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There are countless science-backed reasons to avoid phthalates: The plasticizers are often added to makeup and personal care products to help them maintain their scent and color under the label of “fragrance,” “perfume,” and “flavoring,” yet research from as far back as 2000 shows that phthalates block the production of testosterone. And this week, a study published by researchers at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine found that daily exposure to the chemicals may lead to an estimated 100,000 premature deaths among older Americans each year.
The study looked at a population of 5,000 people between the ages of 55 and 64, and found that those with the highest concentrations of phthalates in their urine were more likely to die of heart disease than those with lower levels of exposure. Further, those in the high-exposure group were more likely to die of any cause than people with low levels.
While the study, published in the journal Environmental Pollution, doesn’t draw a direct causal link between phthalate exposure and early death, the association is clear. “We already know phthalates mess with the male sex hormone, testosterone, which is a predictor of adult cardiovascular disease,” lead author Leonardo Trasande, MD, MPP, told CNN. “And we already know that these exposures can contribute to multiple conditions associated with mortality, such as obesity and diabetes.”
“These chemicals have a rap sheet,” he continued. “The fact of the matter is that when you look at the entire body of evidence, it provides a haunting pattern of concern.” That rap sheet is extensive: As Tracey Woodruff, PhD, director of the University of San Francisco’s program on reproductive health and the environment, previously told Health, phthalates’ blockage of testosterone during the prenatal period leads to a wealth of negative health outcomes, like male reproductive developmental conditions, testicular cancer, increased male infertility, and low sperm counts.
“The NYU study is concerning, and highlights how little we likely know about how everyday exposures to a multitude of chemicals may be harming our health,” Heather Patisaul, PhD, told Health as a spokesperson for the Endocrine Society. “Currently, our regulatory oversight of phthalates and other chemicals is pretty lax compared to other countries, especially Europe, which have already taken steps to phase the phthalates of greatest concern out of use.”
As Trasande’s study concluded, further research is required to corroborate their findings and identify exactly how phthalates have such a great effect—and regulatory action is needed post-haste. If you want to avoid phthalates in cosmetics in the meantime, retailers like Credo Beauty and The Detox Market issue a blanket ban on phthalates in products, as does Target’s Clean certification and Sephora’s “Clean at Sephora” seal. Below, find the best makeup without phthalates.
We love these 10 makeup picks without phthalates:
Best Foundation: Ilia True Skin Serum Foundation
This is one of Credo’s best-sellers, for good reason: According to some of the more than 200 reviewers who decreed it worth a five-star rating, the lightweight, medium-coverage fluid lends their skin a “beautiful velvety, glowing finish” that wins compliments from straight-up strangers. The colors don’t oxidize and easily cover redness, and the formula gives skin a boost with jojoba oil, vitamin E, squalane, rose seed oil, and marula seed oil.
Best Tinted Moisturizer: Saie Slip Tint Dewy Tinted Moisturizer SPF 35 Sunscreen
If you’re someone who likes the one-and-done aspect of tinted moisturizer and SPF hybrids, Saie’s Slip Tint garners fans left and right. It’s one of the rare mineral sunscreens that doesn’t go on with any white tint, and the 14 colors fall across the full color spectrum. Like the Ilia foundation, the formula comes with skincare benefits: Hyaluronic acid plumps skin and adds dewiness, pansy flower’s antioxidant powers block aging free radicals, and licorice root extract helps brighten skin.
Best Mascara: Lily Lolo Vegan Mascara
I’ve tried hundreds of mascaras over my years as a beauty writer, and this under-the-radar find was one of the first clean buys to sway me from my old go-tos. The fiber wand deposits a coat of rich, inky color on its first sweep, and with a few layers your lashes go from workplace-appropriate to thick, long, and sumptuous. Reviewers agree: “Best mascara of my life,” wrote one person, who dubbed it better than their former YSL favorite, and another said, “It has great coverage, stays all day, and never flakes.”
Best Eyeliner: Ilia Clean Line Gel Liner
Finding an eyeliner that stays put is a quest unto itself, but this one combines gel liner’s long-lasting appeal with an easy-to-use mechanical format. Once it sets, it’s not moving—and because it includes castor oil, applying it at the base of your lashes can also help to strengthen them over time. “I spent a day outside in 96 degree heat, and the liner didn’t smudge,” one person wrote of their experience wearing it through a heat wave.
Best Blush: Tower28 BeachPlease Luminous Tinted Balm
Even within the world of skin-friendly clean beauty, Tower28’s qualifications stand apart. Per the brand, it’s the only one in existence that completely follows the National Eczema Association’s ingredient guidelines, which means they avoid known irritants and allergens, essential oils, and synthetic fragrances. That, and the blush’s gorgeous colors, account for its rave reviews. “I really like how creamy and blendable this blush is,” wrote one person of the effect on their sun-damaged skin. “This gives nice color pay-off, and it’s easy to blend out to look natural without removing my base.”
Best Lipstick: Kosas Weightless Lipstick
Kosas’ lipstick comes with a coterie of celebrity fans, including Gwyneth Paltrow, Olivia Wilde, Naomi Watts, and Mindy Kaling. Their endorsements speak for themselves, especially because all but Kaling are involved in the clean beauty space—so they know what’s out there, and they know what’s worth the money. The Weightless Lipstick comes in a run of wearable colors from rose to bordeaux, and packs rosehip seed oil, green tea seed oil, and mango seed butter to reduce the look of fine lines.
Best Brow Filler: PYT Beauty Brow Goals Pencil
PYT’s brow pencil quite simply does a fantastic job at filling in arches, whether you’re looking for a major daily revamp or just want to fill in a few hairs. The retractable pencil’s formula is soft enough to not feel like you need to gouge your skin to get decent color payoff, yet stays put for hours once it’s on (and the attached spoolie brush makes brows look entirely natural). “Best brow pencil ever,” wrote one reviewer. “It’s waxy enough to add some depth and fullness, but still precise enough for outlining the brows. It blends really well too, and lasts all day.” Others add that the slanted tip makes it fast and easy to sketch in hairs, and more still compare the formula to their former MAC favorite.
Best Highlighter: RMS Beauty Luminizer
RMS’s Luminizer is something of a legend in the beauty industry. Meghan Markle, Gisele Bündchen, Miranda Kerr, Kourtney Kardashian, and Emma Watson keep it on their vanities, which is quite the fan club—but once you try the dewy glow-maker, their adoration makes sense. A few quick dabs of it breathes life into skin, leaving behind a flattering glow that also benefits skin, thanks to its mix of castor seed oil and vitamin E. In the words of two Credo shoppers, it “blends so effortlessly, and lasts all day” for a “glow like no other.”
Best Concealer: Kosas Revealer Super Creamy + Brightening Concealer
Kosas advertises this find as “concealer meets eye cream,” and going by the ingredient list, that’s just the case. It features caffeine to take down puffiness and dark circles, hyaluronic acid and peptides to add a plumping, anti-aging angle, and arnica and panthenol to calm redness and blemishes. “This is by far the best concealer I’ve tried,” one impressed person wrote. “It’s such a dream under the eyes. It does a good job covering blemishes as well, and doesn’t make them look crusty and dried out like other concealers.” It also comes in 28 different shades across neutral, pink, olive, golden, peach, and red undertones, so finding a match is doable for everyone.
Best Eyeshadow: Vapour Intention Eyeshadow Quad
Once upon a time, options for pigmented eyeshadows in the natural beauty world were scant. These days that’s less of a problem, especially because choices like Vapour’s velvety quad exist. Its four shades are ideal for daily wear, and the midnight blue color addition means you can use it as a liner or smoked out for more drama. According to reviewers, the blendable formula stays all day without creasing or settling into fine lines—leading one person to commend the shadows’ work ethic, and another to say they were so impressed, they threw their Bobbi Brown and Laura Mercier shadows away. A bold move, and a ringing endorsement.