Lead-Free Lipstick: Why You Should Nix Maybelline and L’Oreal, Plus Healthy Alternatives


Most of us pull a lipstick tube from our bag and freshen up several times a day, year round. Before we walk out the door in the morning, after lunch, before a meeting, or a hot date, even while driving, we seem to be forever applying. Even if we’re going for a natural look with minimal make-up, a touch of color on our lips makes our faces appear lively, and we feel more pulled together.

Here’s the conundrum: Your favorite lipstick could be poisoning you.

A recent study by the Food and Drug Administration found that over 400 shades of popular lipstick on the market contain trace amounts of lead. Five lipsticks made by L’Oreal and Maybelline ranked among the top 10 worst offenders. Two Cover Girl and two NARS lipsticks landed in the top 10 as well. I strongly urge you to have a look at the list (scroll down the page to “Exapanded Survey”) if you’re a lipstick lover.

This story isn’t a new one, since reports about lipsticks containing lead date back to the 1990s. In 2007, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics tested 33 red lipsticks and found that two-thirds of them contained lead — and that one-third had levels above what the FDA allows in candy.

But the FDA asserts that comparing lipstick to lead isn’t quite fair.

“It is not scientifically valid to equate the risk to consumers presented by lead levels in candy, a product intended for ingestion, with that associated with lead levels in lipstick, a product intended for topical use and ingested in much smaller quantities than candy,” the FDA said in its online comments.

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics disagrees. Per a statement made by the campaign, “Lead builds in the body over time, and lead-containing lipstick applied several times a day, every day, can add up to significant exposure levels.”

“Lead is a proven neurotoxin that can cause learning, language and behavioral problems. Pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to lead exposure, because lead easily crosses the placenta and enters the fetal brain where it can interfere with normal development,” said Sean Palfrey, M.D., a professor of pediatrics and public health at Boston University and the medical director of Boston’s Lead Poisoning Prevention Program. Most health experts agree that there is no safe level of lead exposure for human beings, even as the FDA does allow for small amounts in our food and doesn’t regulate it in beauty products, even those, like lipstick, that are ingested.

The accumulation of toxins, such as lead in the body, is also known as bioaccumulation, something we’ve talked about many times here on Eco Chick.

This all begs the question: Is wearing potentially toxic lipstick worth the risk? Here are better alternatives for your lips (just in case you decide to throw away that long-lasting, lead lipstick of yours.) I’ve spoken to each of these companies personally to ensure that they are lead-free.


Jane Iredale’s PureMoist LipColours

jane iredale

Gabriel Cosmetics’ ZuZu Luxe Lipstick


ILIA Pure Lip Care from Spirit Beauty Lounge




MUD’s Sheer Lipstick

LS_Stargazer SHEER

Lavera’s Beautiful Lips Lipstick



Nvey Eco Advanced Care Lip Colour from Spirity Beauty Lounge



About Lindsay E. Brown
Lindsay has spent her career at the intersection of media and social change. In her role at Eco-Chick, Lindsay has established partnerships and campaigns with some of the world’s most-recognized companies committed to sustainability and CSR. She co-created the popular interview series “Heroines for the Planet” that features groundbreaking women who share courage and a deep passion for protecting people and the Earth. Lindsay currently manages field marketing for Health-Ade Kombucha in the New York region and previously served as Director of Communications at the social enterprise CBS EcoMedia where she directed corporate advertising dollars to the nation’s most effective non-profits tackling urgent social issues in local communities. There she was awarded CBS Corporation’s prestigious Share-the-Vision award. She has written for Whole Living Magazine, Edible, Cottages & Gardens, From The Grapevine, EarthHour.org, Eco-Age.com, and for environmentalists Laura Turner Seydel and Susan Rockefeller. Lindsay holds a BS in Global Business Studies and Marketing from Manhattan College, and received the 2012 Honors Award at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.


  1. I am 100% sure if you talked to any of the companies tested, before the test, they too would say their lipsticks are lead free. ‘Saying so’ is meaningless without being tested using the same methods as the FDA used. EACH of the companies you listed above use the EXACT SAME pigments and colorants as the brands that tested positive for lead. So there is no reason to believe they are free from lead…and in fact one brand you listed had two lipstics in their line that were tested by the FDA and found to contain lead, so there is no reason to belive the rest do not as well. But that said…the amound of lead in lipstick is not hazardous. If we eliminated lead from everything we ate, drink or breathed…well…we’d have to join Newt on his trip to the moon because everything on planet EARTH is contaminated to one degree or another. If you want to guarantee no lead…then you have to use only uncolored, man-made, synthetics that are manufactured in a controlled setting from individual chemicals — that means no minerals and certainly no agricultural ingredients like beeswax or essential oils. Yes…the FDA should set an upper limit on lead in lipsticks and other cosmetics such as loose powders that we can breathe in with use. No debate there. But that will just create a new campaign — FDA sets limits that are too high — send donations to our campaign here so we can fight them! Deja vu.

  2. Lindsay E. Brown says:

    We appreciate your comment and feedback, Susan. However, most health professionals agree that there is no safe level of lead exposure, no matter how much. Exposure to even trace amounts of lead accumulate within the body over the years and can lead to illness.

  3. No one is debating that lead is hazardous, just that the amount of lead in lipsticks is a very minimal hazard – far, far less than the foods you eat and the water you drink every day. This article addresses the issues better than any others I have read:http://www.thedaily.com/page/2012/02/20/022012-opinions-column-lipstick-butterworth-1-3/

    But my point seems to have been missed — you listed lipsticks in your article as free of lead but there is absolutely no reason to believe they are actally free of lead. Gabriel lipsticks tested positive by the FDA and the company is in the process of determining what testing was done more specifically so that they can address the situation. But it is inaccurate to say they have no lead. They do. The other brands you list are created using the same pigments as the brands that tested positive for lead.

    So on what basis are you saying the brands you listed are free from lead?

  4. Lindsay E. Brown says:

    Thanks again, Sue. We’re looking into these issues further, and speaking to experts, and we’ll be publishing a follow up post to address the questions and the lipstick issue further.

  5. Great! It will be interesting to see what the results are when these brands are actually tested for lead. In the mean time, I did a little research into some of the pigments used in lipsticks (legal and illegal) and posted images on my personal blog if you’d like to look.

  6. Great nice collection i like this thnxxxxx for sharing………))

  7. Hi,

    The brand called “Real Purity” doesn’t appear on the FDA list of 400 products tested that you mention above, or on your “safe” list, so we were wondering if you know if this lipstick brand is safe/lead free? Thanks very much for any response.

  8. This sucks

  9. Lindsay, I don’t see a follow-up published, and I agree with Sue Apito – I have actually been in contact with the Environmental Working Group, and Stacy Malkan – Founder of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics – and I was told that it is NOT POSSIBLE to create a lipstick with ZERO .ppm of lead – only a lipstick with “undetectable” .ppm which would be based on the tester’s mechanism for detection. Apparently, the FDA’s mechanism for detection is more sensitive than that used by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetic’s researchers; thus the CFSC statement that there were some lipsticks tested with zero “detectable” levels of lead. Unfortunately, many consumers misinterpreted that study to mean ZERO, absolutely NO lead.

  10. Where is the list? There seems to be a page error. Would appreciate if you can email it to me? Thanks 🙂

  11. Couldn’t find the list of lipsticks that contain lead. Could you send d it to me.

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