Lipstick contains wax, oils, antioxidants and emollients. Wax provides the structure to the solid lipstick. Lipsticks may be made from several waxes such as beeswax, ozokerite and candelilla wax. Because of its high melting point, Carnauba wax is a key ingredient in terms of strengthening the lipstick. Various oils and fats are used in lipsticks, such as olive oil, mineral oil, cocoa butter, lanolin, and petrolatum. Lead and other trace metals are also found in many lipsticks. It is impossible to know whether these metals are in the lipstick by looking at the ingredient list because they are not an intentional ingredient added, but rather, an unintentional contaminant.
Lipsticks get their colors from a variety of pigments and lake dyes including, but not limited to bromo acid, D&C Red No. 21, Calcium Lake such as D&C Red 7 and D&C Red 34, and D&C Orange No. 17. Pink lipsticks are made by mixing white titanium dioxide and red shades. Both organic and inorganic pigments are employed.
Matte lipsticks contain more filling agents like silica but do not have many emollients. Creme lipsticks contain more waxes than oils. Sheer and long lasting lipsticks contain more oil, while long lasting lipsticks also contain silicone oil, which seals the colors to the wearer’s lips. Glossy lipstick contain more oil to give a shiny finish to the lips. Shimmery or frost lipstick may contain mica, silica, and synthetic pearl particles, such as bismuth oxychloride, to give them a glittery or shimmering shine.
Lipstick is made from grinding and heating ingredients. Then heated waxes are added to the mix for texture. Oils and lanolin are added for specific formula requirements. Afterwards, the hot liquid is poured onto a metal mold. The mixture is then chilled. Once they have hardened, they are heated in flame for half a second to create a shiny finish and to remove imperfections.
In 2007, a study by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics released a report called “A Poison Kiss” that tested 33 popular brands of lipstick for its lead content. The study found that 61 percent of lipsticks contained lead with levels up to 0.65 parts per million (ppm). The study done by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics brought about public knowledge and put pressure on the FDA to conduct their own studies using a specialized testing method. In 2009, the FDA released a follow-up study to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics’ report and found lead in all 20 samples tested. The lead levels ranged from 0.09 to 3.06 ppm. The highest lead levels in the 2009 FDA study were in lipsticks made by Cover Girl, L’Oreal, and Revlon.
In 2010, the FDA conducted an expanded survey on its previous study, which broadened the testing to 400 lipsticks that were available on the U.S. market at the time. This study was done by Frontier Global Sciences, Inc. using the same testing method as 2009. This study found an average of 1.11 ppm compared to the 1.07 ppm average in the 2009 study. The maximum lead level found was 7.19 ppm in Maybelline’s Color Sensational 125 – Pink Petal. This is over two times the maximum limit found in the 2009 study.
Lead is not listed as an ingredient in lipstick, but trace amounts can be found in the mineral based additives. Lead is naturally occurring in soil, water, and air. This means that lead can find its way into the raw ingredients used in lipstick color additives. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics made a list of chemicals for concern, which can contain toxic chemicals such as lead. While only trace amounts of lead are ingested from lipstick, lead accumulates in the body, which can lead to lead poisoning. The most common users of lipstick are teens and adult women. A study done by the University of California – Berkley found that women applied lipstick anywhere from two to fourteen times a day. This translates to up to 87 milligrams of product ingestion per day. Lead ingestion is particularly concerning for pregnant women because lead can enter the fetus from the mother. The FDA is the regulating body of cosmetic safety under the FD&C Act. Cosmetics regulated by the FD&C Act do not need to be approved for pre-market sale, but pre-market approval is required for the color additives used in lipsticks. Currently the FDA has not set an acceptable lead limit level for lipsticks specifically, but it has set specifications for lead in the color additives used in lipstick. The FDA’s maximum lead limit level is 20 parts per million in cosmetics; however since lipstick is absorbed through the skin and only ingested in very small quantities, the FDA does not “consider the lead levels we found in the lipsticks to be a safety concern”. The CDC, on the other hand, reports that there is no safe blood level for lead, and that even low levels of lead affect IQ, the ability to pay attention, and academic achievement. The effects of lead exposure are not able to be corrected.