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Are You Using a Safe Lip Color?

Written by Irina Webb

How safe is the lip color you are using?  This expert analysis of the most popular lip makeup brands will help you figure it out!  Indeed, we have looked into the ingredients of about 50 lipsticks, lip tints, and lip glosses and arranged them as the “best-better-bad-worst” lip products, in our opinion.  Moreover, we have prepared the top 5 “best-of-the-best” choices to help you choose the safest lip color.  Find out which categories Beautycounter, Mineral Fusion, Jane Iredale, Estee Lauder lipstick, and other lip products fall into and why.  Importantly, you can apply the gained knowledge to all the lip products in the market to select the safest one for yourself.  As a bonus, you will learn our opinion on titanium dioxide!  And to find out why we have not included 100% Pure lip makeup into this research, read our post about clean foundation.

A photo of a woman applying safe lip color.

How the I Read Labels For You team does research

To begin, the I Read Labels For You team uses a signature 5-step approach to product research.  First, we survey the product industry.  Second, we study the manufacturing processes of the product.  Third, we investigate the product’s ingredients and available safety data.  Then, if necessary, we contact manufacturers with additional questions.  Finally, we might try the cleanest products to see how they work.

To find the safest lip color, we looked into the ingredients of about 50 lipsticks, lip glosses, and lip tints. Afterwards, we formed our opinion as to the safety of the ingredients and their level of concern.  Thus, ❌ marks ingredients of high-to-medium concern, and ⚠️ marks ingredients of low concern (in our opinion).

To illustrate, here is a table of several lip makeup products from each category and the main reasons we placed them there.  Keep reading to learn which categories the rest of the researched products fall into and why!

CategoryLip Color ProductsReason for the category placement
BestCrunchi Everluxe® Lip Crayon
Crunchi Hydrogloss® Lipgloss
– No concerning ingredients
– Disclose heavy metal test reports
– Use certified organic botanicals
BetterBeautycounter Beyond Gloss
Beautycounter Sheer Genius Conditioning Lipstick
❌Synthetic colorants in some shades (e.g., red 7 lake)  
BadJane Iredale HydroPure™ Hyaluronic Acid Lip Gloss❌Synthetic colorant (red 7 lake)
⚠️Butylene/ethylene/styrene copolymer
⚠️Ethylene/propylene/styrene copolymer
⚠️Hydrogenated vegetable oil
WorstEstee Lauder Lipstick Pure Color Envy Kissable Lip Shine❌BHT
❌Synthetic colorants (red lake etc.)
⚠️Butylene/ethylene/styrene copolymer
⚠️Ethylene/propylene/styrene copolymer

Choose a safe lip color from the top 5 best-of-the-best options!

Crunchi lip glosses and lip crayons
Crunchi Lip Glosses and Lip Crayons: “Best-of-the-Best” (click on the image)

To clarify, these lip makeup products made it into the “best-of-the-best” category because, in our opinion, they present no concerns.  Indeed, the ingredients used are fine, and, on top of that, the companies provide 3rd party heavy metal test reports.  Plus, these brands were tested for PFAS by Mamavation and had undetectable levels of organic fluorine, a PFAS indicator.  (You can read more about heavy metals and PFAS in makeup in the coming section of this blog post.)

“Best of the Best” Lip Color ProductImportant to Know
Beautycounter Beyond Gloss
(Shades: Brûlée, Quartz Shimmer, Sienna, and Amber Shimmer)
 For other shades, see the “better” categoryBeautycounter Beyond Gloss
Beautycounter Sheer Genius Conditioning Lipstick
(Shade: Pearl Clear)
 For other shades, see the “better” categoryBeautycounter Sheer Genius Conditioning Lipstick
Crunchi Everluxe® Lip Crayon$10 off the first purchase of $50+Crunchi Everluxe® Lip Crayon
Crunchi Hydrogloss® Lip Gloss$10 off the first purchase of $50+Crunchi Hydrogloss® Lip Gloss
Henne Organics Luxury Lip Tint
(All shades except shade Desire which is in the “better” category)
READLABELS code for 15% offHenne Organics Luxury Lip Tint
Best of the Best Lip Products

“Best” Lip Makeup Options

The main reason the lip products in the table below did not make it into the “best-of-the-best” category is that the companies did not provide us with heavy metal test reports when we contacted them. 

As for PFAS, according to the Mamavation testing of some lip color products:

The other brands from the table below had their other makeup products tested with the following results:

  • Juice Beauty Concealer (non-detect)
  • Juice Beauty Phyto Pigments Satin Lip Cream (33 ppm organic fluorine)
  • Juice Beauty Phyto Pigments Ultra Natural Mascara (non-detect)
  • Mineral Fusion Volumizing Mascara (62 ppm organic fluorine)
  • RMS Beauty “Re” Evolve Natural Finish Foundation (375 ppm organic fluorine)

(For safe foundations options, check out our Clean Foundation Guide.)

“Best” Lip Color ProductConcern
Fitglow Beauty Lip Color SerumNo test reports
Juice Beauty Phyto-Pigments Liquid LipNo test reports
Juice Beauty Phyto-Pigments Luminous Lip CrayonNo test reports
Mineral Fusion Hydro-Shine Lip GlossNo test reports
RMS Beauty Lip ShineNo test reports
“Best” Lip Color Products
Beautycounter lip products
Beautycounter: “Best-of-the-Best” and “Better” (click on the image)

“Better” Options for You

Mainly, these lip makeup products are in this category because they have one ingredient of high-to-medium concern and/or one ingredient of low concern.

For a lip color product to have an intense, rich color, it is virtually impossible to avoid using synthetic colorants.  However, please remember the following: 

  • Check the ingredients of your shade!  It is possible that some shades do not contain synthetic colorants, as in the example with Beautycounter. 
  • Wipe your lipstick, lip gloss, or lip tint off your lips before eating or drinking to avoid ingesting any product!
“Better” Lip Color ProductConcern
Beautycounter Beyond Gloss❌Synthetic colorants (except shades in the “top 5” category)
Beautycounter Sheer Genius Conditioning Lipstick❌Synthetic colorants (except shade in the “top 5” category)
Burt’s Bees Matte Lip Crayon⚠️Hydrogenated vegetable oil
Fitglow Beauty Cloud Collagen Lipstick Balm❌Synthetic colorants
Henne Organics Luxury Lip Tint -Shade Desire (READLABELS code for 15% off)❌Synthetic colorant (red 40 lake) (only Desire shade; other shades are in the “top 5” category)
Honest Beauty Liquid Lipstick
Honest Beauty Gloss-C Gloss
❌Synthetic colorants
Ilia Color Block Lipstick
Ilia Balmy Tint Hydrating Lip Balm
❌Synthetic colorants
Jane Iredale Triple Luxe™ Long Lasting Naturally Moist Lipstick❌Synthetic colorants
Mineral Fusion Lipstick❌Synthetic colorant (red 7)
⚠️Hydrogenated vegetable oil
RMS Beauty Wild with Desire Lipstick
RMS Beauty Tinted Daily Lip Balm
❌Synthetic colorants
Saie Lip Blur Lipstick❌Synthetic colorants
Tarte H₂O gloss lip gloss❌Synthetic colorants
⚠️Polyethylene terephthalate
W3LL People Optimist Lipstick❌Synthetic colorants
“Better” Lip Color Products
Henne Organics
Henne Organics Lip Tints: “Best-of-the-Best” and “Better” (click on the image)

“Bad” Lip Makeup Options

As you can see, the lip products in this category contain several ingredients of concern, both ⚠️ low and ❌high-to-medium.  

Note that we took a stricter approach to evaluating the lip products’ ingredients because they can be ingested.  Thus, while in skin care products we consider phenoxyethanol a low-concern ingredient, in lip color products we mark it as high-to-medium concern. 

Please, remove lip makeup from your lips before eating or drinking to avoid ingestion of their ingredients!

“Bad” Lip Color ProductConcern
Arbonne Tinted Lip Serum Strawberry❌Flavor/aroma
❌Synthetic colorants (red lake etc.)
⚠️Aluminum hydroxide
Armani Lip Power Longwear Satin Lipstick⚠️Aluminum hydroxide
⚠️Hydrogenated styrene/methylstyrene/indene copolymer
Dime Beauty Johnny Matte Liquid Lipstick❌Red 28 lake
Farmasi Nudes For All Lip Gloss
Farmasi Tinted Lip Plumper
⚠️Butylene/ethylene/styrene copolymer
⚠️Ethylene/propylene/styrene copolymer
Jane Iredale HydroPure™ Hyaluronic Acid Lip Gloss❌Synthetic colorant (red 7 lake)
⚠️Butylene/ethylene/styrene copolymer
⚠️Ethylene/propylene/styrene copolymer
⚠️Hydrogenated vegetable oil
Pacifica Beauty Plushious Mineral Lipstick❌Fragrance
⚠️Lonicera Caprifolium (honeysuckle) flower extract
⚠️Lonicera Japonica (honeysuckle) flower extract
Tarte H₂O balm lip tint❌Flavor/aroma
❌Synthetic colorants (red 6 lake etc.)
⚠️Aluminum hydroxide
Thrive Causemetics Headliner Lipstick❌Phenoxyethanol
❌Synthetic colorants (blue 1 lake etc.)
Younique Lucrative Lip Gloss❌Fragrance
❌Synthetic colorants (yellow 5 lake etc.)
⚠️Aluminum hydroxide
Younique Moodstruck Splash All-Day Matte Lipstick❌Synthetic colorants (red 7 lake etc.)
⚠️Hydrogenated vegetable oil
“Bad” Lip Color Products
LA photo of a woman's mouth.

“Worst” Lip Color Options

Finally, the lip makeup products in the “worst” category contain even a greater number of concerning ingredients than those in the “bad” category. 

“Worst” Lip Color ProductConcern
Bare Minerals Hydra-Smoothing Lipstick
Bare Minerals Lip Gloss-Balm
❌Synthetic colorants
Chanel Rouge Coco Lipstick❌Carmine
❌Ethoxylated (PEG-30, PEG-8)
❌Synthetic colorants
Estee Lauder Lipstick Pure Color Envy Sculpting❌Fragrance
❌Synthetic colorants
⚠️Polyethylene terephthalate
Estee Lauder Pure Color Envy Kissable Lip Shine❌BHT
❌Synthetic colorants
⚠️Butylene/ethylene/styrene copolymer
⚠️Ethylene/propylene/styrene copolymer
Farmasi Matte Lipstick❌Flavor/aroma
❌Polymethyl methacrylate
❌Synthetic colorants
Fenty Beauty Icon the Fill Semi-Matte Lipstick❌Aroma/flavor
❌Benzyl benzoate
❌Synthetic colorants
⚠️Aluminum starch octenylsuccinate
IT Cosmetics Pillow Lips Lipstick (Cream)❌BHT
❌Synthetic colorants
⚠️Aluminum hydroxide
IT Cosmetics Pillow Lips Solid Serum Lip Gloss❌Limonene
❌Synthetic colorants
⚠️Silica silylate[nano]/silica silylate
Mineral Fusion Sheer Moisture Lip Tint❌Carmine
❌Natural flavor
❌Synthetic colorants
⚠️Hydrogenated vegetable oil
Sei Bella (Melaleuca) Creamy Lipstick❌Flavor/aroma
❌Synthetic colorants
Tarte Maracuja Juicy Lipstick❌Benzyl benzoate
❌Synthetic colorants
⚠️Aluminum hydroxide
“Worst” Lip Color Products

In the next section, you can learn why the highlighted ingredients are concerning in our opinion, based on our research into the available scientific safety data for these ingredients.  Surely, you are welcome to form your own opinion as to their safety!  Remember, though, that we are discussing them as used in lip makeup products, which makes them very close to your digestive system.  

Ingredients of high-to-medium concern

Lip color ingredientSafety concerns
❌Benzyl Benzoate  – fragrance ingredient of high-to-medium concern when used as an isolate (read Is Natural Fragrance Safe?)
– contact allergen (SCCS)
❌Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT)– under assessment as endocrine disrupting (ECHA)
– suspected carcinogen (source)
❌Carmine– a red pigment of animal origin (derived from dactylopius coccus insects, native to South America and Mexico, that live as parasites on cactus plants)
– associated with severe allergic reactions (source and source)
❌Ethoxylated (e.g., steareth-20, PEGs, polysorbate 60)– made with carcinogenic ethylene oxide and may be contaminated with carcinogenic 1,4 dioxane (read Hidden Ingredients in Cosmetics)
– undisclosed ingredients
– may interfere with the endocrine system, cause allergies, increase the risk of cancer (read Is Natural Fragrance Safe?)
– fragrance ingredients of high-to-medium concern when used as isolates (read Is Natural Fragrance Safe?)
– contact allergens (SCCS)
❌Petrolatum– carcinogenic (ECHA)
– banned from the use in cosmetic products by the EU (unless the full refining history is known)
❌Phenoxyethanol– potential allergen
– may contain the residue of corrosive phenol and carcinogenic ethylene oxide (read Phenoxyethanol in Skin Care)
❌Polymethyl Methacrylate– potential allergen (source)
❌Synthetic colorants (e.g., blue 1, red 40, yellow 5)– made from petroleum
– may contain residues of heavy metals and carcinogenic and/or endocrine-disrupting byproducts of petroleum (read Lead in Lipstick)
– some synthetic colorants are linked to carcinogenicity, genotoxicity, and hypersensitivity (source)

Lip makeup ingredients of low concern

Lip color ingredientSafety concerns
⚠️Aluminum Hydroxide
⚠️Aluminum Starch Octenylsuccinate
– associated with neurotoxicity, Alzheimer’s disease, and breast cancer
– contributes to “body burden” accumulating in the body and potentially increasing the risk of health problems (source)
– may increase the risk of oxidative damage in the skin (source)
– systemic exposure to aluminum in cosmetic products is expected to be negligible because it is poorly absorbed via skin
⚠️Butylene/Ethylene/Styrene Copolymer
⚠️Ethylene/Propylene/Styrene Copolymer
⚠️Hydrogenated Styrene/Methylstyrene/Indene Copolymer
– no safety data found
– styrene, one of the components of these copolymers, is banned in the EU from use in cosmetics
⚠️Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil– an undisclosed ingredient
⚠️Lonicera Caprifolium (Honeysuckle) Flower Extract
⚠️Lonicera Japonica (Honeysuckle) Flower Extract
– constitute the Campo Plantservative preservative
– no safety data on this preservative
⚠️Ozokerite– hydrocarbon wax derived from mineral sources or from petroleum
in animal studies, ozokerite was weakly carcinogenic, and long-term exposure to ozokerite caused systemic chronic inflammation
⚠️Polyethylene– listed by the FDA as one of the ethoxylated substances that can contain the residue of potentially carcinogenic 1,4-dioxane
⚠️Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET)– plastic used to make water bottles
– may leach endocrine-disrupting substances (source)
⚠️Silica Silylate[Nano]/Silica Silylate– no safety data found
– nano particles may penetrate the skin, and may be harmful to the environment.
⚠️TalcAs powder, talc may be contaminated with carcinogenic asbestos and affect human air ways (source). While this is not directly applicable to lip products, we cannot deem talc absolutely safe.
A photo of a woman applying lip makeup.

Is titanium dioxide safe in lip color products?

For starters, titanium dioxide is a common UV filter in sunscreens as well as a cosmetic pigment in lip makeup products.  It makes products appear non-transparent.  Practically, all the lip products we have researched contain titanium dioxide. 

Is it okay for lip color products to contain titanium dioxide?  Here is what we know.

First, the information about titanium dioxide being a potential carcinogen refers only to its powdered form.  Thus, the Proposition 65 lists titanium dioxide as “airborne, unbound particles of respirable size” because they can cause lung cancer.  And the International Agency for Research on Cancer listed titanium dioxide as a “possible human carcinogen” based on sufficient evidence of lung cancer in rats that inhaled airborne particles of titanium dioxide in big quantities.  

Second, the European Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety is of the opinion that the use of pigmentary titanium dioxide in a typical hair styling aerosol spray product is safe up to a maximum concentration of 1.4% for general consumers and 1.1% for hairdressers.  And in loose powders, up to a maximum concentration of 25% in a typical face make-up application is safe for the general consumer.

Further, in 2022, the European Commission banned titanium dioxide (E171) as a food additive in human and animal food because it is not necessary there.  Conversely, the European Commission allows its use in medicinal and cosmetic products.

In sum, we believe it is okay for titanium dioxide to be used in lip makeup because it is not airborne and inhaled.

Are there heavy metals and PFAS in lipstick?

First, heavy metals are almost impossible to avoid even in lip color products made with mineral pigments (as opposed to petroleum-based ones).  This is because heavy metals are in the earth’s crust that also contains both the minerals and petroleum used to make the mineral pigments and petroleum-based pigments (synthetic colorants) used in cosmetics.

The biggest issue with heavy metals is that they accumulate and stay in the body for decades.  Although lip makeup is not the greatest source of heavy metal exposure, it is best to protect ourselves, if possible.   

So, when we ask for heavy metal test reports, we want to see levels of heavy metals not higher than the established norms.  In our post about Heavy Metals in Makeup, you can learn about various regulations on heavy metals in cosmetic products. 

As for polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), according to Mamavation who tested 83 beauty products for PFAS, there may be PFAS in makeup.  Thus, more than half of the tested products (including lipsticks, mascara, and foundations) contained organic fluorine, considered a PFAS indicator.  Some of the brands whose makeup had no detectable levels of organic fluorine were Beautycounter, Crunchi, and Pure Haven.

It is a good idea to avoid PFAS because they are associated with such health issues as infertility, high cholesterol, insulin resistance, diabetes, impaired immunity, and cancer.  (Please learn more in our GreenPan Review.)

A photo of Irina Webb demonstrating shades of Crunchi crayons.
Irina Webb trying on Crunchi Lip Crayons: “Best-of-the-Best” (click on the image)

Conclusion about the safest lip color

In conclusion, you have learned our opinions on numerous lip makeup products.  We base our opinions on the US and European scientific literature of product ingredients.  Also, we attempted to investigate heavy metal and PFAS contamination.  We do this to help you make informed decisions as well as to motivate makeup companies to manufacture safe beauty products.

Further, we emphasize the importance of contacting companies with questions, comments, and opinions on the safety of their products.  Consumer power is real!  We have seen many positive changes in the marketplace since I Read Labels For You came around.  For example, after the introduction of the Baby Wipes Rating List e-book, wipes manufacturers stopped using formaldehyde-releasing preservatives associated with allergic reactions.  Coincidence?  Maybe, but we believe it is consumer power that drives the trend to safer products.

In 2013, when I started blogging and discovered how lipsticks were made, I stopped using them.  But now I am very happy I can use safe lip color products because I love makeup.  My favorite lip products are Crunchi Everluxe® Lip Crayon and Crunchi Hydrogloss® Lipgloss.  In fact, we deem all Crunchi products safe.  Not only most of their extracts and oils are organic, but also they use eco-friendly packaging, are vegan and gluten-free.  (See our Crunchi non-toxic makeup review.)

Thank you for reading our blog, contacting companies, voting with your dollars, and being part of the consumer product safety movement! 

2 thoughts on “Are You Using a Safe Lip Color?”

  1. What is your opinion of Zuzu brand lipstick ? I love Zuzu brand “Starlet” color lipstick. I did not see it on the list of good and bad lipsticks. The ingredients cited on Zuzu label seem “clean” but I don’t have much to go on except I’ve bought it for years at Sacramento Natural Foods Coop and they have an extremely strict policy and high standards on everything they sell…..completely the opposite with marginal stores like Whole Foods or Sprouts Market! Sacramento Natural Foods Coop was founded in 1973 and refused to succumb to being GreenWashed!

    I was shocked to learn Jane Iredale flunked! But not surprised about the Honest Brand flunking

    I bought a new customer promo box of household cleansers from The Grove based in San Francisco – from their website. Lots of limolene and Linolool in their cleaning products and worst of all is they proudly boast how fabulous Mrs Meyers brand is…..IMHO it’s not far from Clorox! Plus they brag how sustainable they are but all their products are made in China, the MOST polluted nation on earth!

    So I just stick to Dr Bronners, vinegar and baking soda and good ole Bon Ami cleanser to scrub and clean!

    Thanks for being a Truth Teller!

    1. Thank you for your feedback, Colleen! To see if Zuzu lipstick is okay, please look for the ingredients of concern specified in the designated sections of our free blog post on lip color products. Or follow the instructions in the “Services” section of the menu bar at the top of our website to get an email product review.

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