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Over Half Lipstick Models Detected with Both Mineral Oil Saturated Hydrocarbons (MOSH) and Allergy-causing Substances Manufacturers Urged to Make Stricter Choices in Raw Materials to Ensure Consumer Safety

  • 2024.01.15

Lipstick is a must-have cosmetic essential for many beauty lovers, but as lip cosmetics can easily be ingested, the safety level of ingredients cannot be ignored. The Consumer Council tested 30 models of lipsticks, lip tints or liquid lipsticks of popular brands on the market, and found that 80% of the tested models (24 models) were detected with mineral oil saturated hydrocarbons (MOSH) mixtures and their analogous (hereafter referred to as “MOSH and their analogous”) that may accumulate in the human body. The effects of prolonged accumulation of these substances in organs such as the liver, and spleen are yet to be investigated. 7 of the models were detected with higher amounts of MOSH and their analogous in short and/or long chains, among which 4 were detected with amounts of long-chained MOSH and their analogous exceeding 10%, failing to meet the safety threshold recommended by the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC). In addition, 5 models were also found with trace amounts of mineral oil aromatic hydrocarbons (MOAH). Some MOAH are suspected to be genotoxic and carcinogenic. Even though the major component of MOAH detected in the tested models have no carcinogenicity concerns, many overseas organisations have recommended avoiding the intake of these substances for safety reasons. Moreover, over half of the models were detected with allergy-causing heavy metals, and 7 models were found to contain fragrance allergens. Repeated exposure to multiple allergens may trigger allergic reactions in individuals with particularly sensitive skin. Overall, as some models were found to be completely free of relevant mineral oil substances or allergens, the Council calls on manufacturers to review the use of raw materials and their manufacturing process, to minimise or even eliminate the presence of mineral oil substances and their analogous in lip cosmetic products, as well as allergy-causing heavy metals and fragrance substances to protect consumer health.

The test included 23 models of traditional lipsticks and 7 models of lip tints or liquid lipsticks, with prices ranging from $65 to $505 per tube, equivalent to a unit price of $15.5 to $130 per gram or millilitre, a difference of over 7 times. The tests focused on product safety, which included determination of the amounts of mineral oil substances such as MOSH and MOAH and their analogous, fragrance allergens and heavy metals, as well as evaluation of the labelling information.

80% of Tested Models Detected with MOSH Mixtures

5 Models Found to Contain MOAH

Mineral oil hydrocarbons are the most-accumulated contaminant in the human body, and the use of lip cosmetics containing mineral oils may be one of the major sources of intake. 24 out of 30 models were detected with MOSH and their analogous, with the total amount ranging from 1.14% to 24%. Overseas studies have pointed out that daily use of lipstick may result in ingestion of 57mg of lipstick per day, amounting to a total of 20.8g annually, which is equivalent to 5 tubes. Based on the model detected with the highest amount of MOSH and their analogous, daily intake of MOSH and their analogous for a frequent user of this model would already account for 76% of the maximum daily dietary intake value (0.3mg per kg body weight) estimated by the European Food Safety Authority (based on an adult with a body weight of 60kg).

MOSH mixtures and their analogous can be divided into different ranges of carbon chain lengths. Animal studies have shown that short-chained MOSH (number of carbon atoms at C25 or fewer) are more likely to accumulate in the liver of animals and may be associated with the formation of hepatic granulomas. Cosmetics Europe recommended that specific mineral oil ingredients to be used in lip care products (including lipsticks) should not contain more than 5% hydrocarbons. Short-chained MOSH and their analogous were detected in over 70% of the models (23 models), among which 5 contained higher amounts ranging from 5.1% to 17.8%. On the other hand, data from overseas studies indicate that long-chained MOSH (number of carbon atoms ranging from C16 to C35) may accumulate in tissues such as adipose tissue, lymph nodes, spleen, and liver, etc. of the human body, and the accumulation of these substances in the body may be associated with the formation of lipogranulomas, while their long-term health impact to humans is yet to be investigated. 4 models were detected with relatively higher amounts of long-chained MOSH and their analogous ranging from 11.4% to 20.48%, which did not comply with the 10% safety threshold recommended by the BEUC. Among these, 2 models were also found to contain higher amounts of short-chained MOSH and their analogous. If using the product with the highest amount of long-chained MOSH detected (20.48%) daily, nearly 4.3g of long-chained MOSH mixtures may be ingested in a year, which should not be taken lightly.

On the other hand, 5 models were detected with another mineral oil substance MOAH, with total amounts ranging from 0.06% to 0.96%. Although the major component of MOAH detected are not suspected carcinogens, for safety reasons many overseas consumer organisations have recommended that the MOAH content in lip products should be lower than detection limit, or that consumers should avoid using any lip products with MOAH detected.

Considering that 6 models were completely free from mineral oil substances such as MOSH and MOAH, it is believed that reformulation, selection of raw materials, and manufacturing advancement, etc. could reduce or even eliminate the presence of those substances in lip cosmetics. The Council stresses that it is inevitable for frequent lipstick users to ingest and accumulate such substances in the body as a result of using the product, and therefore considers it imperative that suppliers should take feasible measures to enhance product safety.

40% and 60% of Tested Models Detected with Nickel and Cobalt Respectively Which May Cause Allergic Reactions

Among the 30 models, 8 were detected with 2 to 3 allergenic heavy metals at or above the recommended level of 1mg/kg. Nickel was detected in 40% (12) of the models at relatively high levels, ranging from 0.82mg/kg to 3.3mg/kg. Cobalt was detected in 60% (18) of the models, ranging from 0.11mg/kg to 1.7mg/kg. Nickel and cobalt are commonly known allergens, and repeated use of nickel-containing products on the skin may cause allergic contact cheilitis, with dryness, peeling, cracking, fissures, rashes, swelling, and burning or tingling sensations, etc. Individuals who are allergic to nickel are often also allergic to cobalt. The Council recommends manufacturers to pay special attention to the raw materials that may contain allergenic heavy metals and their concentrations, and to strive to not use raw materials containing allergenic heavy metals or to minimise the use of such ingredients as much as possible.

Apart from heavy metals, fragrances are another culprit for allergies. Fragrance allergens were detected in 7 models, the total amounts ranging from 0.0030% to 0.32%. Among them, 1 was detected with a relatively high total amount, while 2 were detected with several types of fragrance allergens, as much as 4 to 5 types. The fragrance allergens commonly detected were citronellol and geraniol, which were all labelled in the ingredients lists on product packaging to facilitate consumers to make informed choices.

Product Label Unclear and Need Improvement

For consumers to be able to choose products that are suitable and safe, it is crucial that sufficient and accurate information is available on product labels for making purchase decisions. However, the labelling of many models have much room for improvement. 8 models, labelled as originated from Japan and Korea, did not provide ingredients lists in Chinese nor English on label. While the remaining 22 models showed ingredients lists on the package, some were obscured or concealed by outer packaging, while others came in reflective or smaller font size, making it difficult for consumers to read. In addition, 12 models did not have any information on the manufacturing date, shelf life or expiry date, which could easily lead to mistakenly purchasing or using expired products. Clear and accurate product information is a fundamental consumer right. The Council urges suppliers to improve the transparency and labelling of product ingredients promptly.

Consumers may refer to the following recommendations when using lipsticks:

  • Should redness, itching, swelling, dryness, or peeling appear after using any lip care and makeup products, which may appear on lip and/or vermilion margin area, it is recommended to stop using the product immediately;
  • People prone to skin allergic reactions are advised to avoid products detected with allergens such as heavy metals and fragrance allergens, or labelled as containing fragrances. Wounds on the lips may increase the chance of allergenic substances penetrating the skin and causing allergic reactions;
  • Individuals with the unconscious habit of licking their lips are advised to pay special attention to the ingredients of lipsticks and avoid products with mineral oils or synthetic hydrocarbons as major ingredients;
  • Whenever possible, lipstick should be wiped off before eating or drinking to minimise the amount of substances ingested.


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