Kiss Off: A Consumer's Guide To Saying No To Toxic Lip Products

Released by: U.S. PIRG Education Fund

Lip products are used by most Americans every day. In fact, 81 percent of women and 39 percent of men use lipstick or lip balm products. Unfortunately, the ingredients in these products are barely regulated, and many major brands use toxic chemicals in these products. 

Research into major lip product brands sold across the United States reveal that big-name manufacturers such as L’Oréal, Maybelline, and Chapstick contain chemicals that are harmful. Some of these ingredients, like parabens and fragrance, are linked to cancer, reproductive problems, and other negative health effects.

This consumer guide includes some potentially dangerous examples and a few “safer” alternative products that do not contain these toxic ingredients. With so many lip products that contain toxic chemicals, it is hard for the average consumer to know what is safe to use and what is not. The goal of this report is to help consumers choose a safe lip care product without having to worry about the safety of themselves or their family.The United States first began to take steps to protect consumers from chemicals found in cosmetics in 1938 with the passage of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FDCA), which allowed the FDA to control for the safety of food, drug and cosmetic products. Almost 30 years later, the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act (FPLA) passed in 1967, which required manufacturers to disclose the net quantity of contents in consumer products. But not all ingredients in cosmetics are required to be disclosed. The ingredient “fragrance” or “parfum” refers to a mixture of scent chemicals and ingredients that don’t have to be disclosed. Some fragrance chemicals have been linked to cancer, reproductive and respiratory problems, and allergies. 

Unfortunately, these toxic chemicals are also found in products that are intended for those most vulnerable: children. Up to 15 percent of girls under the age of 12 use lipstick – and more and more brands are selling “dessert-flavored” lip products to appeal to children. These products contain many of the same dangerous ingredients that adult lipstick contains.
Many industries have undergone a renaissance in safer production of goods. The food industry has drastically changed to offer healthier options to consumers, such as the explosion in production and availability of organic foods. The cosmetic industry, on the other hand, is still lagging. While there are certain natural and toxic-free cosmetic brands, it’s shocking that some of the most popular lipstick brands were found to contain high levels of lead. Parabens and some of the ingredients in fragrance, linked to cancer in humans, are prevalent in lip care products as well. 

And there is reason for Americans to be concerned about what they are putting on their lips. Lipstick and lip balm don’t disappear off of our lips--instead, some of that product is being ingested by the consumer. When we’re licking our lips, drinking our coffee, or eating our breakfast, Americans are ingesting lip product. The amount ingested is significant: on average, an American woman will apply lipstick 2.35 times per day, and some women apply as much as 14 times per day. The result is that some women are ingesting a pound of lipstick every two years (or as much as 87 milligrams of lip product per day). Over the course of a lifetime, that usage can have serious consequences for a person’s health. 

In the 50 years since the FPLA passed, we have learned that long term exposure to toxic chemicals in cosmetics and other consumer products can cause significant harm to human health. Unfortunately, policy decisions have not caught up with the science. Until the law does catch up, it is imperative for consumers to learn about the most harmful ingredients in their favorite lipstick, lip gloss, and lip balm products. In particular, people should carefully monitor the use of unsafe lip products used by children. Consumers should hold manufacturers accountable for removing harmful chemicals from their products and replacing them with safer alternatives. 

We looked at many brands and types of lip products currently on the market and evaluated them for safety. We have broken this report into three sections: 1) toxic chemicals found in lip products; 2) lip products that are safer alternatives and do not contain common chemicals of concern; and 3) recommendations for manufacturers and policy makers.

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