what's in your lipstick

Do You Know What’s In Your Lipstick?

The truth behind ingredients and processes that go into our daily beauty products.

The cosmetics industry covers a vast global territory, and in recent years it has been growing rapidly. In 2018, the global cosmetic market grew an estimated 5.5 percent in comparison to the previous year.

And with its broad reach – covering skincare, haircare, make-up, perfumes, toiletries and deodorants – it has a huge influence on our consumer society.

Exposed to harmful ingredients

The beauty and personal care industry isn’t exactly a poster child for ethical and sustainable business practices. Add up all the unnecessary – and primarily plastic – packaging, the harmful and unregulated ingredients and the reliance on animal products or by-products and you’ve got trouble on your hands.

I was shocked to find out about the lack of ingredient control in cosmetics, particularly in the US – according to the non-profit Environmental Working Group ‘89 percent of 10,500 ingredients used in personal care products have not been evaluated for safety by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review, the Food and Drug Administration, nor any other publicly accountable institution’.

They also found ingredients certified by the US government as ‘known or probable carcinogens’  in one out of every 120 products, with one of their studies showing ‘one in every 13 women and one in every 23 men are exposed to ingredients that are known or probable human carcinogens every day through their use of personal care products.’

What’s more worrying is that this may disproportionately put black women at risk –  EWG found, with a 2016 analysis showing that less than 25% of products marketed for black women have low levels of potentially hazardous chemicals.

Image: Natural Dyes

Animal Ingredients in Cosmetics

Cochineal Dye

A dye collected from crushed Dactylopius Coccus – female cochineal beetles which feed on the red berries of cacti in South America. When they’re crushed an intense red dye is produced and it’s used in most lipsticks and a fair number of blush products.


A crystalline material that’s shimmering or light-diffusing and found in crushed fish scales. It’s in most mascaras, nail polishes and lipsticks.


A common ingredient in many cosmetics including eye makeup, lipstick, makeup bases and foundations. To the everyday consumer, it’s more common name is animal fat. The process involves boiling the carcasses of animals until a fatty substance is produced.


This is produced when the skin, tendons, ligaments and bones of animals are boiled. It’s aliases include gel, hide glue, gelatine, isinglass, kosher and halal gelatin. It’s usually included in creamy cosmetics and nail treatments.


This substance is extracted from the livers of sharks and then added to your eye makeup and lipsticks.


This waxy oil is derived from the lining found in whale’s stomachs and is used to make the scent ‘set’ in perfumes and is commonly extracted from their excrement…  


This is a fibrous protein from animal tissue that has no proven effect on your own collagen reproduction – it’s found in cosmetic lip-plumping glosses.


Also sometimes listed as Estradiol, this hormone can be found in most perfumes, restorative creams or lotions. Estrogen is obtained by extracting urine from pregnant horses.

Why Animal Products?

A lot of it stems from the need to make water and oil combine – the base of most cosmetics. Emulsifiers have varying textures, viscosities. Animal products provide a way to do this.

When presented with two options – a proven approach versus investing the time and money into scientific testing and new product exploration – established companies will often carry on with business-as-usual. It’s cost effective and easy to regulate.

According to Cosmetics Europe it took 20 years of scientific advancement to remove the smell of ammonia from hair dye and there are at least 30 separate, scientific steps involved in the development of every new lipstick with reduced oil.

There can also be a cultural precedent. The use of animal products and by-products date back centuries.

For example, the Persian physician Al-Razi advised using a mixture of honey and vinegar as a remedy for skin conditions, but also for gum disease.

Bermix Studio, Unsplash

Animal Testing

Animal testing is an unnecessary practice which still seems to dominate the cosmetics industry. The FDA is responsible for assuring that cosmetics are safe and properly labeled, through the enforcement of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act), related statutes, and regulations set out under these laws.

The FD&C Act does not specifically require the use of animals in testing cosmetics for safety, neither does the Act subject cosmetics to FDA pre-market approval. However, the agency has consistently advised cosmetic manufacturers to employ whatever testing is appropriate and effective for proving the safety of their products.

According to PETA, there are many alternatives to animal testing – in vitro testing, which uses human cells and tissue; in silico models, which uses advanced computer modeling techniques; and studies with human volunteers.

‘These and other non-animal methods are not hindered by species differences that make applying animal test results to humans difficult or impossible, and they usually take less time and money to complete.’

Scientific advances play an important role in the development and creation of clean and friendly cosmetics – for human, animal and environmental health. And today’s conscious consumers are turning eagerly toward vegan and cruelty-free beauty products.

Vegan Cosmetics

As I noted at the start of this piece, there is a distinct lack of control about the ingredients going into our beauty and personal care products. And with the known toxic chemicals that some cosmetics brands are putting into them, a switch to vegan cosmetics makes sense for our own health and wellbeing.

It also has a huge benefit to nature and wildlife. Advances in science and technology mean that we can source so much of what we need without depleting natural resources or causing pain and death to living beings. Win-win.

And for those brands that may still be on the fence about this issue, they should look at it as a huge opportunity for growth.

According to Marketing Week: ‘Sales of vegan beauty products in the UK grew 38% in 2018, with research from The Vegan Society finding more than half (56%) of Brits now adopt vegan buying behaviours such as only purchasing vegan products and checking their toiletries are cruelty-free.’

As Marie Hamm wrote for The Vegan Society: ‘These days you no longer need to sacrifice performance if you want to go “clean and green”. There is now a huge selection of natural, vegan makeup products available from high-performance, award-winning brands with eco-credentials as long as your arm.’

If you’re ready to make the switch to cleaner, friendlier products – or if you want to find that perfect item to complete your vegan makeup bag – you can use the searchable database on PETA’s site to find just the right brand for you.

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