In recent years, beauty trends have been shifting towards make-it-yourself (DIY) makeup looks. This trend has been further slingshot by the impact of social media platforms such as YouTube and, particularly, TikTok. With self-proclaimed "beauty masters" promoting their craft with increasingly complex tricks and hacks, it appears as if anything is possible with a bit of creativity, some raw materials, and seemingly magical methods. However, opinions differ among industry professionals when it comes to the safety and efficacy of these DIY techniques.
To get a better understanding of this topic, we spoke with Traci Dumbaugh, a seasoned cosmetic chemist with decades of experience in professional lab formulation. According to Dumbaugh, many of these DIY makeup hack videos can be extremely dangerous—even to the point of exposing consumers to potential chemical burns and other health risks.
For those of us who are unfamiliar with her profession, Dumbaugh quickly broke down the art of cosmetic chemistry: providing the necessary know-how to formulate products that are safe, long-lasting, and aesthetically pleasing. She explained that experienced chemists wield an arsenal of methods, materials, and knowledge to create finished formulations. To further understand why she believes these DIY hacks to be so dangerous, we must first look at some of the common ingredients they use.
Dumbaugh warns that although eyeshadows, lip glosses, setting sprays, and other traditional makeup products may appear relatively harmless, they actually contain several types of chemicals that must be studied, ed, and applied correctly for them to be both safe and effective. The key difference between a true cosmetic chemist and a social media DIYer is that an expert follows protocols and safety standards, whereas the latter is essentially experimenting blindly every time they put something together. The results and possible adverse reactions can vary wildly, and there is no way for the consumer to anticipate what end result they'll face.
Both skincare and makeup contain preservative agents and emulsifiers, which is what helps keep products fresh, stable, and safe. In most instances, these agents must be added in precise amounts, yet it is highly unlikely anyone not formally trained can eyeball the correct quantities. Furthermore, some of these ingredients like oils tend to degrade over time and can increase user exposure to bacteria and other contaminants—something a professionally formulated product would guard against. items like glitter or mica, while certainly visually appealing, can end up being abrasive to the skin.
Put simply, Dumbaugh argues that DIY makeup hacks should never replace professional formulation. Now, given the number of popular makeup lines, there is often a false idea that because a product works for one person, it will work for everyone. Yet, even with an established product, individual external factors such as feelings of stress, perspiration, age, weather conditions, and pH of the skin interact with the product differently. These interactions are what cosmetic chemists aim to understand before releasing a formulation; anything else that bypasses rigorous science and ing could inadvertently cause harm to the consumer.
That being said, Dumbaugh does agree that there is some play for creativity with cosmetics. With that in mind, she does offer some alternatives for those keen to explore potential look and product creations. Professionals within the cosmetics industry are often willing to provide advice on the right ingredients and formulations to use, either pro-bono or for a small fee. pre-made base recipes exist online and in stores, giving consumers a safer and more practical way to scratch the itch that DIY beauty concoctions bring.
For those looking to sharpen their chemistry skills, professional certification courses are available as well, usually taught by lab chemists and code-enforced institutions. dumbaugh recommends seeking out these certifications and advanced studies as a great way to supplement one's education and reach expert levels in the science of cosmetics. Combined with safe practices, clear goals, and of course, scientific knowledge, cosmetic chemists like Dumbaugh are the go-to resources for bringing creative beauty product ideas to life. compromising one's safety for a quick fix through DIY makeup hacking is simply not worth the cost.