The chemistry of cosmetics

Cosmetics are not a modern-day innovation. People have made use of different materials to change their appearance or highlight their features for at the very least 10,000 years, and possibly a lot longer.


Ladies in Ancient Egypt made use of kohl, a compound including powdered galena (lead sulphide-- PbS) to darken their eyelids, and Cleopatra is said to have bathed in milk to bleach and also soften her skin. By 3000 B.C men and women in China had begun to discolor their fingernails with colours according to their social course, while Greek women used toxic lead carbonate (PbCO3) to attain a pale skin. Clays were ground right into pastes for aesthetic use in typical African societies as well as native Australians still use a large range of gravels and minerals to create body paint for ceremonies and also initiations.

Today, cosmetics allow business. According to the 2011 House Expense Study, performed every five years by the Australian Bureau of Stats, Australians invest around $4.5 billion on toiletries and cosmetic products annually. Aesthetic advertising, formerly routed primarily at women, is currently targeting a wider target market than ever.

What is a cosmetic?

In Australia, a cosmetic is defined under the Industrial Chemical (Alert and also Analysis) Act 1989 as 'a substance or preparation intended for placement in contact with any outside part of the body' (this includes the mouth and teeth). We make use of cosmetics to cleanse, perfume, secure and change the look of our bodies or to change its odours. On the other hand, items that claim to 'modify a bodily procedure or protect against, identify, heal or alleviate any kind of condition, disorder or issue' are called therapeutics. This difference means that hair shampoos and deodorants are positioned in the cosmetics category, whilst anti-dandruff shampoos and also antiperspirants are considered to be therapeutics.

Regulation and safety and security

In Australia, the importation, manufacture and also use chemicals-- including those made use of in cosmetics-- are managed by the Australian Government's National Industrial Chemicals Alert and also Assessment Scheme (NICNAS). NICNAS works to ensure that chemicals made use of in customer items do not cause considerable injury to individuals or to the environment.

When it comes to cosmetics, every ingredient included within the item has to be clinically examined and also authorized by NICNAS prior to being manufactured or imported right into Australia and also before they can be made use of in consumer products. Where ideal, NICNAS sets restrictions on the level at which a chemical can be used in an item as well as likewise performs reviews on chemicals when brand-new evidence occurs.

Aesthetic items that make an additional healing case (such as moisturisers that also lighten the skin) are managed by a different organisation-- the Restorative Item Administration (TGA).

Cosmetics as well as other individual treatment items should also be identified based on the Trade Practices (Customer Item Details Specification, Cosmetics) Rules 1991. This law requires that all purposefully added components are noted on the product label, and also is applied by the Australian Competitors and Customer Commission (ACCC).

What do cosmetics contain?

There are thousands of various cosmetic items on the marketplace, all with differing combinations of components. In the United States alone there are around 12,500 special chemical ingredients authorized for use in the manufacture of personal treatment products.

A normal product will contain anything from 15-- 50 components. Thinking about the typical woman makes use of in between 9 and also 15 individual treatment products per day, researchers have approximated that, when incorporated with the enhancement of fragrances, women place around 515 private chemicals on their skin every day via cosmetic use.

However just what are we putting on our skin? What do those long names on the ingredient checklist mean and what do they do? While the formula of each item varies slightly, a lot of cosmetics consist of a mix of a minimum of several of the complying with core ingredients: water, emulsifier, chemical, thickener, emollient, colour, scent as well as pH stabilisers.


If your product can be found in a bottle, possibilities are the first active ingredient on the list is going to be water. That's right, excellent old water. Water creates the basis of nearly every kind of aesthetic item, consisting of lotions, creams, make-up, deodorants, hair shampoos and conditioners. Water plays a fundamental part in the process, often serving as a solvent to dissolve other ingredients as well as forming solutions for consistency.

Water made use of in the formulation of cosmetics is not your Skin Care for Men everyday, normal faucet water. It needs to be 'ultra-pure'-- that is, without microbes, toxic substances and also other pollutants. Because of this your label may describe it as pure water, detoxified water or simply aqua.


The term emulsifiers describes any kind of component that assists to keep unlike substances (such as oil and water) from dividing. Many cosmetic products are based on emulsions-- small beads of oil dispersed in water or tiny beads of water spread in oil. Because oil and water do not blend regardless of how much you shake, mix or mix, emulsifiers are included in change the surface area tension in between the water and also the oil, creating a homogeneous and also well-mixed product with an also appearance. Examples of emulsifiers used in cosmetics consist of polysorbates, laureth-4, and also potassium cetyl sulfate.


Chemicals are very important active ingredients. They are contributed to cosmetics to expand their life span as well as prevent the growth of bacteria such as microorganisms and fungis, which can spoil the product as well as potentially hurt the user. Because a lot of microorganisms reside in water, the chemicals utilized need to be water-soluble, as well as this helps to establish which ones are made use of. Preservatives made use of in cosmetics can be all-natural or synthetic (manufactured), as well as execute differently depending on the formula of the product. Some will require low degrees of around 0.01%, while various other will certainly require degrees as high as 5%.

A few of the extra prominent chemicals consist of parabens, benzyl alcohol, salicylic acid, formaldehyde and also tetrasodium EDTA (ethylenediaminetetra-acetic acid).

Consumers who purchase 'preservative-free' items must be aware of their much shorter shelf life as well as understand any kind of adjustments to the appearance, really feel or smell of the item that might suggest it has actually gone off.