There’s Lead in Your Lipstick

There's Lead in Your Lipstick by Gillian DeaconThere’s Lead in Your Lipstick: Toxins in Our Everyday Body Care and How to Avoid Them

by Gillian Deacon
Penguin Books (338 pages)
Released Feb. 2011

I recently picked up this title based on a recommendation from my mother’s best friend. I am so grateful I did buy it as it has completely turned my world upside down (in a good way). This is one of those must-reads that will change your life. It’s one part consumer guide and one part horror story written by Canadian journalist and environmental advocate Gillian Deacon most well-known for her bestseller Green for Life, a guide to sustainable living.

What did I learn from reading it? I learned the dermatitis I’ve been trying to get rid of for months could’ve been caused by my laundry soap, my eyeliner, my deodorant, and even the very lotion I was applying to treat it! I learned all the dandruff shampoos in the drugstores will only make my dandruff increasingly worse. I learned the body care products I’ve been using for years that I thought were organic and eco-friendly are in actual fact not and are bad for me and the environment. My favourite body lotion that I’ve been using since I was a teenager contains four parabens and other nasties even though it’s labelled as fragrance free, hypoallergenic, noncomedogenic, and for sensitve skin — it wasn’t scientifically tested and it’s only been harming me, not helping me. I learned that all of the products we use every day and every week build up in our systems over the years and decades into a nasty toxic chemical cocktail that has never been tested for risks and health concerns. I learned the government won’t and can’t do anything about all these dangerous chemicals and that the only people responsible for new regulations, legislation, and bans are us –the consumers. If we don’t educate ourselves, make conscious choices, and demand safer standards then nothing will change.

“If you think that Health Canada or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) or any other regulatory body is doing its due diligence on the long-term health impacts of every ingredient in your bathroom cabinet, you are wrong.” (p.22)

These toxic chemicals are in your laundry soap, fabric softener, dryer sheets, shampoo & conditioner, hair dye, hair spray, body lotion, bar & hand soaps, shaving cream, aftershave, deodorant, toothpaste, tooth floss, eyeliner, lipstick, mascara, nail polish, and other makeup and body care products. Many of the chemicals found in every one of these items have been linked to cancer and other serious health problems.

There’s Lead in Your Lipstick is a book of armour. Arm yourself with knowledge and take it with you when you shop to make safer and healthier choices for your family, for yourself, and for future generations — remember that everything that goes down your drain is also released into the ecosystem –including your birth control hormones. The author’s philosophy is that if you wouldn’t eat it, wouldn’t let it touch a baby’s skin, or wouldn’t pour it into a lake – don’t put it on your body! Gillian Deacon has filled this book (printed on recycled and sustainably sourced paper) with resources, recommended shops, as well as recipes you can make yourself at home to replace all the products you currently use. I had no idea how easy it is to make my own shampoo or lotion, but I have been making my own household cleaning products for years using nothing more than baking soda, vinegar, and plain ol’ soap. There are lists of ingredients to avoid at the beginning and end of the book. My mom asked me to write a list of them for her to take shopping and it ended up being three pages worth of chemicals to avoid!

This book is for everyone, women, men, parents, as well as makers of body care products. The thing that impressed me the most about Gillian Deacon was that she doesn’t just mean to scare you, she wrote this book with the intention of sharing all of the alternatives available out there and she tested many of them herself including all of the do-it-yourself recipes. The author went through treatment for breast cancer while writing it, so she took her subject very seriously as some of the most dangerous chemicals covered have been connected to breast cancer.  She is a writer who walks her talk. There’s Lead in Your Lipstick has been endorsed by famous Canadians such as David Suzuki and performers Sarah Harmer, Gordon Downie, and Emily Haines.

Beware any products with the terms green, organic, natural, plant-based, or hypoallergenic on the label as these are general claims that have no real meaning or certification. I also learned to beware any products with “fragrance”, “parfum”, or “perfume” in the ingredients as its legal to hide any chemical without listing it if it is included as part of the fragrance.

Some greenwashed brands to avoid include: Avalon Organics, Body Shop, GreenWorks, Jason, Kiss My Face, Nature’s Gate, Physicians Formula, etc. For help navigating the world of “green” products visit,, or the EWG Skin Deep Cosmetics Database. Keep in mind that just because a brand makes some eco-friendly and toxin-free products, it doesn’t mean ALL of their products are. I was sad to learn some of my favourite products use toxic chemicals –even the ones I thought were safe.

Sustainable & Eco-Friendly Canadian Alternatives:

Other Alternatives:


No Responses to “There’s Lead in Your Lipstick”

  1. Miss Pettey says:

    Tom’s of Maine is awesome, their lemongrass deodorant is the best <3 Dr. Bronner's soap is also amazing. It's great as a body wash (leaves your skin soft and moisturized) and as surface cleanser, and is also the best for washing makeup brushes. I did try using it as shampoo but because of the natural oils in it, it made my hair extra moisturized (i.e. greasy by the end of the day), so for now I wash it with just baking soda and water, no conditioner. My hair is in excellent condition because of it ;)

    I will have to check out this book. I've been wanting to buy a few books like this to keep on hand as green blogs tend to have so much information out there on this stuff that it's a bit overwhelming, and it'd be nice to have it all in one place.

    Also, homemade recipes for face creams (which I've made, and love) and stuff are something I put in my "Book of Shadows" (though I don't call it that) as they have changed my life and my spirituality that much. There's nothing better (for a girl who likes to be pampered) than making your own completely natural, safe body products that come straight from the earth.

    • Tom’s is one of the examples of a brand that you have to check the ingredients for every product. Tom’s deodorants contain propylene glycol, a PEG on the list of toxins to avoid. I was pretty sad to learn this as I’ve used Tom’s for years. I’m still going to use their spearmint toothpaste though!

      I’m with you on Dr. Bronner’s – that soap can be used for just about anything! The book has definitely inspired me to try my hand at crafting my own beauty and body products. I’m trying out Prairie Naturals because they’re right next door to me in Coquitlam – so far so good!

      • greycatsidhe says:

        I swear by Dr. Bronner’s soap! The shampoo doesn’t bother me, though, but I’ve always had dry hair! It’s actually been an improvement!

        Deodorant has always been a tough spot for me. I switched to Tom’s a few years ago after trying the crystal. Crystal deodorant worked fairly well in the winter (even though my husband said he could smell me a little) but forget about it in the summer! I keep meaning to try some DIY methods…

  2. witchofstitches says:

    I stopped using all commercial lotions and moisturizers years ago – the only thing I use – and it is very good – is unrefined, organic coconut oil. There’s a jar in the kitchen used in food prep and one in the bath for my skin.
    We also switched to a safe deodorant and I make my own cleansers and toners. I too had skin problems that quickly disappeared when we made these changes.
    I will be getting the book. Thanks for the recommendation.

  3. Scylla says:

    I noticed that since getting involved with my fiancee – who is himself a veritable pampered princess of products – I’ve had increasing problems with my allergies and whatnot.

    Soapberry, one of my favorite local trees, is a natural source of saponins, and makes excellent detergent.

    Since my future home uses a lagoon for runoff – a lagoon that will doubtlessly attract wildlife, I’m going to make a conscious effort to cut back as far as I can on what I wash out into THEIR habitat.

  4. Laurel says:

    Green Beaver {excellent toothpaste and face lotions} & The Soap Works {body and laundry bars} are always stocked in our house! I hope you don’t mind me shilling a local company {it’s not mine!!!}…Natural Goddess of North Bay makes excellent cosmetics, and skin & hair care. :)

  5. Nix says:

    Here here!
    It is sad to think that this most likely will never change. I refused to buy anything with ingredients that I cannot pronounce. I’ve preached to family but it is interesting how a lot of people just really don’t want to change things they are use to.
    It is great to see all of the alternatives that are created, but like you pointed out, there is so much Greenwashing that you at times feel being tricked for simply wanting to lead a healthy-less-toxic way of life.

  6. Rachel says:

    I recently became interested in this very subject within this past year or so, and have been pouring over the internet for help making my own household and personal care items. I’m pleased with the simplicity of homemade personal care items and cleaning products, and the feeling that I’m using things on my skin and teeth that I could actually eat, plus it’s great fun to create new combinations to suit your own tastes! It’s not only much cheaper to make your own (and some of the best stuff is prohibitively expensive on my limited income), it’s also very important to me to not purchase so much stuff in packaging that I end up needing to recycle or toss.

    Then I started to read about the ingredients. Yikes. It is downright scary what crap is being marketed as “safe”. I told my husband that we would finish up what we have (which pains me, but I also don’t want to just dump it either…still not sure what to do about that, I guess) and from now on, we’ll be using homemade laundry soap, dishsoap, fabric softener (yeah, fabric sheets, what a complete farce!!), deodorant, body soap, mouth wash, toothpaste, lotion (olive oil in a spray bottle is a simple and amazing moisturizer), shampoo, conditioner, shave gel, etc. We’re done buying into the idea that we’re dependent on these items and/or dependent on someone else making them for us and shipping them all over the place when I can just whip up what I need right here at home.

    I had two cancer scares before I was 30 years old and it made me sit up and take notice of many aspects of my life, the way I was living, and taking responsibility for it. I’m absolutely convinced that we must be our own advocates for our health and for making healthy choices (if we want to live a healthy life, that is…some people don’t, so whatever), and the best way to do that is to be informed. We can’t just nod and swallow all the bullshit that we’re fed. And when someone says something is safe or necessary, even a doctor that I trust, I question and research it now. Likewise, when they tell me to sit and wait to “see what happens” with a hard lump in my neck, I get a second opinion from a head and neck specialist! I do my own research, I don’t get pressured into hasty decisions, and I don’t apologize for demanding information that affects my health or that of my family. Thank you for this recommendation, I’m going to be going over those lists with a fine toothed comb!

  7. hagofnaedre says:

    I do agree with you, but I also think that there is some fear mongering when it comes to cosmetic chemicals these days and people get all freaked out when they see an ingredient they cant pronounce.

    It is understandable why companies hide perfume/fragrance ingredients, because that is proprietary information. What I would look for, is phthalate free fragrances. Many synthetic fragrances are isolated chemicals found in plant based materials, or created by chemical reaction.

    But, as always it’s best to buy from the small businesses – they’re usually formulating with care and have a close relationship to both product and customers.

    My favorite place to buy makeup is, she makes the best lipstick!

    • There’s definitely some fear mongering going on especially in greenwashed advertising. There’s fundies in every movement, but luckily the author isn’t one of them and she doesn’t list any scary facts without evidence and studies to back it up.

      I do think most people won’t listen to warnings like this unless they are scared though – the people who’d rather go with the cheap easy options need a little fear to motivate them to change their ways… but it’s all in how it’s done.

      I’ve seen fear used to sell fake water filtration systems that were a total scam. Luckily they got busted, but it’s just a revalidation that we need to trust our own individual judgement.

  8. Marilyn says:

    Desert Essence shampoos and conditioners are excellent, the coconut and red raspberry shampoos and the green apple and coconut conditioners being my personal faves! They are all I use now as regular chemical laden shampoo and conditioner drys my hair out, even the high end brands.

    I read years ago in a book put out by the creator of Aubrey Organics (which i no longer have) that what they put in all hair conditioners is what they use in fabric softeners! It gives a silken feeling to the hair but over time dries it out and compromises the integrity of the hair structure.

    Too, it makes one wonder about the whole skin cancer thing, like how much of it is due to the chemicals people apply to their skin, whether in the form of soap, body wash, lotion, detergents, etc. Even chlorine in pools when exposed to sunlight forms a carcinogenous substance (technically making chlorine a “photocarcinogen”), yet they say skin cancer, which nobody ever seemed to have prior to 30-40 years ago, is all due to evil bad sunlight.

    I think it’s the chemicals in all these body products plus garbage diets with too much sugar and bad fats that are causing skin cancer, and that sunlight *gasp* is actually good for us! (Unless you burn.)
    It’s supposed to cause wrinkles too but I am fair skinned and eyed and have tanned since a kid, including sunbeds year round, joking for many years that I have “tanorexia”, yet at 45 I have fewer lines on my face and hands than people 20 years younger than I! Don’t even have laugh lines really and I’d actually like some. :)

    Nope, don’t think it’s Old Sol that’s the baddie…

    Have used Aubrey Organics lotions and similar products for the past twenty years and swear by them. A latest fave is the lotion by Depth in Bay Coconut with like five different kinds of seaweed.

    It’s hard to eliminate all chemicals from daily life and not all of them are detrimental, but it is good to have as little artificial crap as possible. Some of them are mutogens and genotoxins as well and it is appalling they are even allowed to be put into body products!

    I have had ideas for years to start an organic body care and beauty line but never had the time really to devote to it. Then read how they want to make laws here in America with impossible testing requirements that could effectively put every small organic beauty biz out of business, so then I got discouraged, as who can afford to have stringent testing done on each and every ingredient before it is used in a batch of product? I think such laws are designed to keep the big multi-million dollar chemical companies from having competition… >:(

  9. cinnageek says:

    One of my classmates actually did one of her projects on the makeup industry and what all is in it. As someone who rarely wears makeup and only tends to use aloe for moisturizing it was pretty distrubing to hear whats in some of that stuff! And worse to hear my pal say that she didn’t care, she couldn’t live without her lipstick. Ug. Bugs! lol

    I had thought about going the natural shampoo way, but then forgot to research it. I should look back at it again..

    Thanks for the reminder!

    • Lipstick is scary! I’ve been using Burt’s Bees tinted lip balms for years and I’ve just started using Green Beaver’s lip shimmers – they’re pretty awesome and look just like lipstick, but they also moisturize. How can you beat that!?

  10. Hadaig says:

    Another excellent post AND comments! This is as much a concern to men as women, but we (men) seem generally ignorant in these matters. I will be sharing this post with my wife, and I suspect she will be equally interested in this book (as well as all the comments here.) Thank you to all.

  11. jonquil says:

    in november i stopped using commercial shampoos, conditioners, & body soaps. instead, i buy from ever since i haven’t had to use conditioner at all, & my skin isn’t nearly as dry.

    • Since I switched to natural shampoo and conditioners and started using Haus of Gloi bar soaps, my skin hasn’t been dried out, my dandruff went away, and I haven’t had to visit the doctor for dermatitis (who only prescribe stupid steroid creams which I hate). I also noticed that when I switched toothpastes I stopped getting canker sores… I figure this all can’t be a coicidence ;)

      Thanks for recommending another great small business!

  12. Crystal says:

    I started making my own laundry detergent when I had my son. The stuff that is supposedly pediatrician recommended for baby clothes had so much fragrance in it it drove my allergies crazy so I knew I wasn’t using it on his stuff. I make my detergent now from Dr.Bronner’s and soda ash. It works great and is biodegradable. I like the coconut oil suggestion. I have mild eczema and nothing seems to help, not even the “sensitive doctor recommended” stuff. On another note, Tom’s of Maine was recently bought by the Colgate Palmolive company so I’m not sure how reliable that brand will be in the near future.

    • I’m tired of finding out that my favourite cleaning and laundry products are greenwashed and just as bad, so I think I’ll be buying the one gallon of soap from The Soap Works or Dr. Bronners and using that for all my laundry and household cleaning from now on.

      Thanks for bringing up another thing consumers need to be aware of: which big corporation owns their favourite brand names. Another example — Burt’s Bees was recently purchased by Clorox who are not exactly known for being environmentally friendly. The ingredients in Burt’s Bees products haven’t changed… for now. The big corps are trying to buy up all the green brands to keep ahead in the marketing game and we are the losers.

  13. Emma H says:

    My fantastic eco-friendly fabric softener was made from palm oil….blegh.

    At the moment I am using a solid shampoo from lush. It lasts longer, has less packaging and less chemicals. In the near future I hope to go totally no-poo.

    As for everything else, I am using up as much of my commercial products as I can before I switch them out. For the record, I also use about a quarter of the recommended quantities for shampoo, conditioner, washing powders etc. and still get the same results.

  14. aprilmarches says:

    Could you please recommend some natural dandruff shampoos/remedies? I’m excited to check out this book and appreciate the recommendation, but I think it’ll be a little while before I can get my hands on it.

    • For those of you on a budget the book is only $16 on Amazon – you’ll save $10. April, try the links provided at the end of the post, especially Druide and Prairie Naturals ;)

    • Leathra says:

      For dandruff you can use catnip tea (infusion) as a hair rinse, it works wonderfully. Might be difficult if you own cats though–rinse well afterwards!

      • Laurel says:

        Thanks for the catnip tip! In the winter I sometimes get dry scalp and I use a homemade concoction of almond oil infused with chamomile flowers. Does the trick.

  15. dre says:

    I used to have a lot of skin issues (dryness, hives and breakouts)—so much so, that even the “all natural” products gave me problems.

    It was when I finally threw up my hands in defeat and stopped using soap or moisturizing creams that my skin totally cleared up and balanced out. What a revelation that was! I do use a super gentle eye makeup remover. But other than that, I dry brush (to exfoliate and detox) and then just use water. Instead of lotion, I use food-grade oils. Coconut is a favorite, as are sesame, grapeseed and hazelnut (which has astringent properties and is great for acne-prone skin). Everyone says to use jojoba oil, but I found it to be a poor match for my highly reactive skin. When I feel like being fancy and pampering myself, I use a products from a small indie company called Lilith’s Apothecary (on Etsy). Her stuff is FABULOUS. Seriously fabulous. I love her Skin Clarifying Oil and her masks. I’ve never reacted to them. Supporting a small indie business is a big plus, too. Her blog also gives some great DIY herbal skincare instructions like her plantain and violet oil infusion. Awesome stuff.

    Some of you might also be interested in learning about the oil cleansing method for washing your face and the no-poo method for hair care. There’s lots of info if you google. They are about as simple and non-toxic as you can get. And inexpensive.

    We’ve all been taught (mostly by commercials for cleaning products) that we must be scrubbed, descented of our natural odors, rescented with artificial ones, and our environments bleached, Lysoled, sanitized and sterilized. Not only has this been incredibly harmful for our environment (a quick search on how much of this is now found in our water supplies and is effecting the endocrine and reproductive systems of fish will horrify you), but it is also effecting our bodies. Thank you for helping to promote a more conscious way. I look forward to reading the book.

  16. Holy crap. I knew about some of these and started making some basic toiletries myself
    (here’s a blog post with recipes: ).

    But some of the brand that I have used as an “alternative” are on your bad list and that ticks me off. Guess I need to make all my cosmetics and toiletries from now on! To work!

  17. Sal the Spider says:

    This has always been a huge bugbear of mine – the Greenwash created to make us buy poisonous products is just such a massive, despicable LIE!! I mean, cancer causing chemicals in kid’s bath products? Sick.

    Check out for loads of good info :)

    BTW I have recently found your blog and – wow – amazing :)

  18. Joanne says:

    I confess, i haven’t read all the comments as I must dash off to work. But if you also look up the Queen of Green (Lindsay Coulter of the David Suzuki Foundation), she’s been doing a series of posts about the very same topic. I mostly catch up with her on Facebook, but she has a blog, and a column in the Metro daily newspaper.–queen-of-green-by-lindsay-coulter

  19. Geetar646 says:

    Just recently a friend of mine died. I hadn’t talked to her in years. But upon her death it dawned on me, just how few truly interesting women are left in this world. The writer of this blog, when she doesn’t choose to make herself mediocre to broaden her appeal to braindead consumerist Americans, as this entry would seem to suggest, would be in my opinion one of the last few remaining.

    • I’m sorry to hear about your friend. I finally figured out who you remind me of – Dr. Brennan from Bones… and my friend Rose from high school. They also have the talent of insulting and complimenting someone at the same time. ;)

  20. Kim says:

    I just ordered this book on Amazon as well as a legal copy of the cosmetic laws for business in America. I make my own bath salts and have sold some in the past because friends loved the smell of my skin and ask me what it was and then ask me to make them some. I have toyed with the idea of having my own etsy based business but haven’t yet and a lot of the reason was fear of lawsuits because I didn’t know about the guidelines. It has actually taken me years of looking to even find the guidelines available in book form. I’m super sensitive to chemicals so I’ve been making things for years but sometimes I get lazy and just want to buy something already made.

  21. Raven says:

    I would be a bit cautious in believing everything in books such as this one. Yes, I agree it’s best to avoid a lot of additives, especially when we’re not entirely sure what all of them do, but I do think that these books use scare tactics and junk science in order to push an agenda. There always seems to be a “toxin du jour” going around, and authors capitalize on fear in order to sell books.

    As of course you know, “natural” doesn’t always means safe or effective. Nicotine is natural, and yet is a deadly poison. Arsenic and aconite and thallium are all natural, and yet will kill you. Likewise, there are a lot of synthetic substances that have beneficial or even lifesaving properties. Modern medicine, and the use of preservatives and lab-made vitamins, have greatly improved our health and enables us to live longer and healthier lives. It would be very shortsighted to start blaming all disease/cancer on “dangers” in our cosmetics and foods, especially when there’s little or no evidence to back it up. They recently did several studies looking at people who claimed to be “sensitive” to certain chemicals, or who said they had “intolerances” to certain foods. When they were exposed to the chemical or food in question and told what it was, they (predictably) reacted. When, however, they were exposed to the SAME chemical or food, but in a concealed manner or under the guise of giving them something else, nothing… reaction. This indicated that their problems were psychosomatic, and not physical at all. only one out of a hundred people actually had a real, medical allergy.

    In my own life, I try as much as possible to eat healthy, natural foods and avoid dyes and artificial flavourings. That sounds reasonable, to me. However, to start viewing everything in life as a toxic poison, and to believe that there’s some conspiracy to fill us with dangerous substances, is to veer off into the danger zone. There is no magical “diet” that can make us live forever, and people will get sick or develop cancer no matter what they eat or don’t eat. There are very real things to worry about in this world (war, terrorism, religious violence, real diseases like AIDS, TB, antibiotic resistant bacteria) and I don’t think we need to add psychosocial illnesses of the “worried well” to them.

    • This is not that kind of book, as outlined in the review and the comments, it is a consumer guide of facts and research – not biased fear mongering. My own concerns have always been more for the environment than myself. If products we use every day are poisoning the water, the animals, and the earth, even if not us, then it should be our obligation to stop using those products and find alternatives that don’t harm our planet.

  22. Kei says:

    I literally bought this book the day after you wrote about this, Sarah, and I have the book in my hands, right now, and cannot put it down. I am already making strides to change everything in my household for my family (trying my best not to sound like a crazy conspiracy theorist).
    I am very much in love with the much-raking of the beauty industry, and try to live my life as green as I can, so thank you very much for sharing this.

  23. elspeth says:

    I’ve never really gotten into body products (lotion, makeup, etc) although I tried. I live at an intentional community in the woods, and have no need for deodorant or shaving cream. Unfortunately the community buys the cheapest shampoo available (usually Suave), so I’ve quit using shampoo and conditioner and switched to using baking soda to clean my scalp and apple cider vinegar or lemon juice to condition my hair. Works great! And I used Tom’s spearmint toothpaste for years, but it was getting too expensive on the limited funds available to me, so started making my own toothpaste out of coconut oil and baking soda (you can add peppermint oil or other essential oils for flavor, but I’m happy with plain now that I’ve gotten used to it). I love being able to care for my basic hygiene needs using kitchen ingredients!

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