The safety of lipstick was called into question in 2007 by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a group of nonprofit health and environmental groups, was organized to encourage the cosmetic industry to stop using ingredients that may be harmful to the user’s health. The group tested 33 brands of lipstick and found that 61 percent of the brands tested contained lead. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics says that lead in lipstick is particularly dangerous, because lipstick is inadvertently ingested through licking the lips.

Cosmetic Industry Rebuttal

The cosmetic industry, through its trade group The Personal Care Products Council, states that low levels of lead are naturally present in soil, in water, in virtually all foods and in cosmetics and other products. The industry says that lead is present in lipstick as it is present in almost all consumer products, but that the levels are too low to present a health risk. Their claim is that the level of lead that people are exposed to through lipstick use is 2000 times below the level that the Environmental Protection Agency has set for lead levels in drinking water. The Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not set a limit on the amount of lead that is allowable in lipstick.

Common Ingredients

Lipstick is usually made up of a wax, such as beeswax or carnauba wax (which comes from palm trees), mixed with an oil. The most common oils used in lipstick include mineral, castor oil or lanolin. Mineral oil can clog the pores. Lanolin, an oil from lambs’ wool, is a common allergen.

Pigments & Additives

Common pigments and dyes in lipstick include carmine, a red dye that is extracted from cochineal beetles, along with eosin and intense red pigment. Other common dyes, including D&C Red 30 Lake and D&C Red 7 Lake, have been linked to developmental or reproductive toxicity, according to Additives in lipstick include fragrance (to hide the odor of the oil used in lipstick), vitamin E for its moisturizing properties, shea butter for skin protection and sunscreen.

Fun Fact

Ancient Egyptians painted their lips with an unsafe mix: a toxic combination that included iodine, kelp and a plant dye containing mercury.

Safer Alternatives

Consumers looking for lipsticks that are non-petroleum based and lead-free have many alternatives. Some of these organic lipsticks are made from a base of beeswax and hemp oil; others do not use chemical dyes. There are also vegan lipstick options that do not contain beeswax or carmine.