When I decided to take a look at e.l.f Cosmetics, famous for its $1 price tag for everything from lipsticks to blush to eyeshadow, the question was not going to be how good can it really be for a buck, but how bad can it get. Now if e.l.f made no bones about what it is - cheep and cheerful - I'd be leaving well alone. But no, these $1 cosmetics have pretensions. Here's what e.l.f has to say about itself:

"Beauty and wellness go hand in hand – it’s a holistic approach that places good health and well-being at the center of what it means to be truly beautiful. Beauty comes from feeling and being your best, an inner confidence that translates to the outer-world as attractiveness. We at e.l.f. believe that innovative technology, quality ingredients and superb delivery systems should not be limited to prestige retailers. Every woman should have the opportunity to participate in innovation, without sacrificing her budget."

So, let's take a look and see if we can find healthy, quality ingredients, innovative technology and superb delivery systems. Randomly, I started with a nail polish. I was amazed to be unable to find any of the usual cast of varnish villains such as formaldehyde or toulene. There is anhydride/trimellitic anhydride/glycols copolymer which should, by rights, be preceded by the word phthalic. Although not to be confused with phthalates, which are associated with birth defects and mostly avoided by nail polish makers these days, phthalic anhydride is toxic, a skin irritant and very drying. Still, I've seen much worse in a nail polish, even the Lake colors are on the acceptable list.

So, heartened, I took a look at the All Over Cover Stick. This doesn't do quite as well. The first ingredient is ethylhexyl palmitate (a derivative of palm oil), which, in spite of a robust safety profile, may produce irritation in high concentrations. bis-diglyceryl-polyacyladipate-2 is next. The Organic Consumers Association blasts this ingredient, a synthetic oleochemical of the glyceryl ester family, for containing adipic acid. Manufactured from either cyclohexane (a petrochemical) or phenol (a hazardous chemical), adipic acid may be a mild irritant to skin and to the upper respiratory tract when inhaled or ingested, not to mention that production of adipic acid may account for the largest source of industrial N2O emissions.

On balance, I couldn't find anything that would qualify as healthy, quality ingredients, innovative technology and superb delivery systems. And there are definitely plenty of things that cut right against the brand's stated values But e.l.f's baddies are far from evil goblins. I've seen a lot worse in much more expensive products.

Ingredients in e.l.f nail polish

Ethyl Acetate, Butyl Acetate, Isopropyl Alcohol, Acetyl Tributyl Citrate, Nitrocellulose, Anhydride/Trimellitic Anhydride/Glycols Copolymer, Tocopheryl Acetate, Stearalkonium Bentonite, Titanium Dioxide (CI 77891) Iron Oxides(CI 77491 , CI 77492 , CI 77499), Red No.6 Lake (CI 15850), Red No.27 Lake (CI 45410), Blue No.1 Lake (CI 42090)

Ingredients in e.l.f cover stick

Ethylhexyl Palmitate, Ceresin Wax, Synthetic Beeswax, Bis-Diglyceryl Polyacyladipate-2, Microcrystalline Wax, Cetyl Alcohol, Methlyparaben, Microcrystalline Wax, Titanium Dioxide, Iron Oxides (CI 77491 , CI 77492 , CI 77499), Red No.27 Lake (CI 45410), Red No.40 Lake (CI 16035)