An Overview: The Science of Cosmetics

The pursuit of beauty has spawned a massive industry founded on the science of chemistry – the cosmetics industry.

The use of cosmetics is not a modern phenomenon. Ancient Egyptian women used kohl to darken their eyelids, and Cleopatra is said to have bathed in milk to whiten and soften her skin. More than 3000 years ago Greek women used poisonous lead carbonate to achieve a pale complexion, costing some wearers their lives.

Today, cosmetics are big business. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, retail turnover for cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and toiletries is over A$12 billion a year. Cosmetic advertising is now targeting a wider audience than ever. Most of us – males and females – care about our appearance.

What is a cosmetic?

In Australia a cosmetic is defined under the Industrial Chemical (Notification and Assessment) Act 1989as ‘a substance or preparation intended for placement in contact with any external part of the human body’ (this includes the mouth and teeth). We use cosmetics to cleanse, perfume, protect and change the appearance of our bodies or to alter its odours. Read more

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