When navigating the cosmetics aisle, it's hard enough finding the perfect shade of pink for your pretty pout. It gets harder still when you want to find a safe, nontoxic version that won't expose you to any potential health risks. While we encourage nontoxic versions of all cosmetics, it's especially important to look for safe lipstick because "the lips are a very sensitive part of the body," said Stacy Malkan, co-founder of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, and author of Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry. "The skin is highly absorptive, and we can ingest any chemicals that we put on our lips."
In a country where companies are not required to list all of the product ingredients on the label, it can be a daunting task to find safe alternatives to popular lipsticksand as Malkan says, "it's way more complicated then it should be." Period. Fortunately, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Cosmetic Database offer a wealth of information when it comes to chemicals to look out for and products to trust. Products are rated based on their ingredients, from 0 (no toxicity) to 10 (several known hazards). Malkan recommends choosing products in the 0-2 range.
Ingredients to Avoid
On the label, long words with "paraben" in them, like methylparaben, propylparaben, ethylparaben and butylparaben, indicate they are a member of the paraben family. According to Skin Deep, these chemical can act as potential endocrine disruptors (in other words, they might mess with your hormones).
Phthalates have been associated with hormone disruption and have caused reproductive birth defects in laboratory animals. Two types commonly used in cosmetics are butyl benzyl phthalate (BBP) and dibutyl phthalate (DBP), according to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.
Formaldehyde-Releasing Preservatives (FRPs)
Listed as Quaternium-15, dimethyl-dimethyl (DMDM) hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, and 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol (bronopol) on the label, you want to avoid FRPS as they release small amounts of formaldehyde over time.
Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA)
This preservative has been classified as "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen" by the U.S. National Toxicology Program, a part of the National Institutes of Health, yet as Skin Deep's studies show it can be found in numerous personal care products.
If a lipstick claims to protect your lips from the sun's harmful rays, look out for Oxybenzone that has been linked to allergies, hormone disruption, and cell damage, according to an Environmental Working Group report.
When listed on an ingredient list, this is a red flag. It can stand in for a number of chemicals, including phthalates. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics recommends that pregnant women, babies and pubescent young adults, particularly, steer clear out of an abundance of caution.
There is no way to know if your lipstick contains lead, which can occur naturally in some lipstick ingredients; exposure to lead can cause brain damage. Some studies by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and the Food and Drug Administration have found lead in some colors of popular lipstick brands.
Red Flag Marketing Gimmicks
Yes, we mean the color. Greenin any huedoes not mean the contents are sustainable, natural or safe. Look for ingredients over marketing.
The words "natural," "safe," "hypoallergenic" or "doctor-recommended" won't guarantee that the product you buy is non-toxic or sustainable.
Certifications to Trust
Look for certifications like USDA Organic and the Natural Products Association. Though be aware that these certifications have more to do with the source of ingredients, Malkan says, than their safety.
In this feature, you'll find lipsticks with low toxicity ratings, but Malkan warns that "We can't just shop our way out of this problem." The Safe Cosmetics Act would "change the laws to require companies to disclose what's in their products and put best practices in place so that companies keep the lead out of products."