What’s in Your Lipstick?


Sep 27, 2016


From Cleopatra’s private formula, to today’s 14-hour version, lipstick has come a long way. It first arrived on the scene as early as 3000 BC, when Sumerians’ lipstick ingredients included crushed gemstones. Over the millennia, lipstick became a definitive tool for actors, a symbol of promiscuity, and, by the 1950s, a mainstay of the modern woman’s make-up bag.

Today’s colours contain a litany of polysyllabic chemicals that most of us don’t even try to probe. So we decided to look into it: What’s in lipstick? Of the literally hundreds of possible lipstick ingredients, we take you through the most common and the most hazardous.

Lipstick ingredients that make it stick

Waxes and oils form about 60% of a lipstick and are the ingredients responsible for making lipstick a solid stick or lip gloss a shiny goop. Waxes act as emulsifiers (that is, they keep the oils from separating from the rest of the liquid mixture) and emollients (moisturizers). They strengthen the lipstick into a stick shape and help the mixture adhere to the skin.

  • Paraffin wax is derived from the process of refining petroleum into petrol. It is the same wax used to make most candles.
  • Carnauba wax, also known as Brazil or palm wax, is made from the leaves of Copernicia prunifera, a palm indigenous northeastern Brazil. It has one of the highest melting points of natural waxes, as well as hypoallergenic properties, and a high shine.
  • Ozokerite, also known as earth wax, or ceresin when refined, is a naturally occurring mineral wax.
  • Candelilla wax is derived from the candelilla shrub, native to parts of Mexico and the US. It is also known for being a main binding agent in chewing gum.
  • Polybutene is a polymer that bind together other ingredients and thickens the mixture.

If you’re prone to allergies or vegan, watch out for:

  • Beeswax, produced naturally by honeybees, is an increasingly common ingredient, though it has been known to cause allergic reactions in some people.

Lipstick ingredients that protect your skin

The waxes above can help keep the skin of your lips from drying out under your colour of choice, but most lipstick ingredients also include oils and other ingredients that act as further moisturizers, ‘plumpers,’ and astringents – that is, substances that clean the skin and shrink pores.

  • Castor oil, that is, vegetable oil derived from the seeds of the Ricinus communis plant, is used in various versions for its moisturizing and anti-bacterial properties.
  • Cocoa butter, that is the natural (and edible!) fat of Theobroma Cacoa seeds, is a moisturizing ingredient.
  • Glycerin: A natural component of animal and vegetable fats and oils that can also be produced from carbohydrates. It is a humectant which prevents products from losing moisture and drying out.
  • Capsaicin is a substance that occurs naturally in chilies. When it is extracted and added to lipstick, it helps moisturize and ‘plump up’ the lips.
  • Dimethiconol is a silicon-based polymer, which, along with its derivatives, can be used as a moisturizer and thickening agent in lipstick.
  • Potassium alum, also known as Potassium Aluminum Sulfate, is a naturally occurring mineral used as an astringent.

If you’re vegan, watch out for:

  • Lanolin oil is a very common substance among lipstick ingredients. It is derived from the sebaceous glands of sheep and is used for its hydrating properties and high melting point. It can also be used in a wax form.

If you’re prone to allergies, watch out for:

  • Vitamin E, or tocopherol, is a natural antioxidant that can be isolated from vegetable oil and used to moisturize the skin. In cosmetics, it can be found in various versions including Tocopheryl Acetate, Tocopheryl Linoleate, Tocopheryl Nicotinate. Of these, tocopheryl acetate is rated by the Environmental Working Group, a consumer awareness organization, as a moderate health hazard for allergic reactions, based on a “fair” amount of research. It has been known to cause itching, burning, scaling, hives and may be toxic.
  • Mineral oil — also known as liquid paraffin, paraffin oil, and liquid petrolatum — is also a derivative of petroleum that moisturizes skin. The EWG’s cosmetics database, based on a “fair” amount of research, classifies mineral oil as a low health hazard for cancer and a moderate health hazard for allergic reactions.
  • Propylene glycol is a synthetic alcohol that absorbs water and is a widely used ingredient in many cosmetics, serving as a solvent and also restoring suppleness to skin. The EWG calls it a moderate health hazard since it has been linked to allergic reactions and skin irritation.

Everyone, watch out for:

  • Petrolatum — also known as petroleum jelly, mineral jelly, and soft paraffin — is also derived from refining petroleum. Among lipstick ingredients, it prevents loss of moisture by forming a shield over the skin and absorbs UV rays. The EWG lists petrolatum as a moderate health hazard, based on a “fair” amount of research, since it is linked to organ toxicity and can sometimes be contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) – some of which are definite carcinogens.

Lipstick ingredients that add colour

And now for the most important part of lipstick ingredients. From stick to stick, the pigments used to give colour to the mixture vary, but are generally some combination of the following.

  • Silica is found naturally in sand and is used in lipstick to make the mixture opaque, though it does not give any colour itself. While in its pure powdered form, silica can pose a low health risk to the respiratory system, there is little-to-no risk to its use in lipstick.
  • Eosin, also known as Red 22,is a common, vibrant red dye in lipsticks that intensifies on reacting with the proteins on the surface of the skin.
  • Titanium dioxide is a naturally occurring white mineral mined, refined, and mixed with the red pigments above to make pink shades, increase opacity and absorb UV rays. Titanium dioxide is possibly carcinogenic but only when airborne – not through skin contact.

If you’re vegan, watch out for:

  • Carmine is a very common, bright red dye derived from the scales of insects like the cochineal, a bug native to South America and Mexico. Carmine has been proven to be nontoxic and noncancerous.

If you’re prone to allergies, watch out for:

  • Zinc Oxide is derived from the mineral, zincite, and is used as to protect from UV rays and also as a colorant. The EWG gives it a low to moderate health hazard, based on “fair” evidence, as it’s been linked to allergic reactions.

Everyone, watch out for:

  • Coal tar: Some pigments used to color lipsticks are derived from coal tar. The EWG classifies it, based on “robust” evidence, as a high health hazard for allergies and also as a known carcinogen. It may appear on ingredient lists as coal tar solution; tar, coal; carbo-cort; estar (skin treatment), Impervotar, KC 261, Lavatar, picis carbonis, and more.

Lipstick ingredients that give shine

While waxes and oils often carry their own sheen, these can be amped up through a variety of lipstick ingredients such as:

  • Mica is a group of silicate minerals found in different types of rock that are used to add sparkle and shine in lipsticks. Mica may contain trace amounts of heavy metals, but these amounts have been found to be minuscule and not a health hazard.*
  • Guanine is a crystalline material obtained from fish scales that produces a shimmery or pearlescent effect in cosmetics.
  • Bismuth oxychloride is a synthetic powder that lends a sheen to cosmetics. Like mica, it can contain trace amounts of heavy metals, but not in a concerning amount.*

Lipstick ingredients that give it a shelf life

Without preservatives, lipstick wouldn’t last long enough to sell it. There are too many possible preservatives to list here, but one is particularly noteworthy.

Everyone, watch out for:

  • Methyl paraben is a preservative used in several cosmetic products including lipstick. Based on “limited” evidence, the EWG calls it a moderate health hazard linked to endocrine disruption, cellular changes, and allergic reaction. On ingredient lists, it may appear as methyl ester benzoic acid, benzoic acid, methyl ester, sodium salt, and more.

*Studies as recent as 2010 have found lead contamination in some lipsticks. In high amounts, lead has been linked to cancer and developmental/reproductive complications.



Written By The Swaddle Team


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