The Science of Modern Cosmetics



Cosmetics today are used from head to toe and by people of all ages. There are three kinds of cosmetics. One kind can be seen, like lipstick, eye makeup, and nail polish. Another kind is rubbed in or hidden, like hand lotion, perfume, hair dressing, and antiperspirant. A third kind of cosmetic is used during the course of a treatment and is then wiped, rinsed, or rubbed off. Examples are shaving cream, shampoo, mouthwash, and bathing preparations. Soap is not usually considered to be a cosmetic.

Manufacture of Cosmetics

Three types of ingredients, singly or in combination, are the basis of most cosmetics. Fats or oils form a base. Water or alcohol acts as the liquid. Vegetable gums and emulsifiers hold the mixture together. Colors, perfumes, and preservatives are added to make a cosmetic attractive and long lasting.

Face powder is made by blending several different dry materials. Talc, a very soft mineral, is an important ingredient. Others include zinc oxide, chalk, and metallic stearates to make the face powder spread evenly and stay on the skin longer. Mild perfumes may be added to make the powder more pleasant to use. Hypoallergenic cosmetics, however, generally contain no perfume, because some people's skins are sensitive to perfume.

Cake rouge is made in much the same way as powder. Gum or some other binder is added to hold the cake more tightly together. Liquid, cream, powder, and gel rouges are also sold.

Lipsticks are made of a combination of castor oil and waxes, which are melted together. Dye or colored powder is added to the mixture for color. Exact shading is a delicate job. Once the colors are mixed, the mass is reheated and poured into molds. The final step is placing the cooled lipsticks in metal or plastic holders.

Eye makeup usually has a base of beeswax or some other kind of wax. A fat such as lanolin or cocoa butter makes eye cosmetics creamier and easier to apply. Special preservatives are added to help prevent eye infection.

Hand lotions and face creams are often called skin foods. They help put back into the skin materials that have dried up or have been rubbed off by everyday exposure to air, wind, clothing, and the sun. Mixed in with the chemical ingredients in these creams are some surprising natural ingredients. Avocado oil, turtle oil, and cod-liver oil are some of the natural oils that help soften the skin.

Modern Cosmetics

Divided according to the method of their manufacture, most modern cosmetics fall into one of the following categories:


A face powder usually contains talc, chalk, kaolin, and mixtures of zinc oxide, titanium oxide, and various powdered pigments. Properly compounded, this mixture spreads easily, adheres to the skin, and absorbs some moisture. Cake makeup consists of face powder mixed with a dry gum, which is then moistened, compressed, and dried. Rouge in cake form is a compressed, pigmented powder.


Most skin preparations in cream or lotion form are emulsions, fine particles of oil dispersed in water. Moisturizers are emulsions containing water-soluble, moisture-retaining humectants such as glycerine or propylene glycol; and emollients, oily or waxy materials that make the skin feel softer and help form a barrier against the evaporation of water from the skin. Cold creams are emulsions of mineral oil and water and are used to remove makeup or as a substitute for soap. Thinner emulsions, which contain more water relative to the oil content, are used as cleansing lotions and hand creams.


Oils, such as castor oil, and waxes are melted together, mixed with pigments or dyes, melted again, and hardened in molds. Since the materials used in manufacturing lipsticks (and lip salves, which contain essentially the same ingredients without the coloring) are ultimately taken into the body, the choice of ingredients is limited to those which are known or assumed to be nontoxic.

Eye Makeup

Eyebrow pencils, eye shadow, and mascara are, like lipstick, compounds of oil, wax, and pigments. They, too, must be made of non injurious materials.

Special Preparations

Cosmetic products may also include deodorant and depilatory preparations; suntan lotions and creams that either protect the skin by screening it with a light-absorbing chemical or, because of their oily base, make possible a tan; shampoos, usually based on highly soluble detergents with additional perfumes and sometimes special ingredients to compensate for dry hair or dandruff; hair sprays, typically made from a resin (for example, shellac in a volatile solvent such as alcohol); nail preparations, including nail lacquers—a solution of nitrocellulose and colorants with resins and plasticizers to promote gloss and adhesion; and polish remover, a nitrocellulose solvent, commonly acetone or ethyl acetate. Shaving creams and aftershave lotions, mouthwashes, and toothpastes are also classified as cosmetics.

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