This might sound a wee bit hyperbolic, but it really isn’t. It’s been estimated that women consume anywhere between 3 and 7 pounds of lipstick over their lifetimes. (The best number I have found is 3.6 pounds and it is based on a study from the European Union Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety.) That’s one heck of a lot of lipstick. Even if it is just a small amount at a time.
Cosmetics aren’t as tightly controlled or evaluated as the food we eat, but maybe it should be – if we are eating it. This is especially important for anyone with food allergies or who follows a special diet. Or even someone who is just conscious of what they put in or on their body.
Substances to avoid
- Carmine – I was originally worried about the potential for a cross-reaction between my shellfish/cockroach allergy and carmine, but apparently, there isn’t a documented cross-reaction between those two, but there is one with hornet venom. If you are allergic to hornets, or you’re vegetarian/vegan, keep your eyes open for this one.
- Pearl Essence – Sometimes called pearlescence, this can either be synthetic or derived from fish scales. If you are someone with a fish allergy or a vegan, keep your eyes peeled for this ingredient. You can always buy a vegan lipstick which would use the synthetic version or you can contact the manufacturer to find out if it is derived from fish.
- Wheat/Gluten – This is a hard one to find because rarely is it called out in the ingredients list the same way it is called out in food. Companies will use scientific names such as Triticum Vulgare or d-Tocopherol to disguise the ingredients. If you are sensitive to wheat/gluten, always read ingredient lists and contact the manufacturer as d-Tocopherol can be derived from wheat germ or soy. (To make matters more complicated, Tocopherol Acetate is gluten-free no matter what oil it is derived from due to processing that would leave any residual proteins far below the threshold for a gluten-free label)
- Heavy Metals (barium, lead, aluminum) – Cosmetics companies say that the amounts in cosmetics are safe, but they do accumulate in the blood. Tests have shown that the levels of lead in some red lipsticks are higher than allowed in drinking water.
- Phthalates – Included to plasticize cosmetics and help them hold fragrance, these chemicals can mimic human hormones and disrupt the endocrine system. These ingredients are protected under “trade secret” for fragrances and thus don’t have to be disclosed other than as an added fragrance.
- Parabens – Parabens are a common preservative with a (deservedly) bad rap. This ingredient can also interfere with hormone production and mimics estrogen. They’ve even found parabens in cancer tissue. (Yikes!)
Despite all of this, I am a lipstick lover. I have a collection of 60ish lipsticks of all different types and formulas. There are plenty of brands that are vegan, natural or ethically made. Look for those qualities when choosing your cosmetics. My favorites come from Tarte, Bite Beauty and Red Apple Lipstick.
Mary Fran Wiley is a well known gluten-free and positive living blogger from Chicago where she writes Curiouser and Curiouser, maintains the Chronic Positivity Project, founded the organization hope.dance and has been featured in Allergic Living Magazine, Care2.com and Today.com.