Why Lipstick is a Good Place to Start Your Clean Beauty Journey
How can I be smart about what I'm putting ON my mouth?
We all have our favorite lipstick. The one that we wear practically every day, is acceptable for work and going out, and that you are always sure to buy extras of, just in case the store runs out. Maybe yours is bright red, a nude pink, or maybe you like to go all out and wear a different shade every week. Regardless of how you get your perfect pout, it might be time to put on your detective hat and take a deeper dive into what makes your lips shine.
So what's in my lipstick?
Believe it or not, metals in cosmetic products are not currently regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) (1). Even the European Union (EU), which is known for having more stringent safety standards, does not have a comprehensive list for 100% non-toxic lipstick. One of the biggest worries about lipstick is that it contains lead. Several independent studies on a variety of lipstick brands have found levels up to 3 parts per million (a measurement of chemical levels) of lead, with most lipstick brands averaging 1 ppm. In addition to lead, the Environmental Working Group (one of the databases we use for our round-up of non-toxic products) examined 711 lipsticks and found that 28% of the lipsticks contain ingredients that are associated with increased cancer risk (2). Two other metals of concern are cadmium and aluminum, which were found in levels way higher than the recommended safety levels (3). Unfortunately, these studies haven't been able to figure out if a certain brand, color, or finish contains more toxic ingredients than others.
Why should I be worried?
According to the CDC, there is no safe level for lead exposure, so that means even if there's only trace amounts of lead in your lipstick, it's still negatively affecting your body (5). Lead exposure, while not healthy for adults, is of even greater concern for pregnant women and children – it can impact cognitive and motor development. If your child decides that their favorite activity is playing with your makeup, it might be worth investing in some non-toxic lipstick! Research has also shown that cadmium is a human carcinogen, with chronic oral exposure leading to kidney and bone impairments, and aluminum has been linked to Alzheimer's and potentially breast cancer (4).
While it may not seem like such a big deal for such a small amount of lipstick you're putting on, if you use lipstick every day, or are reapplying every couple of hours, it definitely adds up! Since your lips are not a good barrier, they will absorb chemicals from your body the entire time you are wearing lipstick. AND, if you're in a hurry like me, half the time during the application process, the lipstick just ends up on your teeth or in your mouth, and you end up swallowing it. The chemicals you are ingesting build up in your body over time and can result in all the negative health effects we've mentioned. Definitely not worth it, if you ask us!
How can I be smart about what I'm putting on my mouth?
Since scientists haven't been able to pinpoint a certain brand, color, or finish is more toxic than others, we can't recommend any specific lipstick styles. However, here are some of our general recommendations.
- Take a look at our "giving your makeup a makeover" piece for some awesome tips on purchasing clean beauty products without toxic ingredients.
- Try and have a clean beauty lipstick on hand for everyday wear, and save the ones that are more toxic (but might be your fav now!) for special occasions. A couple brands that we like are ILIA, Kosas, Lily Lolo, Vapour, Juice Beauty, Beautycounter and Kjaer Weis. There are some great clean beauty retailers that carry lots of options like the Detox Market, Credo Beauty, Follian, and even Sephora has a clean beauty section now.
- Know that price point doesn't dictate safety - your $30 lipstick is not any safer than a $5 drugstore one.
It might be hard to believe that such a small tube of lipstick contains so many chemicals, but until we pass some stronger cosmetic regulations, it's best to make sure what you're putting on your mouth is safe. So, the next time you're picking out a new lipstick, consider switching to a more green beauty brand to keep those lips (and your body!) ready to rock, anytime.
- Products > Limiting Lead in Lipstick and Other Cosmetics ›
- Pucker Up for a Dose of Lead | EWG ›
- FACT CHECK: Dangerous Lead in Lipstick? ›