Cancer could be lurking in your lipstick… and lip gloss… and your kids’ lip balm… and…

U.S. PIRG Education Fund Report Cover

When we’re licking our lips, drinking our coffee, or eating our breakfast, many of us are ingesting lip products. Americans use lots of lip balms and lipstick, especially in the winter — and the amount ingested is significant: on average, an American woman applies lipstick 2.35 times per day, and some women apply lipstick as much as 14 times per day. The result is that some people are ingesting a pound of lip product every two years.

If there are dangerous chemicals in those lip products, then that usage can have serious consequences for a person’s health.

So for Valentine’s Day, U.S. PIRG Education Fund released a consumer guide entitled “Kiss Off,” which contains examples of lipsticks, lip balms, and children’s lip products which contain ingredients linked to cancer, hormone disruption, and reproductive problems.

U.S. PIRG Education Fund surveyed popular lip products and found that consumers need to be wary when shopping for everyday lip products. While these findings are alarming, they are not necessarily surprising, given that the FDA does not require ingredients to be tested or approved for human safety before they are added into our personal care products and cosmetics. As such, manufacturers can use nearly any ingredient they choose.

Some of these ingredients, including parabens and the catch-all term “fragrance,” have been linked to cancer, reproductive problems, and other negative health effects.

Unfortunately, these toxic chemicals are also found in products intended for those most vulnerable: children. Up to 15% of girls under the age of 12 use lipstick — and more and more brands are selling “dessert-flavored” lip products that appeal to children. These children’s products contain many of the same cancer-causing ingredients that adult lipstick contains.

In response to the report’s release, young people around the country are putting pressure on manufacturers to stop putting toxic chemicals in lip products. There were rallies today at 10 different campuses, asking manufacturers including L’Oreal and Chapstick to use safer ingredients in their products.

Young Activists at UCLA (February 14, 2018). Image credit: Jenn Engstrom.

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, and most cosmetics regulations haven’t been updated since 1938. Until the law does catch up, it is imperative that consumers 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.

Below are the results of U.S. PIRG Education Fund’s research.

Products to avoid:

  • L’Oréal Paris Colour Riche Shine Lipstick in Dazzling Doe (contains fragrance). Potential health effects: cancer, reproductive and respiratory problems, allergies.
  • ChapStick Classic Original (contains propylparaben and methylparaben). Potential health effects: skin cancer, reproductive toxicity, hormone disruption.
  • Maybelline Baby Lips Moisturizing Lip Balm (contains fragrance). Marketed to children, potential health effects include: cancer, respiratory problems, asthma, and allergies.

Safer alternatives:

  • Mineral Fusion Lip Sheer, Flashy Color. Cost: $8–12.
  • Coastal Classic Creations Pure Classic Lipstick, Conch Color. Cost: $12–20
  • Maia’s Mineral Galaxy Mineral Lipstick, Forever Friend. Cost: $8–20.
  • Burt’s Bees Beeswax Lip Balm. Cost: $3–6.

Stay safe this Valentine’s Day!

Young CALPIRG activist. Image credit: Jenn Engstrom