Side effects of Lipstick

Side effects of lipstick

The lipsticks that you use on an everyday basis contain harmful heavy metals and preservatives. Other than leaching in through the pores on your lips, these heavy metals and other chemicals can also be accidentally ingested.

Long-term exposure to such substances can cause toxin to build up beyond the “safe” or acceptable limit and even lead to serious medical conditions, including cancer.

Heavy metals and preservatives present in lipstick include

  • Lead

  • Cadmium

  • Chromium

  • Manganese

  • Aluminum

  • Parabens


1. Lead Affects Your Heart And Brain

Most of the lead in our body comes from the air, water, and food. Lead from lipsticks and other lip products add to this. The risk of lead intake is higher in case of lipsticks or lip products than with other cosmetics because these are often ingested accidentally. When the lead is absorbed by your body, it is distributed to your blood, soft tissues, and bones. Excess lead affects your heart and causes hypertension (high blood pressure), coronary heart disease, and heart rate variability.

As a neurotoxin, lead can also reduce brain function and affect the nervous system. It might, thus, result in memory and concentration problems. In fact, extreme lead poisoning has been known to cause epilepsy, loss of consciousness, and even death.

The amount of lead present in a lip product is not mentioned in the product label since lead is not added intentionally. Rather, it is a contaminant present in the coloring pigments. However, good manufacturing standards can lower the levels of contamination.


A 2007 study by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics tested 33 varieties of lipstick for lead contamination. A whopping 20 of these tested positive for lead in variable amounts, with some popular and expensive brands containing lead in higher amounts.

In 2012, the FDA developed a new method of testing for lead and ran it on 400 lipstick and other lip product samples from different brands. All of them contained lead, from a minuscule amount less than 0.026 parts per million (ppm) to 7.19 ppm. Until then, the FDA did not have any restrictions on the amount of lead in cosmetic products that can be considered safe for human intake. The FDA has now issued a draft guidance to cosmetic lip products and externally applied cosmetic manufacturers to limit the amount of lead to 10 ppm, an amount that it considers nonhazardous.

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2. Cadmium And Chromium Can Cause Cancer

But it’s not just lead that you should worry about. A recent study by the University of California examined 8 lipsticks and 24 lip glosses and found that while 75% of the products contained lead (though below the unsafe levels), all of them contained manganese, titanium, and aluminum. Some of these products also contained cadmium and chromium.

Cadmium is a known carcinogen that has been linked with lung cancer and damage to the respiratory system. As found in animal studies, exposure to cadmium during pregnancy is also known to lead to low birth weight, poor skeletal development, and problems in learning and behavior in the baby. Since cadmium cannot be easily excreted by your body, it builds up in the kidney, thereby compromising its function and increasing your risk of kidney failure. And women seem to be more susceptible to kidney damage through cadmium.

The study found that about 47% of the tested lip products have cadmium. Your drinking water may already contain some cadmium, and along with that, heavy use of 10 of these lip products could expose you to more cadmium than is considered safe.

The study also found that 10 of these 32 lip products, when used daily, could expose you to more chromium than is considered acceptable. And if the usage is high, 22 products can be deemed unsafe. Chromium too is a carcinogen, and it has been linked to lung cancer and stomach tumors.

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3. Preservatives Could Cause Breast Cancer

Lipsticks might also contain toxic preservatives that exceed the acceptable limit. Some preservatives like parabens are known to cause cancer, especially of the breast. Lipsticks that utilize these preservatives can also cause milder side effects like the irritation of the eyes, cough, wheezing, and skin irritation.

The University of California study found that on average, women used lipsticks 2.35 times a day – some used it for as many as 20 times a day as well. About 10 mg of the product was used per application. Considering that all of this lipstick is ingested, they found that the average daily ingestion was 24 mg, while ingestion after heavy use was 87 mg.


While you may not ingest all the lipstick you apply, multiple application does increase the risk. Even a comparatively safe product could become unsafe upon heavy use. For instance, as the study found, the heavy use made the chromium levels in 22 products, cadmium levels in 10 products, manganese levels in 7 products, and aluminum levels in 1 lip product of the 32 tested unsafe. Do bear in mind that you are already getting trace amounts of these metals through other sources like food, water, and the air. Your best bet is to limit usage of lipsticks. Ideally, you should apply lipstick no more than twice a day. Blot your lips after an application to remove the excess.

Lipstick Can Be Harmful To Kids

Children have the lower tolerance for heavy metals and are more likely to ingest the coat of lipstick completely. So it’s best to avoid applying lipstick on your kids, except very rarely. If your kids accidentally eat or swallow lipstick, they might experience diarrhea or vomiting. In most cases, lipstick ingestion causes only mild toxicity to the stomach and intestines. But, to be on the safer side, if your child displays the symptoms of “lipstick poisoning,” it is wise to seek immediate help.


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Avoid Unbranded Or Cheap Lipsticks When Pregnant

While there is no guarantee that branded products will have lower levels of heavy metals, it’s best to avoid unbranded lipstick altogether, especially when you are pregnant. There’s a higher risk of heavy metal contamination and infection due to poorer manufacturing standards.

In any case, if you’re pregnant, apply lipstick with caution. The toxins that you might ingest might get passed on to your baby and affect their development. In fact, it’s best to consult your gynecologist and find out safer cosmetic options. You can also make your own natural lipsticks with betel leaf juice, beetroot, or rose petals.

A 2016 Chinese study on 75 lipsticks and 18 lip glosses found that low-cost lipstick samples and those with orange or pink colors had the highest concentration of lead. Incidentally, the safety limit of lead levels for lipsticks in China is 40 ppm (40 mg/kg), which is 4 times what FDA considers safe.

Don’t Use Expired Lipsticks

Your lipsticks and lip glosses may last longer than the expiry date stipulates if you store them correctly. But chuck them when you notice a change in texture. The preservative chemicals may start breaking down. However, you should discard a lipstick even before expiry if you used it during a viral or bacterial infection.

So, these are some major side effects caused by the harmful chemicals and heavy metals present in lipsticks and lip gloss. If possible, opt for a natural alternative that does not contain these toxins. Also, avoid buying unbranded lipsticks. To ensure safety, apply lipstick no more than 2 times a day, as the excessive application could be harmful.

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