Ever since these sorts of things have been recorded, women have used cosmetics. Although the reasons for the use of cosmetics varied throughout history, in most cases women went to extreme lengths to achieve a “look.” Most women didn't bat an eyelid if the ingredients used to make an item could harm them or, worse, kill them.
Cleopatra famously wore eye kohl made of ash, and Queen Elizabeth I of England applied a thick layer of white lead-laced powder to achieve what was seen as a sign of wealth – a milky pale face. Women of the early 1900’s applied balls of hot wax to darken and thicken their eyelashes.
Today, the dangers of lead, ash, wax, and a number of other toxic ingredients are known and not used in cosmetics anymore - we have stringent regulations that most of us believe protect us against potentially harmful ingredients in our cosmetics. However, an extraordinary level of shocking ingredients are still commonly used by cosmetic companies today. None of these ingredients can kill you - and most are organic (!) which should put chemical-phobes' minds at rest - but most of us won't believe we put apply these items to our faces and bodies daily.
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Way back in 1933, Russian researchers were looking for a way to stimulate the production of restorative genes. Realizing placental growth properties, and high protein and hormone content, these researchers used human placenta in their studies and soon discovered its “rejuvenating” qualities. Placenta extract helps stimulate tissue growth, making it an ideal ingredient for companies to use in products designed to soften fine lines and wrinkles.
The use of human placenta in cosmetics is not as common as it was in the 1950’s and 60’s, but several companies still manufacture products using placenta. Some beauty products even contain animal placenta, which is apparently less safe than human placenta.
9 Fish Scales
Ever wonder how cosmetic companies get that pretty shimmery effect in your nail polish and eye shadow? Fish scales probably never crossed your mind. Fish scales, which are manufactured into crystalline guanine, are a common ingredient in cosmetics. Crystalline guanine produces a pearly, iridescent effect and is used to make a variety of products, including nail polish, eye shadow, lipstick, and shampoo. Crystalline guanine is a by-product of commercial fish processing. In case you were wondering, most guanine comes from herring.
8 Cochineal Insect
Described as a parasite, the Cochineal insect is more than likely responsible for creating the shade of your favorite red lipstick. The Cochineal insect, which feeds on the juice of cactus, produces carminic acid. Carminic acid helps protect the insect from predators, but alas, not human predators. At the ripe old age of 90 days, the insects are harvested, dried, crushed, and mixed with a solution to get carmine dye.
On your cosmetic ingredients list carmine dye is also referred to as carmine, natural red 4 or cochineal extract. Although the use of synthetic dyes during the 19th century decreased the use of carmine dye in other industries, it is still widely used in the cosmetic industry. Oh, and if the thought of crushed up bugs in your lipstick and blush doesn’t make you think twice before applying, carmine dye can also cause a severe allergic reaction in some people.
7 Infant Foreskin
Foreskin fibroblasts? What’s a foreskin fibroblast you ask? Well, fibroblasts are cells grown on infant foreskin, and infant foreskin has cell properties similar to stem cells. Fibroblasts grown on infant foreskin are loaded with collagen, elastin, and hyaluronic acid. These properties make fibroblasts a perfect ingredient for anti-aging creams and creams designed for burn patients.
Just one infant foreskin can be used for many years, and can be sold to cosmetic companies for thousand of dollars. But, if you think the use of infant foreskin is a new thing, it’s not. The use of infant foreskin for medical research and cosmetic purposes has been taking place since the 1980’s.
6 Whale Poop
Yes, you read that right, sperm whale secretion is an ingredient found in some perfumes. Whale vomit, or Ambergris as it is also called, is a waxy, flammable substance produced in the digestive systems of sperm whales. Scientists believe whales produce Ambergris to help pass hard objects... like squid beaks. Usually, Ambergris exits whales through the rear end, but in some cases, whales can’t pass it through the intestines and must vomit it.
It’s illegal to posses or trade Ambergris in the U.S. and most cosmetic companies have replaced the use of Ambergris with synthetic ingredients. But, if money is no object (Ambergris can cost as much as $20 per gram), you can still purchase perfumes containing Ambergris in France and Switzerland.
Ok, so dynamite isn’t exactly in your favorite beauty products, but one of the main compounds of dynamite - diatomaceous earth (DE) - is. Diatomaceous earth is a soft rock containing the fossilized remains of a type of hard-shelled algae. There are two types of diatomaceous earth: industrial grade and food grade. Because of it’s high silica content, ability to crumble easily, and abrasive qualities, food-grade DE is frequently used in popular beauty products like exfoliators, deodorants, toothpaste, and face powders.
4 Bull Semen
Bull semen, well known for its high protein content, is an ingredient used in the production of anti-aging creams and hair products. Although bull semen is primarily, ahem, extracted for breeding purposes, some semen is frozen for cosmetic use. Americans may only just be getting comfortable with the use of bull semen, but in London, the ladies are lining up for semen infused hair treatments. Supposedly, a hair salon in Knightsbridge London uses organic bull semen as a rich conditioning treatment.
3 Road Kill
Imagine cooking some bacon, draining the fat, letting the fat solidify, and then slathering it all over your face. That’s basically how animal fat (tallow) is rendered for use in cosmetics like lipsticks, cleansers, and moisturizers. Although tallow is traditionally taken from sheep and beef carcasses, commercial tallow can contain fat rendered from any animal as long as it meets certain criteria. And, apparently, the cosmetic industry does not have strict criteria when is comes to producing tallow. Tallow can be a byproduct of sheep, beef, pigs, dogs, and yes, road kill.
2 Snail Slime
In some places of the world, Escargot (cooked snail) is considered a delicacy and more recently, the secretion of snails is also becoming an item to covet. It’s not what you think, though. Snail slime is not becoming a popular substance to eat, it’s becoming a beauty must have. Slime from the common garden snail is rich in proteins, glycolic acid, elastin, and antioxidants. Used medicinally by the Ancient Greeks, it wasn’t until recently that snail slime’s healing properties were discovered. After noticing that their hands healed faster when harvesting snails, a group of Chilean snail farmers decided to bottle and launch their own snail cream. So, thanks to a few Chilean farmers, we can now slime ourselves.
1 Pepper Spray
We tend to believe noone would intentionally unleash a can of pepper spray on himself or herself. However, some people are unknowingly using the same ingredient found in pepper spray – oleoresin capsicum – on a daily basis. Oleoresin capsicum is a chemical extracted from the fruit of plants, such as chilis, and is a common ingredient in products that produce a warming sensation, including rubs, itch creams, and plumping lip glosses.
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