Test: Lipsticks may contain perfume, mineral oils and suspected endocrine disrupting chemicals

18. feb 2020

Lipsticks often contain ingredients which are allergenic or suspected of being endocrine disrupting.

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Test: Lipsticks may contain perfume, mineral oils and suspected endocrine disrupting substances
Photo: The Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals

Lipsticks: You ‘eat’ a portion of the product

Lipstick is a cosmetic products, which you inevitably will consume, while it is on your lips.

Unwanted chemicals in lips sticks are therefore advisable to be aware of – especially if you use lipstick often. The ingredient list of a lipstick may be quite hard to find. It is not always on the product. And when the ingredient list is available, the ingredients might be hidden with very small letters on the backside of a very tiny label.

The Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals has checked the ingredient lists on 50 lipsticks for unwanted chemicals.

In the test only 4 products receive the best assessment. They are without perfume and a number of unwanted chemicals.

See the test with product pictures (In Danish)

Mineral oils and perfume are found in many lipsticks

The test shows that the majority of the lipsticks contain either perfume or essential oils, which are allergenic. Several of the lipsticks also contain ingredients based on mineral oils (for example paraffin and ozokerite).

One group of mineral oils, the so-called MOAH, may be carcinogenic. Another group of mineral oils (MOSH) can accumulate in the body’s organs. Scientists, authorities, ngo’s and industry are discussing whether mineral oils in lip products constitute a health problem. Read more about mineral oils further down this article.

Lipsticks with perfume and mineral oils receive an average rating (B) in the test.

See all our tests of the chemicals in consumer products

Unwanted chemicals: Be aware of this substance in your lipstick

Several lipsticks in the test contain ingredients, which are suspected of being endocrine disruptinging: one example is the antioxidant BHT.

A lipstick does not in itself constitute a health risk, even though it contains unwanted chemicals. But scientists recommend that you minimize the ‘cocktail’ of unwanted chemicals that you are exposed to from many sources in your everyday life.

We recommend choosing a lipstick without suspected endocrine disrupting chemicals, if you want to minimize your exposure.

The Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals’ test methods

50 lipsticks were examined in the test

  • 4 received the best assessment
  • 30 received an average assessment
  • 16 received the lowest assessment

The problematic substances found in the test are all legal to use.

Suspected endocrine disruptors found in 13 lipsticks

A total of 13 lipsticks in the test contained unwanted chemicals, which are suspected of being endocrine disrupting.

  • BHT – found in 12 lipsticks
  • Propylparaben – found in 1 lipstick
  • Ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate  - found in 1 lipstick
  • Cyclopentasiloxane – found in 1 lipstick
  • Salicylic acid – found in 1 lipstick

Salicylic acid is also suspected of damaging the ability to have children. Cyclopentasiloxane is also of environmental concern.

2 allergenic substances found in the test

2 substances classified as allergenic in the EU were found in 5 lipsticks in total.

  • Colophonium – found in 4 lip sticks
  • Propyl gallate – found in 2 lip sticks

Perfume, fragrances and certain plant extracts can be allergenic

The majority of the lipsticks contained perfume, fragrances or certain plant extract, which can be allergenic.

Only 13 out of 50 lipsticks in the test were without perfume. In many cases the perfume content is labelled as ‘aroma’ on the ingredient list.

Some of the fragrances may also be problematic for the environment – for example limonene and benzyl benzoate.

Mineral oils can be carcinogenic and accumulate in organs

35 of the lipsticks contained ingredients based on mineral oils or similar synthetic substances.

Ingredients based on mineral oils are for example paraffin, cera microcristallina/microcrystalline wax, ceresin, ozokerite and synthetic wax.

The corresponding synthetic substances are for example polyisobutene and polyethylene.

Ingredients based on mineral oils or corresponding synthetic substances trigger an average assessment in tests when they are present in lip products such as lipsticks, lip balms and likewise.

Earlier studies of lip balms have shown that products with content of these substances contains the mineral oils MOSH and MOAH.

MOAH is a group of mineral oils, which are suspected to be carcinogenic. MOSH is also a group of mineral oils, but here the concern is that it is accumulated in the body’s organs, for example the liver, spleen, lymphatics and adipose tissue.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has concluded that the consumers’ intake of mineral oils from food is a health concern.

Frequent use of lip products can contribute significantly to mineral oil-intake

Regarding personal care products applied on skin and hair there is a wide consensus that the mineral oil substances are not problematic. The absorption of the substances through the skin is very limited.

However, in lip products, of which we ‘eat’ quite a bit during use, there are discussions about whether the intake of mineral oils may be problematic.

Scientists have shown that frequent use of lip products with mineral oil content can contribute significantly to the total intake of MOSH. From a health point of view they recommend that content of MOSH should be limited in most of the lip products.

The cosmetic industry has worked out guidelines for the content of mineral oils in lip products.

The German institute of risk assessment, BfR, recommends, that the content of MOAH is limited, and that the products comply with guidelines from the cosmetic industry. However, this is not always the case. This is documented by studies from Germany, Schwitzerland and European consumer organizations including The Danish Consumer Council.

There is still no safety assessment on the overall use of mineral oil ingredients in lipcare products from the EU.