or from an applicator sponge after it's touched your face. Makeup that gets shared with other people is especially prone to bacterial contamination, which can cause skin and other infections.
In short, there's lots of substances in makeup that can cause irritation to sensitive skin. Irritation leads to inflammation, which makes skin prone to infection and scarring. Furthermore, a nontrivial number of ingredients in cosmetics might give you cancer in the long run. And that's not pretty.
When a woman who's struggled to find a non-irritating makeup for years discovers that her skin looks and feels better when she simply washes it with a mild glyerine soap twice a day, laziness has nothing to do with her decision to stop wearing cosmetics.
The nature of makeup itself, rather than its specific ingredients, can cause problems.
Many eye doctors discourage their female patients from using eye makeup such as mascara, eyeliner, and eye shadow because particles from the makeup may get in the eye and trigger allergic inflammation or infections. Furthermore, according to the FDA, accidentally scratching one's eye with a mascara wand is a fairly common injury. Damage to the eye can cause corneal ulcers or ultimately blindness.
2: Financial Concerns
Many women find that the more inexpensive a cosmetic is, the worse it looks and the more likely it is to contain irritating ingredients. Good-quality makeup gets very expensive. A woman with limited funds may well decide that no makeup is better than cheap makeup. If she's struggling to make ends meet, she may decide to spend the $30 she'd pay for a tube of Clinique on buying her child better food or on whittling down her credit card debt.
3: Personal Comfort
Some people simply don't like the feel of makeup on their skin. Contact lens wearers may find that dust and flakes from makeup get in their eyes with painful results. A regular eyelash in the eye can be uncomfortable, but cover it in mascara and it's far worse.
4: Interest in Living a Simpler Life
Your last boyfriend broke up with you because you were "too high-maintenance". Your girlfriend cattily remarked, "Maybe if some of us would forgo that 5th coat of mascara, we'd actually make it to the restaurant on time!" Your boss fired you because you're perpetually late to work.
So you decide one day to chuck all the cosmetics you spend hours a day applying and re-applying, and you never look back.
5: Social Concerns
As noted previously, mainstream American society expects certain things of women that it does not expect of men. People may subsequently refuse to wear makeup as their own personal social statements. Some might be:
- You're male, and don't want to be seen as "freaky" or "gay".
- You're female, and feel bad that men can't join in the fun and wear makeup, so you won't except in places where they can, too.
- You're female, and are annoyed by peer pressure to wear makeup to be accepted by others, so you pointedly refuse to wear it.
- You believe that the cosmetics industry has grown rich by promoting and exploiting people's vanity and personal insecurity, and you think it's hurt society.
- You think the cosmetics industry is evil for testing products on bunnies.
- You think there's too much emphasis on superficial beauty and not enough on inner beauty; you want to show others that one can be beautiful without makeup.
- You realize that much standard makeup is a stylized representation of sexual receptiveness (such as red lipstick mimicking the engorgement and flushing of lips during sexual excitement) or an effort to emulate adolescent feminity (such as eye shadow mimicking the thin, translucent eyelids of teenage girls) and you think all that is a bit creepy.
- Your religious leader has denounced makeup as a sinful tool of wanton vanity. Since you don't want to inadvertently go to Hell when you die, you skip the blush and lipstick and go barefaced.
- You think you look just fine without a bunch of stuff on your face, thankyouverymuch!