CLEAN SWAP: Nude Lipstick

Welcome to my weekly featured CLEAN SWAP! This week we are taking a closer look at nude lipstick!

I’m always fielding questions from clients and friends about how they can swap out some of their favorite products for safer, toxin-free options without a loss in quality, taste, or performance (depending on the product). Every week, I cover food, cosmetics, personal care, cleaning and laundry products, and even behavior, so if you enjoy these Clean Swaps, please follow me on Instagram and sign up for my 360° OF WELLNESS Newsletter (⬅️by clicking on this link to the left) so that you never miss a new one.


I am a girlie girl and love lipstick. Bold colors are my favorite, but there is a time and a place for a classic nude. You can wear it “au naturel,” and there is nothing that goes better with a smoky eye.

The best selling lipstick on Amazon right now is L'Oréal Colour Riche Lip Colour in Fairest Nude, so I thought we could take a closer look at this particular lipstick and its ingredients (as well as some of the scary ingredients in other popular lipsticks), and see if we can’t find a better, safer alternative.


We’ve all heard this statistic before—women eat seven pounds of lipstick during the course of their lives! Or maybe it’s four pounds. Or maybe one. In full disclosure, I’m not sure what the correct poundage is, but what I do know for certain is that whatever products we put on our lips inevitably end up inside of our bodies, whether via digestion or absorption. So whether it’s seven pounds or one pound, I’d think that we would all want to make sure that the ingredients in the lipsticks we use (or the lip gloss we let our daughters play with) aren’t harmful.

So let’s take a closer look at some of the most common ingredients in best-selling lipsticks, and maybe you will think twice about slathering it all over your mouth:

🚫 BUTYLATED HYDROXYANISOLE (BHA) is a waxy solid that can be found in a variety of cosmetics and personal care products, particularly in lipstick and eye shadow. It has been found to induce allergic reactions and the International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies BHA as a possible human carcinogen. It is prohibited in the EU and the State of California requires warning labels on products containing BHA, notifying consumers that this ingredient may cause cancer.

🚫 LEAD is a known neurotoxin and carcinogen. Although it won’t appear on the ingredients label, it’s a contaminant that makes its way through the materials used to manufacture lipsticks or through the pigments used in the process. Studies show that as many as 60% of lipsticks tested contain lead, but manufacturers will tell you that they appear in minute quantities. However, the truth is that there is no “safe” level of lead exposure because even minute levels accumulate in the body over time. It is particularly dangerous for pregnant women and young children. It has devastating and often irreversible effects on brain development and behavior in children, and poses serious health risks in exposed adults, such as neurological effects, high blood pressure, thyroid dysfunction, and reproductive toxicity.

🚫 FRAGRANCE or PARFUM (which should just be listed on the ingredients label as “hidden toxins”) is packed with dangerous, synthetic chemicals, such as phthalates, which are powerful hormone disruptors linked to pre-term births, birth defects, decreased sperm counts, reduced female fertility, and a worsening of allergy and asthma symptoms. However, this innocuous but misleading term is meant to hide hundreds of these ingredients because they are considered “trade secrets” in the eyes of the government, which seems to place the interests of the corporation above the safety of us, the consumers.

Check out all the harmful ingredients in L’Oreal’s Fairest Nude (in red) vs. the non-toxic ingredients in Beautycounter’s Petal. EWG rates the safety of personal care and beauty products on a scale from 1-10, with 1 being the safest and 10 being the most harmful.

🚫 DYES give lipstick their color. Many lipsticks contain synthetic dyes that come from aluminium or petroleum products. These chemicals are absorbed through the skin and stored in our organs and the fatty tissues of our bodies. One of the petroleum products often used in dyes is coal tar and is a known carcinogen. Many dyes contain heavy metals. Most of these chemicals are not approved as food colorants, but may still be used in cosmetics. You can tell when a color has been approved by the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) for use in food, medicines and cosmetics, because it is labeled “FD&C.” Alternatively, colors labeled “D&C” (e.g., D&C RED 22 and D&C Red 36, which are typically tested on animals and have shown a link to nervous system damage and other health concerns) have not been approved for use in food… so why in the world would it be safe to put on your mouth?

🚫 HYDROXYCITRONELLAL is an odorant used in perfume. It has been linked to allergies and immunotoxicity. EWG rates it a 7 (on a scale from one to ten, with one being the safest and 10 being the most harmful).

🚫 METHYLPARABEN is an antifungal and a preservative that is rapidly absorbed through the skin and intestinal tract. It’s widely used in many cosmetics, including lipsticks. Methylparaben is restricted in the E.U. because of it may pose a cancer risk. It may also wreak havoc on your hormones and be toxic in other ways. Alarmingly, methylparaben is often a “hidden” ingredient, which means that it will not appear on the list of ingredients. This makes it impossible for consumers to recognize that a product they are buying contains this toxic ingredient

🚫 PROPYLPARABEN prevents the growth of harmful bacteria and mold, keeping the oily part of the lipstick from becoming rancid. This chemical is an allergen and has been linked to endocrine disruption. The EWG ranks t a 7, which means it is in a “high risk” category.

🚫 RETINYL PALMITATE is a synthetic form of vitamin A and is used as a preservative in lipsticks. It is dangerous to pregnant women (which seems like it would be dangerous to humans in general, no?), can cause reproductive problems, and when exposed to ultraviolet light (a.k.a. the sun!!!), retinol compounds break down and produce toxic radicals that can damage DNA and cause genetic mutations, which are a precursor to cancer. It may speed the development of skin tumors and lesions and spur excess skin growth (a.k.a. hyperplasia).

🚫 TOCOPHERYL ACETATE is a synthetic form of vitamin E that’s often found in skin care products and dietary supplements. The Cosmetics Database qualifies it as a “moderate risk” because it can cause itching, burning, peeling, hives and blisters on the skin, and it can be toxic. Some studies with it showed some “enhancement of photocarcinogenesis,” which means it may increase the carcinogenic effects of UV rays.


Beautycounter Lip Sheer Lipstick in Petal


Lipstick in Petal

Check out Beautycounter’s safer lipsticks. They come in sheer lipstick colors (a 2019 Glamour Beauty Awards winner!!!) , which are more muted shades for natural and daytime looks, or color intense shades that provide the bold, glam look I love so much for evening.

Although my favorite nude hue is Beautycounter’s Twig, Petal is probably the closest color to L’Oreal’s Fairest Nude. However, there is a world of difference between the two brands.

Beautycounter’s lipsticks are gorgeous. They go on creamy, stay on, and are super hydrating. They make you feel like you're wearing moisturizing lip balm. Even more importantly, they're made with quality ingredients that you never have to worry about (see Beautycounter’s Never List).

All ingredients that Beautycounter considers using in their products are put through a rigorous ingredient selection process and fully disclosed (without any “catch-all” terms—e.g., fragrance—and without any secrets). Color cosmetics are thoroughly batch tested for heavy metal contamination, and lipsticks are infused with vanilla planifolia fruit extract and natural peppermint extract in place of sketchy fragrances.

Do you have a favorite clean brand? 

Send me a message or leave a comment below and share what it is. If I feature it, I’ll give you credit and may even send you a free gift!

If you enjoyed this weeks’s Clean Swap, share it with a friend and sign up for my 360° OF WELLNESS Newsletter (below) so you never miss a new one.

Victoria Malin Gregory, Integrative Nutritionist and founder of NEWTRITION NEW YOU

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Victoria Gregory is an Integrative Nutritionist and founder of NEWTRITION NEWYOU. Her focus—whether with private clients, readers of her blog, or her followers on social media— is whole body wellness, incorporating whole-food nutrition, supplementation, exercise, toxin-free living, and mindset coaching. Victoria’s personal mission is to help make the world a healthier place, one person at a time, and she has helped thousands of people find joy and self-love through better eating habits and mindfulness. Learn more about Victoria.

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