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Are lipsticks hazardous?

By Estival Life (1/12/2018)

Make-up are seen as basic necessities by many women.  Since puberty, more or less you have bought some make-up products.  Among all, I’d vote for lipstick as the most popular item, and I believe most of you would agree with me!

A rough estimation showed that on average, every woman would use 9 pounds of lipsticks for the whole life. Out of it, 30% would be swallowed. 65% of women use lipsticks every day and 40% have over 20 pieces of lipsticks.

When eating, drinking and licking, lipsticks will unavoidably be swallowed into the stomach, unless you completely remove the lipstick beforehand every time.  Now the question comes. So many people use lipstick, every day and frequently, how should we choose lipstick?  Shall we spend more time on seeing the ingredient list, just like checking of the nutrition label when buying food items?

Lipsticks are mainly made of wax, oil, preservatives and colorants and some with fragrances as well.  Whether lipsticks are harmful to health, it all depends on the ingredients being used by manufacturers. 


Due to various reasons, e.g. cost saving, many brand owners choose paraffin as a cheap source of wax.  Paraffin is a kind of saturated hydrocarbon originated from petroleum.  It’s stable in its form and was the very last by-product from the oil refining process.  In other words, it’s the last substance left from the refining process when all other main products are produced.  Originally it’s gray-black but got bleached into white by 100% concentration of bleach (c.f. 10% concentration for laundry industry).  Then it’s sold to cosmetics manufacturers as an ingredient.  US Environmental Protection Agency and California State Government have found at least 7 types of hazardous substances in paraffin, including the carcinogenic formaldehyde and Vinyl chloride.

Comparing with paraffin, Copernicia Cerifera wax, Candelilla wax and beeswax are natural and safe alternatives.


【Mineral Oils】

The most common ones are Vaseline and lanolin. Vaseline is similar to paraffin that it’s a kind of by-product of oil refining.  Its particles are so big that it will clog the pores.

In the past, lanolin comes from the water residue used in washing wool. Nowadays people use big wheel to squeeze it out from wool.  Lanolin is a type of moisturizer which will serve as a seal to skin.  It may cause allergy to people with sensitive skin, eczema or wounds.  Meanwhile it is highly sticky that it can trap dust, bacteria, virus and heavy metals in the air onto the lips, and then swallow into stomach when eating and drinking.

Natural alternatives are Castor seed oil, jojoba oil and sweet almond oil.


BHT and Paraben are the anti-oxidant and preservatives commonly used by many brands.

Governments of various countries have done safety test on BHT and found that it is a disruptor to endocrine and reproductive organs and will cause irritation to respiratory system and allergies.  In high doses, it can be carcinogenic.

Paraben is the collective name of preservatives like MethylParaben、Ethylparaben、PropylParaben .......It is an estrogen that can be easily absorbed by our body.  It could cause menstrual disorders and even Infertility, and could be carcinogenic, especially breast cancer.  It would attack immune system and is highly sensitized. It also leaves adverse effect on wild life and environment.  Thus EU and Chinese governments have banned it from the ingredient list.  US FDA does not have any regulation against paraben’s usage.

【Heavy Metal】

Heavy metal found in lipsticks have been a hot topic for long.  The heavy metal are in fact not intentionally added by the manufacturers but are caused by contamination of the ingredients, in the process of production and packaging.

In 2010, US FDA have randomly picked 400 pieces of lipsticks from different brands to test the presence of lead in these products.  The brands covered were a wide range of popular ones, like Lancôme、Chanel、Dior、Maybelline、Clinique、Mary Kay、MAC、Avon、Estee Lauder、Cover Girl、Bobbi Brown、Shiseido、Burts Bees、Clarins、L'Oréal、Revlon、Elizabeth Arden、BeneFit、Victoria’s Secret、NARS etc.  The result showed that lead was found in ALL products.

FDA has set the maximum limit of lead and all products were under this limit.  However this limit was set without considering the accumulation effect in long-term usage.  In fact lead could be accumulated in our bodies.  Continuous absorption could cause chronic lead poisoning, anemia, abdominal pain, acute renal failure and brain neuropathy.

Environment Canada has also tested dozens of cosmetic products and found that all of them contained at least 2 out of 4 hazardous heavy metals (arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury) that are classified as toxic ingredients as they cause health attack.



EU and FDA have set policy on the usage of colorants and require all manufacturers to use only those approved ones.  For certain colorants, only specific batches could be used.

How could consumers protect themselves?

It’s nearly impossible to ask women not to put on lipsticks!  The question is how to best avoid the harmful heavy metals and other chemical ingredients, like preservatives and petroleum by-products.

We always stress the importance of checking out the ingredient list to ascertain if it contains any hazardous substances before making purchase.  However many brands would rather highlight a few ingredients they want to promote instead of the complete ingredient list.  For those who do give you the list, they’re usually presented with chemical jargons that general public would find it hard to understand.

I’d suggest your looking for products manufactured by brands with GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) or with internationally acclaimed organic certification from, e.g. ECOCERT, ICEA, Soil Association, Qualite France and the like.  They are independent third party who will not only audit the use of natural and organic ingredients, whether the products contain any harmful chemicals and additives, but also inspect the production plants, production process as well as packaging materials and product labelling.  This is a total product audit. The certification awarded is not perpetual but renewable in every 1 – 2 years.  In other words the manufacturers must maintain the highest quality throughout the production and the product themselves.

Thus certified organic products could be the most convenient and safest choice to consumers.