Are You Wearing Lipstick or Eating Chemicals?

We know that lipstick is makeup magic. You can instantly go from drab to fab. And most of us buy lipstick solely on color. But have you ever considered what your lipstick is made of? You should! Every year, we individually consume about 2.2kg of lipstick! This is not including the many other chemicals we absorb from makeup on our skin everyday.

If you love wearing lipsticks, especially deep pigmented ones, here is something you should know. The color red in most everyday lipstick brands is extracted from crushed beetles called cochineals – in fact, this insect by-product gives off a bright crimson dye used in many makeup, clothing fabric and fruit juice. Gross. It is not dangerous for consumption – unless you are allergic to the ingredient, but it bares a major yucks! factor.

From a health perspective, lipsticks do contain highly toxic metals and hormone-altering chemicals. The trouble is the cosmetics industry is worth billions of dollars and there are big holes in trade regulations. These harmful contaminants are not considered “intended ingredients”. Hence, we will never see them listed on lipstick products. In fact, almost 95% of lipsticks sold at your usual beauty counter will not come with an ingredients list or contaminants warning label.

Want to know more? Here we uncover the dirty truths behind the making of consumer lipsticks.

1. Wax & Oils

Although different brands use different ingredients, there are a couple of ingredients that are synonymous to lipsticks – wax and oil. 3 most common types of wax used are beeswax, carnaubu wax and candillela wax; and commonly used oils are mineral oil, vegetable oil and castor oil. Although these wax and oils may come from natural sources, their end product often carry traces of petrochemical contaminants. Petrochemical is essentially a by-product of crude oil and natural gas liquids. This would be like applying jet fuel or gasoline to your lips and eating it – triggering serious health problems like cancers and endocrine disruptions.

2. Toxic Metals

These days, you may see beauty advertisements stating “lead-free” lipstick. Why lead-free? In 2012, a FDA (Food & Drug Administration) study showed 400 shades of popular lipsticks contained traces of lead. According to its testing, five were made by L’Oreal & Maybelline, two from CoverGirl and two from NARS. This led to major tussles between consumer groups and trade bodies. However, the lead amount in lipstick production is deemed by FDA to be “considerately safe” and does not require contaminant labeling. But medical studies have shown that any amount of lead absorbed by human consumption is extremely dangerous. It is known to accumulate in the body and has direct link to neurological dysfunction, causing depression, seizures and learning disabilities to name a few. If lead poisoning isn’t enough to stop you, consider the other toxic metals commonly found in lipstick such as mercury, arsenic and cadmium. This is simply a case of buy at own risk.

3. Parabens

Parabens are a class of chemical preservatives widely used in cosmetics and pharmaceutical products. They are cheap to produce and highly effective in preventing fungus, bacteria and other microbes growth in products – especially ones stored in warm and moist environments like bathrooms. Lipsticks typically contain 2 types of parabens: methylparaben and propylparaben. Currently, there is no known link of parabens to major health problems; but again studies have shown they are suspected hormone disruptors and carcinogens (cancer-causing). Sometimes what we know can be too late.

4. Tocopheryl Acetate

This is a chemical compound, also referred to as vitamin E acetate. Notice when lipsticks are marketed as being moisturizing with vitamin E? This is what lipstick companies are referring to. Unfortunately, this ingredient is listed as a “moderate hazard” by The Safe Cosmetic Program Product Database because it is toxic enough for a person with ultra sensitive skin to get itching, burning, scaling, hives and skin blistering.

5. Chemical Colorants

Most of us love to wear the classic red lipstick. But did you know that red colorants used for lipstick such as D&C Red 36 and D&C Red 22 Aluminum Lake are rated as “low to moderate hazard”? These chemicals are also tested on animals. Research has linked exposure of these compounds to nervous system damage and other health concerns. This is just adding to the toxic burden we are exposing ourselves to.

All this is a problem for women who have jobs that required them to wear makeup, particularly lipstick to look professional – like cabin crew, corporate executives and sales associates.

Thankfully, there are safer alternatives. Eco-friendly cosmetic companies are starting to make lipsticks with 100% certified organic ingredients that are great to wear and safe to consume. They are replacing conventional beeswax and mineral oils with soy wax, cocoa butter, coconut oil and hemp seed oil. Instead of crusted insects and chemical colorants, red pigments are extracted from botanticals (fruits and flowers). So you don’t have to worry if you swallow or lick off a little lipstick now and then. Eco lipstick brands include ILIA, Wild Nature and Human Nature; all available and sold in Singapore.

Read my review on ILIA: Organic Red Lipsticks

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