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A Reason to Smile

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It's an innocent enough habit. You apply a quick stroke of lipstick when you leave the house or head into a meeting. Perfectly harmless, right? Apparently not. Lipstick is the topic of some serious health debates.

It's an innocent enough habit. You apply a quick stroke of lipstick when you leave the house or head into a meeting. Perfectly harmless, right? Apparently not.

Lipstick is the topic of some serious health debates. It seems that it's not enough to avoid genetically modified food and eat only certified organic produce. You also need to be on guard for the cosmetics that can sneak into your body and possibly sabotage your health. Some experts say that a woman can ingest up to four pounds (1.81 kilograms) of lipstick over the course of a lifetime. Who wants four pounds of petroleum products in her body? Not to mention the concerns about carcinogens and allergens. But our lips need help: they have no oil glands, so sometimes we need to moisturize them. Besides, shouldn't lipstick be fun and harmless, not a serious health hazard?

Don't Put that On (or Near) Your Mouth

Pay attention to how often you lick your lips today. Then pick up any tube of synthetic lipstick and read the ingredients. That might be more of a challenge than it seems because often the ingredients simply aren't listed. If you do find a list, and can read the tiny print, you'll probably see unappetizing words such as microcrystalline wax and allergens such as lanolin and amyldimethylamino benzoic acid. Certainly nothing you'd voluntarily run your tongue over. Of particular concern, according to author Kim Erickson in her book Drop-Dead Gorgeous (McGraw-Hill/Contemporary Books, 2002), are the coal-tar colours found in many synthetic lipsticks which Erickson charges are poisonous and linked to cancer. She goes on to point out that all Food, Drug, and Cosmetic (FD - C) and Drug and Cosmetic (D - C) colours are made from coal tar and many are used in synthetic lipsticks. All are held together with petroleum-based waxes. Yikes.

Fortunately, several companies have paid attention to the health concerns associated with lipstick and have stocked the shelves of your natural health food store with plenty of alternatives. Most of these products list their ingredients. What you should be looking for, according to Erickson, are natural colouring alternatives such as annatto (a natural vegetable dye), beeswax, plant oils (such as sunflower or peppermint), vitamin E, and iron oxides.

Take Your Pick

Creamy or matte, lip balms or lipstick, in tubes or in tins, the natural options are growing. There are even some vegan products for those who want to avoid beeswax. Lip balms that moisturize our lips with a wonderful, cool peppermint oil now come in colours ranging from latt?rown to heather purple. Unfortunately, while lip balms feel and smell great, they do wear off quickly and need frequent reapplication. If you're looking for long-lasting colour use a natural lipstick. It's a bit pricier, but you'll apply it less frequently. If you find that lipsticks dry out your luscious lips, here's a tip: first apply a layer of coloured lip balm, then smooth on your lipstick. You'll get moist lips as well as your own distinct shade of lip colour, worry-free. Just the way lipstick should be.

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