There’s no other makeup item that can transform your look the way lipstick does. It’s no wonder it has been used for thousands of years—as far back as the ancient Sumerians, who were using crushed gemstones to put color on their lips. Even nowadays, we know that a bold red lip can take you from blah to boom in an instant and make you look chic and sophisticated.
Same goes with classic tones that compliment any outfit—there’s a shade for every occasion and mood, although the formulations have come a long way since those ancient gemstones. And not necessarily in a good way.
What Lipstick Ingredients Should You Avoid?
Although applied directly to the lips, lipstick ingredients are no more regulated than those of any other cosmetics [source]. That means you’re putting toxic ingredients on your mouth whenever you apply conventional lipstick. While some of these ingredients used to be crucial to formulating the product, thanks to technological advancements, companies can now create long-lasting, hydrating lipstick using only natural, organic dyes and oils.
If you’re on the market for a new lipstick, remember to read the label first. And put that pretty tube back on the shelf if you see any of the following ingredients listed on it:
Polyparaben is a chemical commonly found in cosmetics, such as sunscreen, foundation, eye shadow, and of course, lipstick. It acts as a preservative, preventing the formation of bacteria and mold [source]. And while it keeps your lipstick from going rancid, there is strong evidence that polyparaben is an endocrine disruptor, in addition to being a potential allergen [source].
As an alternative, natural lipstick brands use clay, honey, or salt as preservatives. While the shelf life may be slightly shorter, natural lipstick is definitely safer.
Just reading “paraben,” and you probably already know this ingredient shouldn’t be in your lipstick. However, a lot of companies still use it as a preservative, to prevent fungal growth in lipstick, moisturizer, or mascara. Again, methylparaben causes endocrine disruption [source], and it’s restricted for use in most European countries due to concerns linking the substance to cancer.
Essential oils, herbal extracts, or some vitamins can be used as natural alternatives.
Also known as tocopheryl acetate or vitamin E acetate, tocopheryl is a synthetic form of vitamin E used as an antioxidant and conditioning agent in lipstick. Its side effects can include allergic reactions, burning, or blisters, and one study linked it to increased carcinogenic effects of UV rays in animals [source].
In the case of natural lipsticks, natural vitamin E might be used for the same purpose as tocopheryl acetate. While more expensive for the manufacturer, this version is much safer for the consumer.
We all love a pretty lipstick color to throw on just so, one that suits our complexion, making us look stylish and put together so easily. But many of these colors come from artificial dyes, which are derived from aluminum or petroleum products. Coal tar, for example, is a known human carcinogen [source] and allergen [source], yet it’s an ingredient in many famous brand lipsticks.
Unlike many other ingredients in cosmetics, color additives (with the unexplained exception of coal-tar dyes) must be approved for use by the FDA [source]. You will find colorants that were not approved for food use listed as D&C. Those that are food-safe are marked as FD&C, meaning they can be used in food, drugs, and cosmetics [source]. If you don’t want a lipstick with ingredients you wouldn’t be happy ingesting, opt for the latter.
Natural colors can be obtained from cacao or beetroot, among others. And while carmine is technically natural and has been used for thousands of years, you should skip this colorant if you’re vegan, as the color is actually obtained from the boiled bodies of beetles [source].
Does Your Lipstick Contain Lead?
While lead is not considered an actual ingredient in lipstick and you won’t find it written on the label, a report from 2007 showed that 61% of lipsticks on the market contained this contaminant [source]. The thing is, there’s no safe level of lead exposure. The metal is especially harmful for pregnant women and children, causing neurodevelopmental problems and reducing fertility. If a lipstick isn’t advertised as lead-free, then it probably isn’t.
What Should You Look For in a Natural Lipstick?
As with all cosmetics, start by reading the label. Make sure all the ingredients are natural and organic, and watch out for hidden ingredients (here’s looking at you, fragrance!). It never hurts to check the product on the EWG Cosmetic Database, where they inspect for safety and rate most cosmetics on the market.
While you’re at it, also check the label for information on where the lipstick is produced. Different countries have different regulations, and you might find yourself getting ‘more’ than you bargained for.
Finally, the label is where you might find information on whether the lipstick is vegan, cruelty-free, gluten-free, or certified organic.
Since lipstick is not just for looking pretty but also for protecting your lips, make sure the one you pick is moisturizing and won’t dry out your lips. You will also want a brand with a variety of colors available, so you have plenty to choose from.
How Can I Make Natural Lipstick Last?
The pursuit of the perfect color is endless, but here are our 8 tips for making your lipstick last all day:
- Skip the long-wearing lipsticks. They will suck the moisture out of your lips. And when the color settles into the grooves of your lips, it’s not a pretty sight.
- Go for bright or dark shades. Because they have more pigment, they tend to stay on longer than soft colors.
- Start with smooth lips. Lipstick stays on best when your lips are smooth. If your lips are flaky, take a minute to exfoliate with a sugar scrub or rub them gently with a damp washcloth. Don’t do this too often or you’ll end up with more dryness. Then apply a lip balm and give it a minute to sink in.
- Skip the primer. The more layers you add on your lips, the more likely your lipstick will smear and come off more easily.
- Don’t use a brush. You’ll get more intense color applying lipstick directly from the tube.
- Layer with lip pencil. The additional layer of pigment helps the color last. Choose a color that matches your lipstick (or one shade lighter if your lipstick is dark). Trace the edge of your lips and then fill in the color.
- Repeat! Blot the liner with a tissue and then add another layer of lipstick on top.
- Finish with powder. If you really want the lipstick to last all day, give your mouth a very light dusting of transparent powder and another layer of lipstick. This can dry your lips, so skip this step if needed.
How Can I Find Natural Lipstick?
The easiest way to make sure all the ingredients in your lipstick are safe is to make it yourself. We’ve created this creamy marsala version with natural ingredients and still find it an excellent everyday color! However, we understand if you decide not to take the DIY route, as buying ready-made cosmetics can be more convenient.
If you’re new to the world of natural cosmetics, you might be surprised to find that natural lipstick is actually easy to procure. You can even find a few options in the beauty aisle at Target or Walmart, not to mention the plethora of choices on Amazon. You will also find options in every price range because natural lipstick is no longer the exception—and we hope that soon it becomes the norm! Scroll down for our favorite sources.
What Are The Best Natural Lipsticks?
This is probably our favorite natural lipstick—it’s moisturizing, lasts a long time, and it’s affordable. It’s also free of parabens, phthalates, SLS, petrolatum, and synthetic fragrances. What’s more, the 24 colors available allow you to mix and match according to your mood or the season.
This sheer lipstick is ideal if you don’t usually wear full face makeup and prefer a more natural look. The “Pearl” shade is rated 1 by EWG, while “Raisin,” “Lily,” and “Orchid” are still considered safe with a 2 rating. The lipstick is made with jojoba esters and carnauba wax that condition and hydrate lips, and it contains no artificial fragrance.
Affordable and available in most drugstores, this lipstick from Physicians Formula combines organic shea butter, coconut oil, jojoba oil, and Vitamin E. It’s hypoallergenic, paraben-, gluten-, and cruelty-free. Although there are currently only six shades available, they’re all classics that never go out of style.
Colored with natural fruit pigments, the lip glaze from 100% Pure is the perfect compromise between a lipstick and a lip balm. It’s light and nourishing, sheer, and just slightly glossy. The “Coquette” shade is rated 2 by EWG, and all lipsticks are free of parabens and synthetic fragrances.
This lipstick is vegan, as well as cruelty-free, and it’s formulated with natural, organic ingredients, such as coconut oil, avocado butter, or candelilla wax. Moreover, their packaging is made from recycled materials, which makes a difference for the eco-conscious consumer.
Though technically not a lipstick, this lip crayon from Honest Beauty can be used like one, as well as to contour the lips. Rated 1 on EWG, it’s cruelty-free, and formulated without parabens, phthalates, paraffins, silicones, or other problematic ingredients.
This post was medically reviewed by Dr. Jennifer Haley, a board-certified dermatologist with extensive experience in medical, cosmetic, and surgical dermatology. Learn more about Hello Glow’s medical review board here. As always, this is not personal medical advice, and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.