The fears: Wielding a sharp wand around your eyes always carries a certain amount of risk, of course, and you've probably heard about nasty infections borne of ancient (or shared) mascara tubes.
The facts: Mascara perils do exist but can easily be avoided. For starters, don't use your rearview as a vanity mirror. "Every ophthalmologist I know has treated corneal ulcers [open, infected wounds on the cornea] caused by women who poke themselves in the eye while attempting to apply mascara in a moving vehicle," says Marguerite McDonald, MD, clinical professor of ophthalmology at Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans. (The ulcers are painful but can be healed with antibiotics.) Keep your mascara in a cool place; heat will quickly degrade its preservatives. Most tubes contain enough to fight bacteria for three months. When applying mascara, stop at two coats. Caked-on color can plug up the oil gland openings along the edge of your lids, leading to sties. And always remove mascara before bed so it doesn't trap infection-causing bacteria on your lashes or flake into your eyes while you sleep.
The fears: First there was buzz about cancer-causing sulfates, the cleansing agents used to make loads of lather in shampoos (and soaps, foaming cleansers, and toothpaste). Then similar talk began swirling around diethanolamine (DEA) and its cousins—triethanolamine (TEA), cocamide DEA, and lauramide DEA, among others—which boost foaming action or neutralize the shampoo formula so it doesn't irritate. And just recently, even natural ingredients seemed to turn noxious, when The New York Times reported that Clifford Bloch, a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, hypothesized that breast growth in several boys could be related to the tea tree and lavender oils in their shampoos. Could these oils actually be capable of mimicking estrogen and other hormones?
The facts: In the early eighties, the CIR determined that while all types of sulfates can, at high concentrations, irritate the skin and eyes, they are not carcinogenic. "And any irritant effect is usually neutralized by the rest of the formulation," says Bergfeld. Plus, since shampoo is on your head for only a few seconds—and in your eyes for far less time—irritation shouldn't be an issue. DEA acquired its bad rap through its use in metalworking fluids. When DEA mixes with certain nitrates in metalworking fluids, it produces toxins, explains Bill Jameson, PhD, a senior toxicologist with the National Toxicology Program at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. "But nitrates aren't used in most cosmetics, and without their presence, DEA is entirely safe," says James Hammer, a cosmetics chemist at Pharmasol Corporation in Easton, Massachusetts. What about hormone disrupters? Natural ingredients can, indeed, have estrogen-like properties, but "you'd probably have to be swimming in the stuff to notice an effect," says Paul Foster, PhD, toxicologist with the National Toxicology Program. While in vitro (or test tube) studies did show that tea tree and lavender oils can promote breast development, many experts say the findings were limited and far from conclusive, so we have little reason to worry. But Paul Kaplowitz, MD, PhD, chief of endocrinology at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., still cautions, "When you see breast development in a 7- or 8-year-old, and he happens to be using these products, that doesn't prove the products are to blame—but you certainly have to consider the possibility. Until we have more evidence, I think it would be wise to avoid using products that contain lavender or tea tree oils, especially on children, who are more susceptible to estrogenic ingredients."