Ingredients in lipsticks

What you need to know about ingredients in lipsticks

There are literally dozens of ingredients in lipsticks and many of them are not so nice. For example, heavy metals like lead and chromium are used to make long-lasting lip colour. Less well-known nasties include shark liver oil (squalene) and fish scales (guanine), used to add moisture and shine.

There are many harmful products out there, especially if you're 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. A study in the journal Dermatitis showed 38 per cent of people who developed rashes on their lips got them from products, including lipsticks.

Lipstick is absorbed into your body via your skin, but a significant amount of it is also ingested via your mouth. For these reasons, it's important to use the safest lipsticks available. If the formulations actually have health benefits? Even better.

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

Part of the reason harmful chemicals are still used in makeup is because regulations differ widely from country to country - and these laws take a lot of time and pressure to change. Even more confusingly, lipsticks bought off 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 chemical ingredients while the FDA has prohibited just 11. 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 passed, the FDA would have the power to order companies to recall dangerous products. They would 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 in lipstick anymore. 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 our bodies - naturally.

Can lipstick expire 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. However, the oils can go 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.

Cosmetic products in Australia must be labelled so you can check ingredients, but a 2013 ACCC investigation found up to 20 per cent of the beauty products examined did not comply with labelling rules. 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 explains: "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 them a firm shape, colours (which can be natural or artificial) and texture modifiers. Here’s a quick breakdown of baddies that can lurk in your lippy, so you can make 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


Many lip products use artificial dyes and some red, green and yellow colours have been linked to health problems such as bladder cancer, immune system issues and hyperactivity. General expert advice suggests it would take a large number of applications per day to inflict serious damage in the short term, but studies monitoring the cumulative effects of these toxins in the body over time are not readily available. So, do you really want to risk it?

Interested in the effects of synthetic dyes? Read Lipstick colour: 5 facts that will make you think twice.


Unhealthy animal fats, like tallow (made from boiling 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 instead for lip products 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.

What lipstick ingredients does Cindy Luken, founder and CEO of Lük Beautifood, recommend?

All of the carefully selected ones found in her signature Lip Nourish™ product. These include:

  • Beeswax. The perfect ingredient for the foundation of your lipstick. It protects and retains lip moisture and provides important healing and antibacterial properties.
  • Mineral, fruit and vegetable pigments. Natural colours from foods often have anti-inflammatory and 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 plant oils. Oils from avocado, sesame seed and coconut (as well as cocoa butter) give a smooth, silky texture to lipstick and help retain moisture to keep your lips soft.
  • Castor seed oil. This oil gives a beautiful, natural shine while hydrating the lips. It also has free radical-fighting antioxidant power.
  • Rosemary & Vitamin E. These two ingredients are natural preservatives that prevent rancidity while healing the delicate skin of your lips 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.

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