What you need to know about ingredients in lipsticks

Ingredients in lipsticks

There are literally dozens of ingredients in lipsticks and many of them are not so nice including as heavy metals like lead and chromium used to make lasting lip colour.

Less well known nasties include shark liver oil (squalene) and fish scales (guanine) that are used to add moisture and shine to lipsticks and lotions.

Thankfully these damaging and allergy-inducing ingredients are limited or rarely used these days. This is due to global regulations on contaminants in cosmetics and growing awareness about healthy eating and safer, plant-based alternatives.

But there are still many harmful products out there, particularly if you are shopping online or buying lipstick from an unknown (imported) source.

In fact, a 2014 report states up to a third of injuries made known to the national makeup industry watchdog, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), resulted from cosmetics.

This is backed by a study in the journal Dermatitis showing 38% of people who developed rashes on their lips got them from products including lipsticks and cosmetics as well as foods, metals, preservatives and toothpaste.

So I’ve placed the spotlight on ingredients in lipsticks – seeing as this beauty item goes on your skin as well as into your system via your mouth – to find out how far we’ve come in cleaning up cosmetics shelves.

Armed with this knowledge, you’ll find the safest lipsticks and be confident you’re cramming maximum goodness both onto – and into your body.

Is anyone making sure your makeup is totally safe? Not really…

Part of the reason harmful chemicals still exist in makeup is because regulations differ widely from country to country. And these laws take a lot of time and pressure to change.

One exciting development is that by July 2017, any products tested on animals, or which contain ingredients that have been tested on them, are likely to be banned in Australia according to a report in the Herald Sun newspaper.

This reform will bring Australia’s laws into line with similar restrictions in the European Union and New Zealand – but this change will only apply to new products.

Beware – lipsticks bought off the shelves in Australia and online, may not be subject to Australian laws. Here is a list of regulating bodies relating to various countries around the world:

Regulating bodies

  • Australia – National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Centre (NICNAS) and the Australian Consumer and Complaints Commission (ACCC).
  • Canada – Health Canada publishes a list of ingredients that are banned or restricted.
  • Japan – The Ministry of Health and Welfare has the Standards for Cosmetics which also lists banned and restricted ingredients.

European officials have restricted or banned more than 1300 chemicals while the FDA has prohibited just 11 ingredients. Also, safety tests on makeup ingredients are not mandatory in the US.

The New York Times recently reported on a new US bill aimed at protecting consumers by regularly reviewing chemicals in makeup. If it is passed, the FDA would have the power to order companies to recall dangerous products. They will also have to provide safety data and reports of adverse health reactions.

This move is essential as research has proved that many ingredients in lipsticks and other beauty products can cause a range of devastating conditions.

The bill has the backing of the Environmental Working Group– a great resource for identifying the chemicals in your cosmetics bag.

With more than 20,000 safe chemical ingredients already available to manufacturers, plus thousands more healthy, natural food active options, there is no reason to use physically harmful formulas for lipstick any more.

And we can vote with our wallets by choosing from a wide range of toxin-free products, packed full of natural vitamins and minerals guaranteed to nourish your body – naturally.

Can lipstick really ‘go off’ like food?

The short answer is, ‘no not really’.  It can happen with skincare products that contain water particularly since mounting pressure over damaging chemicals has made many manufacturers ditch preservatives.

Because lipstick does not contain water (just waxes, oils and oil-soluble ingredients) bacteria can’t grow. The oils however can be susceptible to going rancid so a natural antioxidant like Vitamin E is essential.

Other types of makeup easily trap bacteria, particularly if it is constantly picked up on brushes that are left in damp, humid bathrooms. You should replace your foundation ever six to 12 months, lipstick after a year and mascara every three months.

A 2013 ACCC investigation into microbiological contamination found in cosmetic products highlighted skin and eye infections and ulcers. And up to 20% of the products examined did not comply with labelling rules.

So it’s essential to read packaging carefully. Cosmetic products in Australia must be labelled so you can check ingredients.

Many unethical and unsafe ingredients go under a range of names or can be hidden under the vague term ‘fragrance’. The words ‘chemical-free’ should also be read with caution as the ACCC states: “…all products contain chemicals whether naturally occurring or not.”

What ingredients in lipsticks are bad for you?

Lipsticks are made of moisturising oils, wax to give firm shape and texture and colours which can be come from natural or artificial sources. Here’s a quick breakdown of baddies that can lurk in your lippy, so you can make better, healthier beauty choices.

Heavy metals

In 2007, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics found traces of lead – a neurotoxin that can cause high blood pressure and kidney damage – in 61 per cent of name brand lipsticks. Three years later, the FDA found unsafe levels of the metal in all 400 samples of tested lipsticks.

A further study by the University of California tested 32 lip products and found nine toxic metals including manganese, cadmium (which causes cancer cells to multiply), arsenic, aluminium and chromium.

The solution? Avoid heavy metals altogether by purchasing lipsticks made from natural vegetable and plant pigments or clean minerals


lipstick colours Many lip products use artificial dyes. These are synthetic colours and some red, green and yellow colours have been linked to health problems such as bladder cancer, immune system issues and hyperactivity.

Like most of these contaminants – the general expert advice suggests it would take a large number of applications per day to inflict serious damage in the short term. But, I have not been able to find any studies monitoring the cumulative effects of these toxins as result of build-up in the body over time. So, do you really want to risk it?

Read Lipstick colour: 5 facts that will make you think twice for more on pigments used in lipstick – plus some other rather interesting facts.


Unhealthy animal fats like tallow (made from boiling up carcasses) are often used to make skin products and lipsticks. So too are eco-unfriendly petroleum and mineral oil by-products that dry out lips and skin.

Opt for lippies containing wholesome oils from fruits, vegetables and plants – such as avocado, sesame and castor seeds.

By simply switching from chemical to natural, organic and vegan products, our bodies are able to soak up more of the healthy nutrients we need to function at our absolute best – every day.

So what ingredients in lipsticks do I recommend?

I not only recommend, but created Lip Nourish, using the following ingredients so you can avoid the nasties above and pamper your lips every day.

Beeswax: is the perfect ingredient for the foundation of your lipstick. It protects and retains your  lips’ moisture and provides important healing and antibacterial properties.

Mineral, Fruit and Vegetable Pigments: Choose products with natural colours from foods with anti-inflammatory and natural sun protection properties. Fruit (such as cherry) and vegetable (including beetroot and carrot) pigments are nutrient dense and (depending on the fruits used) will include antioxidants and vitamins to feed your skin.

Natural Oils: Avocado, sesame seed, coconut, oils and cocoa butter give a smooth, silky texture to your lipstick and help retain moisture to keep your lips soft .

Castor Seed Oil: This oil gives a beautiful and natural shine while hydrating the lips and providing free radical-fighting antioxidant power.

Rosemary & Vitamin E: These two ingredients are natural preservatives that prevent rancidity while healing your delicate lip skin with nourishing antioxidants.

Essential Oils: Beautiful natural fragrance from food oils such as juniper, mint, ginger and citrus are amazing ‘active’ scents in their most pure form.

Cinnamon: Another powerful free radical-scavenging ingredient which helps plump lips and reduces fine lines.

Liked this post?  Then you’ll love my natural beauty insights into what really works – backed by science.

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