Last Updated on February 28, 2023 by The Filtery
Unfortunately, the cosmetics industry is rife with toxic chemicals (especially in the United States, where ingredient regulations are much laxer compared to the E.U.). If you’re looking to reduce the number of toxicants in your makeup bag, it can be overwhelming. We recommend taking it one step at a time, replacing your favorite cosmetic products with non-toxic alternatives as you run out.
In this article, we’re going to talk about all things non-toxic lipsticks, glosses, and balms: what are the chemicals to avoid, and which brands are safe.
What Are The Main Ingredients In Lipstick?
The primary groups of ingredients that you’ll find in both non-toxic and conventional lipstick brands include:
Emulsifiers & Thickeners
Depending on whether you’re reaching for a traditional twist-up stick or a liquid gloss, the level of thickeners and emulsifiers needed will vary. These ingredients can be natural (like plant butters or beeswax) or synthetic (like steareths). They not only help to ensure the right thickness of your lip products, but they can also keep ingredients mixed together properly, help the finished product to glide on smoothly, provide moisturizing properties, and prevent melting when the product is exposed to higher temperatures.
Since mold and bacteria come with their own potential health risks, preservatives are a good thing! That being said, there are different kinds of preservatives—some of which are more toxic than others. The good news here is that lipsticks tend to need fewer preservatives because a) they contain less water than something like, say, body wash (making them less susceptible to things like mold growth), b) most already contain natural oils and butters that have antibacterial properties (such as rosemary, beeswax, castor oil, coconut oil, and more).
That being, said many synthetic preservatives are still added to lip products to extend their shelf life. Regardless of whether you’re using conventional or non-toxic lipsticks, it’s always wise to be aware of the expiration date.
Colorants & Dyes
Obviously, color is a big piece of the puzzle for many people who wear lipstick. See below for more info about colorants and lake dyes!
Flavors & Fragrances
It may not be “necessary,” but many conventional and natural lipstick brands contain added flavors and fragrances, which essentially just make for a more enjoyable experience for the wearer. Synthetic fragrances are of most concern because they often contain things like phthalates and parabens, many of which are known endocrine disruptors and carcinogens.
Do I Really Need A Chemical-Free Lipstick?
Technically, everything has chemicals. Even water is a chemical. What we’re talking about here are toxic, potentially harmful chemicals. The most common toxic ingredients that are found in conventional lipstick brands are listed below.
No, you’re not likely to get cancer or suffer reduced fertility from putting on conventional lipstick once or twice. But the problem with lipstick toxicity (along with pretty much any other product) comes from your overall, long-term exposure from repeated use. With lipstick, you’re not only absorbing it through your skin as you do with other cosmetics, but you’re likely ingesting a lot of it too as you lick your lips, eat, drink, etc. If you’re putting on lipstick multiple times a day, each day, every week… that can all add up!
Add this to all of the other toxins we’re exposed to on a day-to-day basis from other cleaning and personal care products and environmental contaminants in our air and water, and you get the potential to make a real difference in our individual and collective health.
That’s why so many people are now taking steps to reduce the number of toxic chemicals in their homes… and that includes their makeup bags!
P.S. If you’re looking for lip balms instead, check out this article!
What Makes A Lipstick Toxic?
So, what are the chemicals in lipstick to avoid? Here are the categories to be wary of, and why:
Parabens are a common category of toxins that you’ll find in LOTS of your cosmetics and personal care products. These are preservatives that help prevent the growth of things like mold and other microbes. Considering that mold CAN be toxic, adding preservatives to personal care products and cosmetics is not totally a bad thing!
But the problem is that parabens are linked to a host of serious health concerns, from cancer to infertility. They are known endocrine disruptors, which means they can wreak havoc on the body’s many important hormonal systems. (Plus, there are much safer preservatives than can be used instead.)
BHT and its relative, Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA), are synthetic antioxidants that are also commonly used in lipstick to extend shelf life. BHA has been linked to reproductive and developmental toxicity, along with cancer.
Although more research still needs to be done on BHT specifically, it should also be noted that it’s a toluene-based ingredient. Toluene is a well-established toxin that can cause neurological damage and more.
This is a very concerning ingredient that is found in a lot of lip products. It is composed of palmitic acid and retinol (Vitamin A) and is used as a “skin-conditioning agent.” According to the FDA, along with Norwegian and German health agencies, when it’s applied to the skin in the presence of sunlight, retinyl palmitate can potentially speed the development of skin tumors and lesions.
“Fragrance” (also listed as “parfum”) is such a ubiquitous ingredient that it can be found in virtually all cosmetic, personal care, and cleaning products these days.
The problem with “fragrance” is that it’s not an actual ingredient; it’s an umbrella term that can include nearly 4,000 different chemicals. Some of these chemicals are perfectly safe, while others can cause cancer, infertility, and more. Under U.S. law, companies can include any of these ingredients in their formulations without actually listing them on the label. Due to the incredible lack of transparency here, the word “fragrance” on an ingredient label should be a huge red flag for you.
Colors & Dyes
Half the reason most people even use lipstick is for the color. But what is used to make those bright reds and fresh pinks, and are they safe?
Colorants can be a bit confusing because they can come in several different forms: earth-derived, plant-derived, and synthetic/artificial. There are pros and cons to these different types of colorants, and this is an instance where “natural” does not always equal “better” or “safer.”
Earth-derived pigments come from sources like mica, iron oxide, titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, coal tar, and petroleum. You may see these ingredients listed with the word “lake,” which is the term used for pigments or dyes that are precipitated with metal salts.
This is where lead and heavy metal contamination often come from. Ideally, you want to purchase from brands that are stringent in choosing their suppliers and even conduct independent testing of their own to test for contamination of these metals.
Plant-derived pigments include colors that come from fruits and flowers. Of course, this generally sounds like a much safer option, and it likely is most of the time, but the FDA doesn’t actually regulate plant-derived colorants in cosmetic products. For this reason, it’s mostly up to the brand to make sure they are being strict with their sourcing of these ingredients.
Another thing to consider when it comes to plant-derived ingredients is how much processing has gone into converting the ingredient from a raw plant to a dye that can be used in a cosmetic product. Sometimes, the process can be quite intense, requiring so many different chemicals that it can make the line between “natural” and “synthetic” a bit blurry. And of course, organic is always best, since conventional plant-derived products can contain traces of pesticides, herbicides, and toxic fertilizers.
Lastly, there are synthetic and artificial colorants. Although we may typically assume that synthetic and/or artificial ingredients should be avoided, these are actually the most strictly regulated by the FDA when it comes to cosmetics. The FDA actually has pretty specific rules about which specific colorants can be used in what kind of cosmetics, and how much.
If you’re concerned about colorants, dyes, and lakes, don’t hesitate to reach out to your favorite brands and ask more questions about how their colors are sourced and what sort of independent testing is done!
Do lipsticks still contain lead? The short answer is: yes. Although regulations have been restricting and prohibiting lead in many other products like paint and baby toys, the amount of lead in lipstick wasn’t actually tested until 2007. That year, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics tested 33 popular lipstick brands and found that 61 percent of them contained lead, with levels ranging up to 0.65 parts per million.
Then, after receiving significant pressure from consumers and lawmakers, the FDA finally conducted its own investigation two years later. This study found ranges of lead from 0.09 to 3.06 ppm—even higher than in the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics study!
The big problem with lead is that there is really no safe amount; even exposure to small doses can have negative effects, especially for children. Some of these negative consequences include neurotoxicity (learning, language, and behavioral problems), reduced fertility, delayed puberty onset, and other hormonal issues.
Which Lipstick Brands Contain Lead?
Brands that have tested positive for lead include:
- The Body Shop
- Burt’s Bees
Notice that this list includes a couple of more “natural” brands, like Body Shop and Burt’s Bees! (Although, it is worth noting that The Body Shop was owned by L’Oreal when these tests were conducted and it has since been sold to Natura. This may or may not have impacted the formulation and production of its products.)
Other heavy metals like chromium, cadmium, aluminum, manganese, and nickel.
But lead isn’t even the extent of the metal problem when it comes to lipstick and lip gloss. A 2013 study out of the University of California found eight other heavy metals in lip products, including chromium, cadmium, aluminum, and manganese. All of these metals come with their own potential consequences to one’s long-term health.
The “OKAY” Ingredients in Conventional Lipsticks
Cyclopentasiloxane is a silicone-based ingredient, which is commonly used in lipstick to improve the texture and make it glide on smoothly. This is yet another ingredient that carries some controversy because of the inconsistency in available research; some evidence suggests the ingredient is safe while other evidence links it to cancer and endocrine disruption at certain levels.
The thing about Cyclopentasiloxane, though, is that (unlike things like preservatives), it isn’t really necessary. Perfectly safe ingredients like shea butter and candelilla wax can be used to make the lipstick glide onto your lips just as nicely, but without the risk.
Linalool & Limonene
Most of the time, linalool and limonene are used to scent products. They can be naturally occurring from plants (like citrus) or they can be made synthetically.
Part of the problem with these ingredients is that when they’re listed on an ingredient label, it’s almost impossible to tell how they were sourced and processed, and whether or not they’re natural or synthetic. The only way for consumers to know is if the brand volunteers that information.
But even in their natural, plant-based versions, these ingredients can be very irritating for some people. Therefore, those with sensitive skin or other vulnerabilities should consider avoiding these ingredients altogether.
The Best 10 Brands for Non-Toxic Lipstick & Lip Gloss for Healthy, Lucious Lips
All of the brands below are non-toxic, safe for pregnancy, and even safe for kids. Not only that, but they smell great, look beautiful, and come in a wide variety of options so you can find your preferred colors and textures.
This post may contain affiliate links, which means we may earn a small commission if you choose to make a purchase. We only make recommendations that are genuine and meet our ingredient/material safety standards.
Carries: Tinted lip balm, liquid lip gloss, matte lip crayons, and more
Honest carries a wide variety of Environmental Working Group (EWG) Verified lip colors, so you’re almost guaranteed to find something you like. These products are infused with nourishing ingredients like jojoba oil and shea butter, and they’re all dermatologist-tested, hypoallergenic, and cruelty-free.
For a deeper dive into the Honest brand, check out this article.
Carries: Lipstick, gloss, conditioner, and “Jellies”
Beautycounter is one of our favorite brands when it comes to safe, high-quality personal care and cosmetics products. Their lipsticks and glosses come in a wide variety of colors to complement a variety of skin tones. Plus, they smell and taste really yummy, too!
Carries: Lipstick, gloss, lip tint, stain, and balm
Whether you’re looking for a gloss or a matte look, 100% Pure carries a selection of non-toxic lipsticks for every skin tone. Instead of synthetic dyes, this vegan-friendly brand uses fruit extracts like cherry, pomegranate, blueberry, and more to give your lips a pop of color. Some of their ingredients are organic, and others are not.
Carries: Lipstick, tint, pencil, gloss, crayon, butter
Mineral Fusion’s non-toxic, vegan lipsticks are EWG-verified and gluten-free. They contain natural ingredients (many of which are certified organic) like cocoa seed, coconut, and avocado oil. These natural lipsticks come highly-rated in a wide variety of colors.
Carries: Lipstick, pencil, balm
Elate’s non-toxic lip products are made with nourishing organic ingredients like jojoba oil, shea butter, and mango seed butter. They’re vegan and gluten-free, and Elate has lots of environmental sustainability initiatives in place as well.
Fat and the Moon
Carries: Lip balm, salve, and stain
Fat and the Moon is a favorite skincare brand in the zero-waste, eco-friendly community. Their plastic-free tinted balms and stains can be dual-purpose for both your lips and cheeks. They’re made from organic and cosmetic grade ingredients like sunflower oil, beeswax, and mineral pigments, with added Vitamin E. Plus, it’s all handcrafted and cruelty-free.
Carries: Lipstick, Lip Nectar (tinted balm), Multistick, Gloss, and Conditioning Tint
This brand is inspired by the purity of light and elemental energy of Taos, New Mexico. They’ve got high-quality matte lipsticks, shiny glosses, and easy-to-use multisticks. They use ingredients such as “nourishing Myrrh, restorative Lemon Balm, soothing Iceland Moss, and hydrating organic Jojoba Oil” to keep your lips looking and feeling healthy.
Carries: Lipstick, lip liner, balm, and shine
RMS Beauty was started by a celebrity makeup artist who was concerned about daily exposure to toxic cosmetic products. Their lipsticks come in a wide variety of pinks, reds, and neutrals, and they also have several multi-use colors that can be used on your cheeks, too.
Carries: Lip gloss and tinted lip balm
Babo Botanicals’ lip gloss is vegan, dye-free, and EWG-verified. They use ingredients like coconut oil, cocoa butter, and soothing organic calendula to keep your lips looking and feeling soft. They also use tea tree and peppermint oil, so be aware of that if you’re sensitive to those natural essential oils!
Carries: Lipstick & lip gloss
W3LL People was founded by “an elite makeup artist, cosmetic dermatologist, and a tree-hugging entrepreneur.” Their lipsticks and lip glosses come in a variety of pinks and reds and contain ingredients like organic cupuacu butter, jojoba oil, and aloe.
Carries: Lipstick, balm, highlighter
All of Axiology’s vegan and clean beauty products are made with 10 ingredients or less. Their lip crayons are a fun twist on conventional lipsticks, and their Lip to Lid Balmies are a great safe option for both adults and kiddos! They use nourishing ingredients like coconut oil, avocado oil, and more.
Non-Toxic Kid-Friendly Lipstick & Lip Gloss Brands
It’s tough to find non-toxic makeup that’s specifically made for kids. Kids’ makeup is often made from cheap ingredients, which can mean less transparent sourcing, less independent testing, and overall lower quality products.
Many of the kids’ makeup kits that are on the market are advertised as ‘non-toxic,’ but there is an incredible lack of transparency about what that actually means. A product may have been tested for lead (which is great, of course), but still contain other ingredients like parabens and phthalates. When researching for non-toxic makeup for kids, we found that many of the brands don’t even list the ingredients in their kits at all (which is a big red flag!).
Therefore, if your kids want to play with makeup, you may want to consider using the recommended brands above. Even though they’re technically made for adults, they have been well-vetted and only contain ingredients that are safe for your little ones’ growing bodies.
Alternatively, you could D.I.Y. your own natural makeup for your kids to play with. Or for the youngest ones, you could get pretend (fake) makeup instead. Check out these recommended brands for tweens and teens.
That being said, we did find a couple of brands that carry non-toxic lipstick and lip gloss for kids:
Klee Naturals Tinted Lip Gloss
These super cute red, pink, and clear glittery lip glosses are made from almost completely natural ingredients and are free from toxins like parabens, phthalates, colors, dyes, and gluten.
Prim & Pure
Prim & Pure has some really cute safe makeup products for kids, too. In the lip department, they carry balms, crayons, and Kitty Gloss(!), and more. They’re made with plant-based ingredients like organic castor oil, shea butter, and essential oils for scent.
[Almost] Non-Toxic Drugstore Lip Color Brands
To be honest, it’s slim pickings when it comes to non-toxic lip products at drugstores and big box stores like Walmart and Target. But if you don’t have time to order something online, there are definitely some brands that are better than others. Here are the safer brands you can find in drugstores:
Pacifica’s cosmetic products can be found in a lot of big box stores like Target and Walmart, and even some drugstores. They have various products, from lip balms and glosses to tints and oils. The only issue with Pacifica’s products is that SOME of them do list “fragrance” as an ingredient, which is problematic because it indicates lack of transparency and could potentially contain carcinogenic and endocrine-disrupting chemicals. We recommend skipping the products that contain “fragrance.”
You’re probably familiar with eos’s brightly-colored lip balm balls. Although they do have a small collection of colored Lip Tints, most of their products are clear, colorless balms and treatments. All of their lip products are dermatologist-tested, hypoallergenic, not tested on animals, and free of parabens, phthalates, and gluten. They also have a line that is 100% natural, which includes only natural and mostly-organic ingredients.
This brand carries a few different varieties of lip gloss and lip color that can be found in drugstores like Walgreens and CVS (depending on the location). Not ALL of their lip products are completely toxin-free, however, so we recommend you stick with their Organic “Lip Treatment.“
With the many choices available for chemical-free and non-toxic lipstick brands, you don’t have to sacrifice your health to have beautiful, healthy, made-up lips!
Image Credits: Sam Lion, Matthew Reyes, Karolina Grabowska