Photo courtesy of Muskaan Makeup.
Photo courtesy of Muskaan Makeup.

What to Look for When Shopping for Nontoxic Lipstick (Plus, 5 Ingredients to Avoid)

5 min read

When swapping out conventional beauty for green, nontoxic products, the question that most often comes up is, what do I switch first? Deodorant (because, aluminum) and body lotion (it covers so much surface area) are quick culprits, but what about our lipstick? According to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, 61 percent of conventional lipsticks contain lead, and women who apply lipstick two to three times daily can ingest a significant amount—20 percent of the daily amount that’s considered safe in drinking water or more—of contaminants, lead among them.

Add to that the study by the National Institutes of Health that links lipstick application to lupus in women, and the new question is: Are we subjecting ourselves to potential illness by merely trying to feel more confident and beautiful in a bold lipstick color? Luckily, we don’t have to choose between health and beauty anymore. The advent of safe makeup brands that employ clean, green ingredients gives us the chance to shape our personal beauty style (and rock that red), without the danger to our health. Here’s what you should look for next time you’re shopping for a fun new lipstick color—and five ingredients to avoid.

What to Look for When Shopping for Nontoxic Lipstick

In the largely unregulated cosmetics industry—there hasn’t been federal legislation regarding beauty and personal care products since 1938, and the United States only bans or restricts 11 ingredients while the European Union has restrictions on 1,328—it’s important to be our own advocates by reading labels, asking questions and staying informed. Thankfully, as the green and organic beauty industry grows, so do the options for nontoxic lipstick with safe ingredients, natural colors and killer staying power.

Next time you’re shopping for a bright lip color, consider if the line or product is certified by any third-party source. There are only a few regulated certifications out there that take companies’ products through a rigorous process to determine their safety and cleanliness. USDA Organic, MADE SAFE, ECOCERT and COSMOS are the most widely recognized and known. If you’re not comfortable reading ingredient lists to parse out what’s safe and what’s not, these certifications can be a great starting point.

If a color cosmetics line isn’t certified, make note of these five ingredients to avoid when you’re scanning lipstick labels.

5 Ingredients to Avoid in Your Lipstick

Parabens: You’ve probably heard of these estrogen-mimicking ingredients. They’re a low-cost preservative so they appear in 85 percent of cosmetics. While the evidence is still inconclusive, parabens have been found in the tissue of breast tumors, can cause allergic reactions and are considered carcinogenic in high doses. Look at your lipstick labels for ingredients with “paraben” as a suffix—and then put those tubes back.

Colors: If an ingredient reads “F” on the label, it represents “food. “D&C” represents “drugs and cosmetics.” If one of these codes comes after a color on an ingredient list, it means that the ingredient had been dyed with color, i.e. synthetic chemicals. Look for words like p-phenylenediamine (which is mainly used as a component of engineering polymers and composites like kevlar—gross) and colors listed as “CI,” followed by a five digit number, as ingredients to avoid.

Petroleum and other petrochemicals: Not only are these bad for the environment, cause clogged pores, rashes and acne. Check your lipstick for petroleum distillates, mineral oils and paraffins and then steer clear, since those ingredients have a water-repellant nature that ultimately suffocates pores. 

Lead: Elevated lead levels in adults can lead to a host of health problems from miscarriages to seizures. Lead exposure among children can lead to permanent brain damage, so if you’ve got a pre-teen daughter or son looking to add lipstick to their routine, make sure it’s a green version.

Fragrance or Parfum: Fragrances aren’t regulated because they fall under trade secret law, meaning companies don’t have to reveal their ingredient list lest they give a competitor insight into how to duplicate it. It also means that the FDA can’t determine what’s in those fragrances, leaving the consumer open to even ingredients that are banned in other forms—and more often than not, they’re comprised of endocrine-disrupting ingredients that can cause everything from migraines and skin rashes to respiratory issues and birth defects.

4 Natural Lipstick Brands You Can Trust

Muskaan Makeup prides themselves on their certifying their makeup to be halal certified and gluten-free, with zero contaminations of any harsh materials. They’re also cruelty-free!

Vapour Beauty manufactures its own products, so its formulators can be in complete control of its ingredients. They not only ensure that each ingredient is safe by itself, but they also carefully test ingredients to avoid contamination of potentially hazardous materials, and they pay attention to how ingredients interact with each other, so they don’t bond to create something toxic.

Axiology crafts their formula from a harmonious blend of natural and organic ingredients. It’s vegan, cruelty and palm oil free, and provides a brilliant end-result, all while supporting the farmers who produce their raw materials.

Root Pretty, an Iowa-based mineral makeup line, crafts some of the smoothest, most hydrating nontoxic lip colors on the market. Naturally pigmented with 100 percent minerals, their lipsticks are vegan, gluten free, paraben free and, made with organic oils and natural waxes. But, most importantly, they’re free of harmful toxins and synthetic dyes.

Want more makeup tips? Check out our #MyCleanBeautyShelf series, and read up on inclusivity in green beauty.

About The Author

Nicolle Mackinnon

Nicolle Mackinnon

Stemming from her personal journey to treat her celiac disease and Hashimoto's thyroiditis, Nicolle serves as a writer and editor for several leading publications helping women understand how important, stylish and fun it is to commit to clean beauty. By way of her contributions to No More Dirty Looks, Thoughtfully Magazine and numerous beauty brands' blogs, websites and social media, Nicolle has become a trusted voice on the correlation between health and beauty. Follow her journey on Instagram and connect with her via nicollemackinnon.com.



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