31 Secrets the Beauty Industry Doesn’t Want You to Know

Updated: Jun. 30, 2022

Cosmetics insiders share little-known secrets behind the products you're putting on your face.

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The main difference between designer cosmetics and their drugstore counterparts?

Fancy packaging. In fact, some manufacturers make both high-end and drugstore product—using similar formulas! This is what the symbols on the back of your beauty products mean.


One of the governmental agencies responsible for the cosmetics industry is the FDA…

…but it doesn’t review cosmetics before they go on the market, it can’t recall a product if there’s a problem, and it has banned only about a dozen toxic chemicals from beauty products, compared with the more than 1,300 that are banned in the European Union.

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Want to look younger?

Choose anti-aging moisturizers and serums with vitamin A derivatives such as retinol and retinaldehyde. The next most effective ingredient: L-ascorbic acid.

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Nearly one in five cosmetic products contains traces of formaldehyde, a known human carcinogen.

While the jury is still out on whether exposure is harmful, you can avoid it altogether by skipping products that list DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, or bronopol as an ingredient. Beware of these toxic ingredients found in beauty products.

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Many Brazilian blowout, keratin and other salon hair-smoothing treatments…

…contain formaldehyde, a toxic chemical that has been linked to cancer. A 2011 OSHA study found that even formulas labeled “formaldehyde-free” still released a significant amount of formaldehyde gas when they were used or heated.


The terms “hypoallergenic” and “noncomedogenic” are essentially marketing words with very little meaning.

There are no testing guidelines or requirements governing their use. You’ve been using these beauty products all wrong.

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Lead is no longer allowed in paint or gasoline, but it may be lurking in your lipstick.

The FDA in 2012 found that 400 shades of popular lipsticks contained trace amounts of lead. To find products without lead and other toxins, use the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database at www.ewg.com/skindeep.


There is a magic potion that will stop 90 percent of your skin’s aging…

…but, according to a Marist Institute for Public Opinion poll, only one in ten Americans uses it: sunscreen.


Your foundation has SPF? That’s great—but you still need sunscreen.

Experts say most people don’t use enough makeup to fully protect their skin, and they end up missing important areas such as their ears, neck, and the back of their hands. Be sure you’re not making these sunscreen mistakes, too.


Sure, those spray sunscreens make application a cinch, but think about this:

You may be inhaling toxic chemicals into your lungs and bloodstream. The FDA is studying the risks, but in the meantime, be sure to spray an aerosol into your hands first and then apply. Here are the sunscreens dermatologists use on themselves.


Spend some bucks on your tools.

Good brushes help you apply makeup evenly and blend it in so you look more natural. Even the best makeup won’t look as good if you put it on with mediocre brushes. Here’s a guide on how to clean makeup brushes so they last.

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If your mascara is drying up and you’re in a pinch…

…a couple of drops of saline solution can make it last a few more days. Try these mascara hacks for the best lashes.


Never wash your face with just plain soap.

Made from animal fat and salt compounds, it strips your skin of its natural oils and proteins. Use a non-soap cleanser instead.


If you think everything that’s natural and plant-based is safe, think again.

Poison ivy is natural. And like poison ivy, plenty of natural ingredients have compounds that can irritate your skin.


“Unscented” is not the same thing as “fragrance-free.”

Unscented products have masking fragrances to cover the odor of other chemicals.

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Here’s a trick to make you look fresh and awake:

Instead of using liner underneath your eyes, line the upper inner rims (waterlines) of your eyes with a dark waterproof color. Every woman should know these eyeliner tips.

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Cover problem spots with concealer, not foundation.

If you try to camouflage everything with foundation, it accentuates wrinkles and doesn’t look natural. With foundation, less is always more. Here are the secrets to finding the best foundation formula.


Go gold for a more youthful look.

A little bit of gold in your foundation will neutralize redness and counteract the gray pallor that accompanies aging on all skin tones.


To accentuate your eyes, choose a shadow color that complements your eye color.

If you have blue or green eyes, wear a shade that has brown, copper, bronze, plum, or terra-cotta tones. Enhance brown eyes with blues, purples, and greens. This is the most flattering makeup for every eye color.


To make your look last all night…

…always prep your eyelids with primer or concealer, and then set it with powder before you apply liquid or pencil liner and eye shadow. Your makeup will hold for hours.


For the appearance of fuller lips…

…dab a bit of petroleum jelly or shiny lip gloss on the middle of your lower lip. And avoid dark red and plum colors; they make lips look smaller. If you have dry lips, you’re probably making one of these mistakes.

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What’s that smell?

Unfortunately, there’s no way to know. Because fragrances are considered trade secrets in the U.S., companies can substitute the generic word “fragrance” in their ingredient list for any of the dozens of scented chemicals at their disposal.


The scoop on eye cream?

It’s just moisturizer sold in a very small tub for twice the price. You don’t need it.


Dermatologists have seen a jump in bacterial infections caused by unsanitary makeup.

To protect yourself, wash your hands before applying, clean applicators frequently, and throw away makeup at recommended intervals: mascara after three months, liquids, creams and lipsticks after six months to a year, and powder eye shadow and blushes after two years.


Choose oil-free or non-comedogenic products if you’re acne-prone.

But remember, if you layer a bunch of them on top of each other, they can still end up blocking pores. Here are some sneaky reasons you’re having an acne breakout.


Skip the toner and astringent…

…even if you have oily skin. They strip your face of its natural oils.

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Sorry, but there’s no over-the-counter cream that actually fixes wrinkles.

If you read the fine print, you’ll see that products claim to decrease “the appearance” of fine lines and wrinkles, not the wrinkles themselves.

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Ditch your powder…

…if you’re over age 50, unless you have oily skin. Powders settle into your wrinkles, cling to facial down and make you look older.


Got oily skin?

Go easy on the drying treatments. If you do too many, it can backfire and send a message to your oil glands to increase oil production.


Apply moisturizer first, or mix a little with your foundation before you put it on.

If you put on foundation without moisturizer, your skin will suck up the moisture in that foundation, magnifying wrinkles, and dry patches. Here are some rules for using moisturizer.


A little bit of color can change your whole face.

If you always choose safe neutral, tan and brown tones for your makeup, that can dull you down. Bright color can make you look healthier and more youthful.

Sources: Makeup artists Christina Bartolucci at DuWop Cosmetics, Alejandro Falcon at Osmosis Skincare and Rebecca Perkins at Rouge New York; Dermatologists David Bank, MD, author of Beautiful Skin: Every Woman’s Guide to Looking Her Best at Any Age and Fayne L. Frey, MD, founder of FryFace.com; the Environmental Working Group; and Andrea Q. Robinson, author of Toss the Gloss: Beauty Tips, Tricks & Truths for Women 50+

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest