The most toxic cosmetic? Traditional lip glosses, finds study

lip glosses most toxic cosmetic

"Unintentional" ingredients found in lip glosses include lead—at 10 times the amount the FDA allows. (Photo: THE GAZETTE/Allen McInnis)

You won’t see heavy metals like arsenic, lead, and mercury listed on your beauty product labels. But that doesn’t mean your skin care and makeup is free of them. In fact, your best-selling Sephora lip gloss looks to be loaded with arsenic and other known toxins.

A Canadian environmental group recently had 49 popular beauty products tested for heavy metals, and was surprised to find just how many traditional beauty products (ie: chemically formulated ones) contained these “unintentional” ingredients.

Lead was detected in 96 percent of the products, arsenic in 20 percent, and cadmium in 51 percent, according to the Montreal Gazette, which published the report findings.

If these concentrations were found in milk, there would be a nationwide uproar if not a product recall. So why are these toxins tolerated in skin care?

Traditional beauty brands like to say that these ingredients appear in amounts so small they don’t warrant mention on product labels (the FDA agrees), nor do they cause much harm. (Although no traditional beauty brand or the FDA has tested this claim.)

But this small study finds that there are considerably more heavy metals in products than companies have let on. In fact, in the case of Benefit Benetint Pocket Pal Gloss, it sounds out of control.

The popular makeup-bag staple contained the highest lead concentration, “more than 10 times the limit set out in Health Canada’s draft guidelines for contaminants (10 parts per million). Even this limit is nearly 10 times higher than what the US FDA has proved to be technically avoidable, at 1.07 ppm,” says the Gazette.

Considering that lip products are so easily ingested—and that beauty companies have no incentive to test for or declare the presence of these dangerous ingredients in their products—it’s definitely time to treat yourself to a few fastidiously natural lip glosses. And we’re more than happy to recommend some… —Melisse Gelula

For more information about the Canadian Environmental Defence study, visit Environmentaldefence.ca or read the Gazette article here.

Got an all-natural or organic lip gloss you love? Tell us in Comments area, below!

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37 Comments | ADD YOURS

  1. May 17th, 2011 at 11:38 am

    Take a look at Arbonne products! Holistic & botanically-based products that are developed in Switzerland. No lead or arsenic — just essential oils and vitamins.

  2. May 17th, 2011 at 11:48 am

    […] Keep reading at Well+Good […]

  3. May 17th, 2011 at 12:14 pm

    In lieu of lip products from many companies containing arsenic, lead, or other toxic contaminants, I opt for organic or all natural glosses which, in addition to being non-toxic, also offer better moisturizing and conditioning properties. There are even some natural plumping glosses and treatments containing cinnamon, capsicum (found in chilies or chili powder), or pawpaw. You may find these ingredients in oils, powders, creams, or their natural forms in natural health food and herb stores. However, there are an increasing number of lip gloss and lipstick options from natural and organic cosmetic companies. My current favorites are those from Tarte and Korres (both at Sephora) and Alba TerraGloss sold at Whole Foods. If you’re not ready to go all organic when it comes to your cosmetic products, start with gloss. Think about it: you wind up ingesting most whatever is on your lips.

  4. May 17th, 2011 at 12:31 pm

    I love Tarte and Korres too! They really do feel better on my lips, and I don’t have to worry too much about ingesting them…

  5. May 17th, 2011 at 1:04 pm

    Where can we see a list of what they tested and what we shouldn’t be using other than the 1 gloss? It’s not helpful unless we know which ones to avoid most.

  6. Well+Good
    May 17th, 2011 at 1:07 pm

    For a complete list of products (which include Clinique, L’Oreal, and more), download “Heavy Metal Hazard: The Health Risks of Hidden Heavy Metals in Face Makeup” on EnvironmentalDefence.ca Here is the direct link: http://bit.ly/k2PTyk

  7. May 17th, 2011 at 2:41 pm

    RMS Beauty is by far, the safest brand I have come across & the products are amazing (lovely lip stuff too!) I thought Tarte was pretty green, but I’m having second thoughts. xxoo

  8. May 17th, 2011 at 3:22 pm

    I’m all for safe, natural and well-preserved products, but please don’t ever forget this maxim: Just because it’s all-natural, doesn’t mean it’s safe.

    Find a middle ground you feel comfortable resting in. You’ll want some level of preservation (I’ll take a drop of preservative over a potentially life-scarring microbe any day of the week), and you’ll want to ensure that the ingredients used have scientific research to back them up (some essential oils/plant extracts have sensitization effects…very dangerous!).

    This isn’t a time to toss out science. In the end, it’s truly up to you to do your own research.

  9. May 17th, 2011 at 3:25 pm

    […] –Glossed lips sink ships: how toxic is your lip gloss? (Well + Good NYC) […]

  10. May 17th, 2011 at 8:10 pm

    My favorites come from Living Nature, Tarte, Real Purity, Peacekeeper, and Logona.

  11. May 17th, 2011 at 9:39 pm

    check out http://www.cosmeticdatabase.com and rid your collection of everything toxic!

  12. May 17th, 2011 at 10:04 pm

    Arbonne? Are you serious?!

    They very scrupulously avoid listing their ingredients on their website, and if you believe the information that they do reveal, their list of “What’s not in our products” – then I have a bridge to sell you…..Without further ado, I will cut to the bottom line and reveal, courtesy of the blogger: feelgoodstyle.com/ Arbonne’s “pure, safe and natural ingredients” – in descending order, “let’s take a look, shall we?”:

    Ingredients for Arbonne’s Line Defiance Liquid Foundation SPF15: Water, Octinoxate, Cyclopentasiloxane, Isododecane, Butylene Glycol, Peg/ppg-18/18 Dimethicone, Dimethicone, Polysilicone-11, Hexyl Laurate, Polyglyceryl-4 Isostearate, Dimethylacrylamide/acrylic Acid, Polystyrene Ethyl Methacrylate Copolymer Disteardimonium Hectorite, Cetyl Peg/ppg-10/1 Dimethicone, Caprylyl Glycol, Camellia Oleifera Leaf Extract, Panax Ginseng Root Extract, Portulaca Oleracea Extract, Lycium Barbarum Fruit Extract, Lecithin, Coco-caprylate/caprate, Dimethicone/divinyldimethicone, Silsesquioxane Crosspolymer, Magnesium Aluminum Silicate, Stearoxymethicone/dimethicone Copolymer, Peg-10 Dimethicone, Propylene Carbonate, Propylene Glycol Stearate, Propylene Glycol Laurate, Ethoxydiglycol, Dimethyl Isosorbide, Polysorbate 20, Sorbitan Laurate, Tocopheryl Acetate, Oligopeptide-10, Aminobutyric Acid, Barium Sulfate, Glycerin, Steareth-20, Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate, Chrysin, N-hydroxysuccinimide, Palmitoyl Hexapeptide-14, Palmitoyl Oligopeptide, Palmitoyl Tetrapeptide-7, Sodium Chloride, Stearic Acid, Sodium Dehydroacetate, Phenoxyethanol, Alumina, Titanium Dioxide (Ci 77891), Mica (77019), Iron Oxides (Ci 77491, Ci 77492, Ci 77499).

  13. May 18th, 2011 at 9:45 am

    I love W3LL people clean cosmetics! I just got a tint gloss from them that is similar to Benefits tint but all natural, pure, pure pure goodness! I am actually doing a giveaway with it on my site now.


  14. May 18th, 2011 at 11:47 am

    *IMPORTANT* The Cosmetic Database is NOT run by scientists and includes huge DATA GAPS that render the site essentially USELESS. Please, don’t support the scare-mongering there. Please.

  15. May 18th, 2011 at 6:48 pm

    Did you see the follow-up in the Gazette? More of the dose makes the poison bs…all “you’d have to eat pounds of it for it to be harmful” blah blah. Umm, I just don’t want to eat ANY lead for crappy lipgloss, ok? Can we all just start using organic skincare (like mine!!) and be done with it already? mmk thanks.


  16. May 18th, 2011 at 9:03 pm

    UBERimportant article and discussion. What ever you do everyday is the most important to be careful about – and eating lip gloss is just what happens. PASS ON TO ALL THE TEENAGERS YOU KNOW! take care Hope

  17. May 20th, 2011 at 9:30 am

    […] –Lip gloss is the most toxic cosmetic, study says. (Well + Good NYC) […]

  18. May 20th, 2011 at 9:30 am

    […] –Lip gloss is the most toxic cosmetic, study says. (Well + Good NYC) […]

  19. June 1st, 2011 at 10:03 am

    […] least in my beauty world.) But many vibrant-hued lipsticks are packed with lip-drying chemicals, “accidental ingredients” like lead, and mineral-oil bases meant to lubricate bike chains not your lips. I get that pigments are still […]

  20. June 24th, 2011 at 10:06 am

    […] lip gloss is popping. Lip gloss may be the scariest product in your beauty bag, but fear no more: Intelligent Nutrients (created by Horst Rechelbacher, Aveda’s original […]

  21. June 30th, 2011 at 5:04 am

    […] more: http://www.WellandGoodNYC.com. Tags: arsenic, cadmium, cosmetics, health, heavy metals, lead, lip gloss, lipstick, makeup, […]

  22. July 13th, 2011 at 3:25 pm

    I agree with Skin Queen…my god, Arbonne is terrible with so many man made chemicals yet claim a doctor is involved with development….check out website EWG.org which tests thousands and thousands of products for women, men, and children, Grades products, lists what chemical cause cancer, possible cancer causing chemicals, and every molecule that makes up each and every product for skin, hair, nails, and more.

  23. July 21st, 2011 at 12:13 pm

    I love Couleur Caramel lip gloss – bio certified & non-drying.

  24. July 29th, 2011 at 7:42 pm

    […] recent article on Well+Good NYC tells of a recent study of many popular non-natural or chemically formulated […]

  25. August 14th, 2011 at 11:28 am

    I support Coaliton for Safe & Healthy CT and am looking for clean non toxic cosmetics for the community.

  26. December 28th, 2011 at 12:50 pm

    Fruit pigmented products by 100% Pure Cosmetics – http://www.100percentpure.com/?gclid=CNWwjIeppa0CFYPc4AodSjynlg

    Also Jane Iredale is a good brand: http://janeiredale.com/lips.html

  27. December 28th, 2011 at 3:18 pm

    I have been addicted to SPROUT’s products for over a year, and they are the most natural products I’ve ever seen.


    Lip Balms and Cream are my hands-down favorite. Also love the Scrub… gotta give props to an exfoliant that’s so natural I could EAT it.

  28. January 5th, 2012 at 8:59 am

    I’m a big fan of RMS Beauty and 100% Pure. I even make my own lip balms with my toddler daughter. We posted a couple homemade glosses on my blog the other day that are actually edible: http://rawdorable.blogspot.com/2012/01/rawifying-haydens-cupcake-lip-glosses.html

  29. January 23rd, 2012 at 1:31 pm

    […] The line quickly became a cult favorite, even outside natural circles. That’s great news considering the toxic lineage of lip products. […]

  30. July 28th, 2012 at 3:15 pm

    I have been using Cleure Lipstick and lip gloss and love it. It’s all natural.

  31. July 28th, 2012 at 3:18 pm

    Cleure is a signer with EWG’s Skin Deep. They have lipstick, lipgloss and lip balm that is all natural with shea butter. I can’t use anything else. Love their products.

  32. December 21st, 2012 at 10:50 am

    […] Toxins In Traditional Lip Gloss, Well and Good NYC http://www.wellandgoodnyc.com/2011/05/17/the-most-toxic-cosmetic-traditional-lip-glosses-finds-study… […]

  33. January 26th, 2013 at 11:26 am

    […] plant oils and extracts as they disperse really rad color. That’s a two-for-one benefit that traditional lip glosses don’t have, and something to seriously smile […]

  34. January 31st, 2013 at 5:52 pm

    […] plant oils and extracts as they disperse really rad color. That’s a two-for-one benefit that traditional lip glosses don’t have, and something to seriously smile […]

  35. December 2nd, 2013 at 11:41 pm

    does Love & Beauty lip gloss by FOREVER21 contain lead

  36. December 24th, 2013 at 12:19 am

    This is a great article and hope it brings awareness to so many women that are putting globs and globs of this toxic stuff on their lips and in their bodies. As the article states there are other choices that are amazing, natural and nourishing for your lips. I now only use Pangea Organics Lip Balms to keep my lips hydrated and soft!http://www.pangeaorganics.com/sites/bettybergnes/PWPShowProduct.ashx?ProgramProductId=58&ProgramCategoryId=70
    Free of petroleum and synthetics, our lip balm allows a unique blend of organic oils to sink into the skin, rather than sealing them off from moisture. Organic Tamanu, Sunflower, Jojoba, Hemp, and Shea oils deeply hydrate and protect lips from moisture loss while imparting naturally occurring fatty acids into the skin.
    Buy one and you will never put that toxic stuff on your lips again!

  37. September 13th, 2014 at 4:14 pm

    These products ROCK!!!! They are made in Europe, natural botanical ingredients and they WORK!!!! As a triathlete I love the Rise &Shine Lip Balm, Moisturizing body Balm, deodorant and Hard Day’s Night Foot Cream. My husband LOVES the shaving products.. no animal products or testing is a bonus

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