Ingredients to Avoid in Mainstream Lipsticks and Lipglosses

Ingredients to Avoid in Mainstream Lipsticks and Lipglosses | Makeup Detox

Lipstick is a great product to switch to natural because:

a) We eat it (not on purpose).
b) We apply it several times a day.
c) There are lots of great natural alternatives.

No-no ingredients in lipsticks can vary, plus many brands don’t even list them (boo). Of course we want to avoid anything with parabens and fragrance. If you’re ever unsure about an ingredient, use Skin Deep to check it’s safety.

Before we get to some common lipstick nasties, a note about contamination concerns. Contamination means that at some point in the processing, an outside element got introduced. It might already be a by-product of an ingredient used, or it can happen when ingredients are mixed together. The problem with contaminants is that they’re not actual ‘ingredients’ so they’re not listed. This makes them hard to avoid (and annoying).

Here are a few common ingredients to avoid in both lipsticks and lip glosses:

Retinyl Palmitate (Vitamin A Palmitate)

Retinyl Palmitate is made of vitamin A and retinol. When exposed to sunlight, it can damage DNA as well as increase the development of skin tumors. It’s also a concern for pregnant women. Bottom line: to be avoided, especially if you have a family history of skin cancer or if you’re pregnant.

Tocopheryl Acetate

Tocopheryl Acetate is a compound of acetic acid and tocopherol (vitamin E). It’s not the most toxic ingredient out there but can cause allergic reactions. It can also be contaminated with hydroquinone, which is very toxic.


Petrolatum can cause organ system toxicity and can be contaminated with an ingredient called PAHS (Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons – say that three times fast).


There’s been a fair amount of buzz about lead in lipstick, mainly because of an FDA study listing lead levels in 400 lipsticks. Some had up to 7 ppm (parts per million), which is 70 times the amount allowable in candy! And yes there are limits on lead in candy, which is weird enough in itself.

Lead is majorly bad news – it’s a neurotoxin linked with cancer, it can cause depression, fertility problems, you name it.

Thing is, it’s a contaminant – it can be a by-product of pigments, dyes and other ingredients. That means, it’s not listed on the ingredient list and the only way to check levels is to have it tested in a lab.

Not. Super. Realistic.

The thing I’ve been having trouble finding out, despite much research is if natural brands are completely safe. Mica, a common ingredient in natural cosmetics can sometimes be contaminated with lead too. Metals are, in effect, natural even though they’re toxic. That being said,natural makeup doesn’t usually use dyes, which makes it safer.

This is more of a regulatory issue – for example lead is banned from cosmetics in the European Union. So what can we do now?

  • Lead is especially a concern for pregnant women and children, so don’t let your kids play with your lipstick.
  • If you’re pregnant, check with companies about lead in their products.
  • Take political action on this issue.
  • Try to keep lip product applications to a minimum during the day.

This is all a little bit of a debbie downer but it’s good to be aware. Next we get to dive into natural lip products – the fun part! There are gonna be a lot of swatches coming your way in the next few weeks, so before you call Beautyaholics Anonymous on my behalf (how sweet), you should know – many of these were samples. I can stop at any time.

Non-toxic kisses,

More Reading:

Safe Cosmetics FAQ about lead in lipstick
New York Times article on lead in lipstick

You might also like:

*Free Guide*
The 2-Step Trick to Reveal if Your Beauty Products are Toxic

Leave a Comment

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Vikki January 7, 2014

Great post! So are all the ingredients (except the contaminants) listed on those tiny little packages???


Michele January 7, 2014

It really depends… some companies list ingredients but you have to peel off the sticker on the bottom and it’s all in tiny text. Most of the time they’re not listed. You may be able to find ingredients on company websites but I’d suggest using Skin Deep as a resource for checking ingredient lists.