Health Is Beauty

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



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 is the Marketing and Sustainability Manager at Health-Ade Kombucha and previously served as Director of Communications at the social enterprise CBS EcoMedia. There she directed corporate advertising dollars to the nation’s most effective non-profits tackling urgent social issues in local communities and was awarded CBS Corporation’s prestigious Share-the-Vision award. She has written for Whole Living Magazine, Edible, Cottages & Gardens, From The Grapevine,,, 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.