Well-known cosmetic brands have come under fire the past few years, in part for their chemical and petroleum-based ingredients, but mostly for the lead and other heavy metal contaminants that inadvertently end up in their lipsticks. In response, consumers have been turning to plant and mineral-based lip products as a healthier alternative.
Heavy metals in lipstick
The truth is, heavy metals are naturally found in soil and rock, so pretty much anything that comes from the earth has at least some trace of heavy metals. This means that even lipsticks made with natural minerals are susceptible to some contamination.
That said, lipsticks made from plant and mineral ingredients tend to have much lower levels of contamination, while those made from chemical and petroleum-based ingredients tend to be more heavily contaminated. Additionally, coal tar colorants (often listed on the label as D&C and FD&C colors) may increase the likelihood of heavy metal contamination in lipsticks.
Some brands use a mix of minerals and chemical or petroleum ingredients. Be sure to read the label carefully, because their advertising will typically highlight their use of mineral components, while not mentioning that their other ingredients come from less desirable sources.
Whether the lipstick uses minerals for its advertising benefits or as part of a truly natural product, you still need to check one more thing: that the minerals have not been micronized.
Minerals are safest when they are NOT micronized
The most common minerals found in natural lipsticks are titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, iron oxide, mica and silica. Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are used as colorants and for SPF protection. Iron oxide, mica and silica are added for color, shine and texture.
Studies indicate there is little risk of toxicity from absorbing or ingesting the most common minerals found in lipsticks, so long as those minerals are in their natural state.
The bad news is that some manufacturers “micronize” their mineral ingredients into nanoparticles. Micronizing changes a mineral’s physical properties and makes it more easily absorbed by the body as a possible toxin.
This is a known issue, so brands that do not micronize their mineral ingredients will say so on the label.
For the healthiest lipsticks, look for those made from plant and/or mineral ingredients. If the lipstick contains minerals, ensure their label says they are “non-micronized” or “free of nanoparticles”.
Clean (scrubbed) minerals
Mineral ingredients may be free from contamination when they have been synthesized. For example, titanium dioxide is often cleanest when it is synthesized from pure titanium and pure oxygen, rather than mined from the ground as naturally-occurring titanium dioxide.
Manufacturers may also scrub their mineral ingredients to minimize or remove any heavy metal contamination. This is great, because healthier ingredients make for a healthier lipstick!
But ingredients are only part of the story, because many lipsticks are contaminated with heavy metals during the manufacturing process. To ensure the products they sell are safer, brands may use cleaner manufacturing materials that do not produce harmful by-products and/or they may use an independent third party to test their final products and verify they are free from lead and other harmful heavy metals.
Look for conscientious brands who communicate safer ingredients AND safer manufacturing processes, either on their website or directly on the label.