Are the Best Drugstore Makeup Products Safe?

A commitment to nontoxic makeup doesn’t mean you’re limited to expensive “green” brands that market themselves as natural or organic. So when I came across this new New York Times story about the best drugstore makeup, I wondered: could I safely add any of these products to my makeup bag?

In my past life, I would have bought every product recommended (if I didn’t already have them). But since starting my Safe Makeup Project, I see these products in a new light — I don’t just want the best drugstore makeup, I want the best nontoxic drugstore makeup. And that takes a bit of research.

To get a sense of ingredient safety, I turn to the Environmental Working Group, an organization that educates consumers about toxins in personal care products. Specifically, I look for something that receives a score of 1 or 2 in their Skin Deep Database. EWG says anything with a 1-2 rating is considered low hazard; 3-6 is medium hazard; 7-10 is high hazard.

Related: Drugstore Makeup that Gets a Safe Rating on EWG

Using drugstore cosmetics just takes more work. You have to study each item, since ingredient safety can vary from product to product even within one brand. To keep you from googling a long list of ingredients next time you find yourself in the cosmetic aisle, I’ve looked into the products recommended by the NYT. Let’s start with the safest.

Safe Options

NYX HD Photogenic Concealer

This gets a gets a 2 on EWG.

The NYT describes the NYX concealer as creamy, hydrating, and easy to blend. According to NYX itself, the formulation provides medium to natural coverage. Thus, it’s not a heavy-duty option, but rather something I could use during the day. I like that it comes with a wand to help target problem areas, which also cuts down the number of brushes I need to use, especially while traveling.

As for the ingredients, EWG gives this an overall green light. It does contain tocopheryl acetate and phenoxyethanol, ingredients that get a 3 and 4 respectively. Tocopheryl acetate is associated with allergies, as well as cancer when used in high doses. And phenoxyethanol may present toxicity dangers if used around the lips. But according to the Skin Deep Database, the inclusion of these ingredients in this specific concealer does not raise alarms.

L’Oreal Paris Extra-Intense Liquid Pencil Eyeliner

This eyeliner from L’Oreal also gets a 2 on EWG  and is recommended by a professional makeup quoted in the NYT. It promises the intense-black color that you get with liquid, but sharpens like a regular eyeliner pencil. That has its pros and cons. The pro: you can sharpen the pencil as you wish and achieve a custom, fresh tip that works well for the specific look you’re trying to get. The con: it requires having a sharpener on hand, and if it starts to get dull, it can hurt.

While it has problematic ingredients perfluorononyl dimethicone, peg/ppg-19/19 dimethicone, and methylparaben, EWG gives this formulation an overall safe score.

Cover Girl Ink It! By Perfect Point Plus Waterproof Eyeliner

While the L’Oreal pigmentation sounds promising, I prefer eyeliner “pencils” that don’t require sharpening. So I’m including a drugstore pick of my own: Cover Girl Ink It! By Perfect Point Plus Waterproof Eyeliner. I find it stays in place and gives me a dark, strong line similar to gel or liquid. I used it to line my waterline or create a cat eye.

The Cover Girl option also gets a 2 on EWG and has fewer problematic ingredients than the L’Oreal version.

Skip These

Maybelline Dream Bouncy Blush 3 on ewg. The most worrisome ingredients are d&c red 30 and phenoxyethanol, which are linked to organ system toxicity.

L’Oréal True Match gets a 4 on EWG and includes ingredients like propylparaben and diazolidinyl urea (formaldehyde releaser), which you want to avoid.

Physicians Formula Butter Bronzer receives a 4 on EWG thanks to fragrance and phenoxyethanol. When you see fragrance on an ingredient list, the brand may be trying to hide any number of the fragrance industry’s 3,000 ingredients, some of which act as hormone disruptors.

Wet n Wild’s MegaGlo Highlighting Powder receives a 5 on EWG, thanks to propylparaben and ptfe (teflon).

Maybelline’s Color Sensational Lipstick gets a 4 on EWG due to fragrance and benzyl alcohol, the latter of which can cause organ system toxicity.

Feline Noir Mascara receives a 4 on EWG and has a variety of problematic ingredients including propylparaben, midazolidinyl urea (formaldehyde releaser), triethanolamine, and bht.

Maybelline Volum’ Express Mega Plush Mascara gets a 4 on EWG because of propylparaben, methylparaben, and alcohol denatured.

Related: The Best Pregnancy Safe Drugstore Makeup

My Conclusion

After doing my research, I’m going to give NYX HD Photogenic Concealer a try. I’m bummed the L’Oréal True Match contains potentially dangerous ingredients, because it’s such a classic drugstore foundation with many fans.

For now, I’ll skip the L’Oreal Paris Extra-Intense Liquid Pencil Eyeliner even though it’s safe, since I already have a safe drugstore product (Cover Girl Ink It! By Perfect Point Plus Waterproof Eyeliner) I enjoy.


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