What is in Your Chapstick? (A.K.A. “A Rant About Toxic Beauty Products”)

The biting winds of winter and the constant running of the furnace lead to dry skin and inevitably to dry and chapped lips.  The atmosphere at the hospital where I work is always dry, and by the end of my shift my hands are red and starting to crack and I feel stuffy with a dry cough.  There’s only so much water you can drink to stay hydrated, and sometimes even that is not enough to prevent dry and cracked lips.

Smooth and hydrated lips are something that most people appreciate, and the commercial industry has not ignored this fact.  You can buy chapstick, lip balms, lip gloss, lipstick, etc. etc. etc. in a wide variety of containers (tubes, jars, tubs, those little egg shaped things, etc.), colors, styles and flavors.  Unfortunately, much of what is out there, even products labeled “natural”, are often bad for you.

Let’s dissect one brand of chapstick as an example (I’m not picking on any particular brand, so I won’t name names! 😉 )  This is an original kind of chapstick, not one with fancy flavors or crazy stuff.  Just regular chapstick.

  • Arachidyl propionate – An amber colored semi-solid wax used in cosmetic products, it is classified by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) as not expected to be potentially harmful or toxic.


  • Camphor – Camphor comes from the Cinnamonum camphora tree and is a white crystalline substance.  It is often used in chest rubs and can be dangerous if swallowed; convulsions can begin within 5 minutes of ingestion.  As little as 10ml of camphor can be lethal to children.  We view chapstick as pretty harmless and may leave it lying around where little kids can get to it.


  • Carnauba wax – Carnauba wax comes from the leaves of the Copernicia prunifera palm grown only in Brazil. The wax is obtained by beating the wax off of the dried palm fronds and then refining it for use.  It is used for many things, including food, cosmetics, automobile and furniture wax and a coating for dental floss.  It is considered safe to consume, despite the fact that it is refined and bleached after extraction.


  • Cetyl alcohol – This can be derived from a plant or animal source.  According to the EWG, it is classified as possibly toxic/harmful with suspicion of being an environmental toxin.  The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) classifies it as safe for general use but to be limited in food.  The good news is that this is a fatty alcohol, so it won’t break down your skin like other alcohols can.


  • D&C red no. 6 barium lake – I hate added colors.  The colors in nature are vibrant and alive and occur naturally; most colors are added to fake synthetic products to try to mimic the glow of real foods and nature.  However, they are toxic to the environment and the body.  This color is no exception.  According to the EWG, the term “lake” is applied to pigments or dyes that are precipitated with metal salts such as aluminum, calcium, barium, or others.  Most lake pigments are synthetically produced from coal tar or petroleum.  Limitied studies have been done, but some have demonstrated this dye to have toxic effects at moderate doses.


  • FD&C yellow no. 5 aluminum lake – Again, notice the “lake”, so similar methods were used to make this dye.  This color can cause allergic-type reactions (including bronchial asthma) in certain susceptible persons.  It contains aluminum, synthetic petrochemicals, and other carcinogenic substances.  Unfortunately, because of the presence of dyes in our food and medicine today, studies reveal that children have consumed as much as three pounds of dye by the age of twelve.



  • Isopropyl lanolate – An ester produced by a reaction of isopropyl alcohol with refined lanolin fatty acids (from sheep’s wool).  It is used as a thickening agent and emollient.


  • Isopropyl myristate – A synthetic oil used as an emollient, thickening agent, or lubricant in beauty products.  This ingredient is under investigation as being a carcinogen (cancer causing agent); when combined with petroleum-based products, it can clog skin pores and deprive the skin of oxygen.


  • Lanolin – Made from sheep’s wool, this sounds like a natural product.  However, sheep are dipped in insecticides, injected with antibiotics, and exposed to carcinogenic and toxic pesticides.  This remains in the lanolin that is extracted from their wool.


  • Light mineral oil – According to the EWG, this is a liquid mixture of hydrocarbons obtained from petroleum.  It’s a possible human immune system toxicant or allergen (if airborne) and was designated by the FDA as safe for general use with limited use in food.


  • Methylparaben – Used as a preservative in food and cosmetics.  It is quickly absorbed through the skin.  Research suggests that methylparaben may increase risk of breast cancer or accelerate growth of tumors (methylparaben has been found intact within breast cancer tissues).  It can cause skin damage when exposed to the sun and eye drops with methylparaben can damage the lining of the eyes and the cornea.  Parabens mimic the effects of estrogen in the body and can decrease male fertility.


  • Octyldodecanol – A long-chain fatty alcohol used in beauty products as an emollient and emulsifier.  It can occasionally cause skin irritation.


  • Oleyl alcohol – A fatty alcohol coming from beef fat; it is also found in fish oil.  Possible concerns about toxicity but not enough studies done.  Generally viewed as safe.


  • Paraffin – A flammable, white, translucent, wavy solid consisting of a mixture of saturated hydrocarbons, obtained by distillation from petroleum or shale.  The wide use of paraffins has caused them to be present everywhere, accumulating in human livers and breast milk, the fat tissue of fish and mammals, and in the water of four continents.  They have been found to cause cancer and liver, thyroid and kidney damage in some mammals.  They accumulate in tissues, prolonging our exposure and worsening the effects.


  • Phenyl trimethicone – A deritive of silicone.  The Cosmetic Database rates it as a low hazard; silicone compounds are toxic when ingested, but this ingredient is “generally considered safe”.


  • Propylparaben – See the risks of “methylparaben” as this is another paraben ingredient.  Studies show this toxin to be carcinogenic, can cause itching, burning, scaling, hives and blistering of the skin, and can disrupt hormonal function in both males and females. The FDA says that it is safe when used in low percentages, but the EWG risks it as a moderate hazard (“7” out of 10).


  • Titanium dioxide – Titanium dioxide accounts for 70% of the total production volume of pigments worldwise.  Recently, MSDS sheets had to be updated to include the risk that this product is “possibly carcinogenic to humans”.


  • White wax – This is yellow wax that has been bleached by being rolled thinly and exposed to light and air, or bleached by chemical oxidants.


  • Propanol – Commonly sold as rubbing alcohol.



I wasn’t half-way through researching the ingredients in this little tube of chapstick before I was thinking, “WHY did they include so many ingredients!!!?!?” It literally took me an hour and a half to research this list of ingredients, and I could have gone even more in depth.

The problem is, this is just a tiny snapshot of the real problem that we are facing. This is just a tube of chapstick. Can you imagine what is hanging out your bathroom right now, from the bottle of shampoo in your shower to the toothpaste you use every day? Try waking up one morning and writing down every single product that you use during the day: I’m not talking about the food you ingest, but just the products you put on your skin.

Then, take those products and make a list of the ingredients in each and every one. I guarantee that you, as the average person, are using over a hundred different ingredients each day, and most of them are not helping you to be healthy. And yet we use them without a second thought. I know that I did. Even when we started trying to get our family healthier, beauty products were the last thing I looked at. I did look at the boys’ shampoo and toothpaste, mostly looking for gluten contamination, but otherwise, it was a few years before I started to really look at what we were putting on our skin.

Why is this important? When you eat food, any toxins that are contained in them have to pass to the liver to be detoxified; most of them are then broken down and made benign. When you put something on your skin, it heads directly into your bloodstream, into your circulation that passes throughout your body. Not only that, but toxic personal care products we put on our bodies alter the natural flora on our skin, which can lead to skin breakdown and ultimately skin disorders and diseases.

When I started to learn about the toxins in beauty products, I still wasn’t that committed to my own health. I was still thinking mostly of my boys and making sure that their environment was as clean as possible, as I could see how even little things would affect my oldest son. The first thing to go was lipstick, because I knew if I kissed him it would get on his skin. Then I got rid of perfume, because I learned how toxic the ingredients in it are, and I didn’t want him to have to breathe those in all day.

At this point, I hadn’t really come up with any good alternatives to these products, as I was busy with a son with severe autism and a baby. I just kinda felt “bleh” and missed being able to look and smell nice. But I was willing to sacrifice if it meant that I wasn’t poisoning my boys.

Fast forward to GAPS, when I started to think about the importance of my own health as well as my boys. I had always felt that getting them healthy was one of my main goals in life, but then I started to realize that if something happened to me (and I have a strong family history of fatal heart attacks, usually at the age of early to mid 40s), who would take care of my boys? How fair would it be to leave them without a mother and leave my husband alone to try to deal with two boys with special needs just entering their teen years? So I started changing everything about the way we lived.

Not just diet, but detoxification and making a non-toxic environment for us all. And I decided that it didn’t mean I had to live with greasy hair and natural body odor 😉

It started with using natural and organic products at places such as Whole Foods and our local health food store. This adds up over time, as these products aren’t cheap, and while they are a better alternative to the chemical filled garbage that you can buy elsewhere, they still usually have quite a few ingredients. Plus, someone else made them, so how can I know 100% the quality of the product?

A major breakthrough in my journey to create healthier products was my discovery of essential oils. I had initially bought them to help my son with lingering anxiety and issues related to his autism and other diagnoses, but after a while I discovered just how versatile they could really be. Toxic candles? Gone! I diffuse essential oils all day long. My house smells wonderful and spicy, plus I’m killing germs that we’ve brought home with us. Perfume? Easy! I can roll essential oils on me, and not only do I smell great all day, I feel great! (I also like to wear a diffuser necklace and fill it with my favorite scents).

Shampoo, chapstick, lotion, soaps … all of it can be made at home from a minimal number of organic ingredients using essential oils for fragrance (and health benefits) for a fraction of the cost of organic products that you can buy at the store. Plus, I know how they were made (with love!) and I trust using them on myself and my boys.

Over the coming weeks, I will be including a number of DIY (do-it-yourself) recipes that you can make to help transforming your beauty products into ones that will detoxify you instead of adding to your toxic burden. We have to live in this world, breathe this air, drink this water … 75% of rainwater and air tested was polluted with RoundUp, for goodness sake (linked to autism and all sorts of other conditions). Home should be a safe haven, and decreasing your toxic burden is just another way to make it so.


OK — Done with my rant! Now let’s get that chapstick recipe 😉 This basic recipe for lip balm I found on the website of Wellness Mama. She has so many awesome DIY recipes, I recommend checking out her site! It has FOUR ingredients (love it!) and they are all healthy and healing in their own way. Let’s review them:


Beeswax – A natural wax produced in the bee hives of honey bees; the workers collect it and use it for structural material in the hive. When beekeepers extract the honey, they cut off the wax caps from each honeycomb cell. It usually is a shade of yellow; the wax may be rendered before further use. I purchase our beeswax locally from a lady who takes pride in the quality of her beeswax and raw honey.


Organic shea, cocoa, or mango butter – Shea is an ivory-colored fat extracted from the nut of the African shea tree. It is a great moisturizer with exceptional healing properties for the skin. It can be used to treat skin allergies, insect bites, sunburns, frostbite and other skin conditions. The moisturizers in shea butter are the same that are produced by the sebaceous glands of the skin. Cocoa butter is a pale-yellow edible vegetable fat that is extracted from the cocoa bean. It is moisturizing to the skin and has often been used for preventing stretch marks during pregnancy. Mango butter comes from the seed kernel of the Mango tree. It has beneficial moisturizing properties for the skin and acts as a mild lubricant; it is a great source of essential fatty acids.


Virgin coconut oil – The health benefits of coconut oil, both used topically and eaten, are endless. Coconut oil is antimicrobial, antioxidant, anti-fungal, antibacterial and soothing to the skin. It is an effective moisturizer for all skin types; it delays the appearance of wrinkles and sagging skin. It can help treat various skin problems including psoriasis, dermatitis, eczema and more. It can also help to prevent premature aging and other degenerative diseases due to its well-known antioxidant properties.


Essential oils – Rather than adding toxic fragrances, essential oils are healing, life-giving and provide a myriad of physical and emotional health benefits. If you would like to learn more about which brand of essential oils I recommend and why, please feel free to contact me.



Homemade Lip Balm Recipe

1 Tbs. local beeswax

2 Tbs. organic shea, cocoa or mango butter

2 Tbs. organic virgin coconut oil

20 drops essential oil (more or less as desired)


  1. Put about 1 inch of water or more in the bottom of a small pan and turn the heat on at medium.
  2. Place a glass pint jar in the water (be careful to not get any water into the jar). Add all the ingredients except the essential oils and slowly melt. Stir occasionally.
  3. When melted, stir well and turn off the heat but leave the jar in the water. Stir in the essential oils.
  4. Use a glass dropper to quickly fill chapstick tubes (or small lip balm tubs). Re-top containers after about 2 minutes because they settle slightly as they cool.
  5. Let them sit without touching them for several hours until they are completely hard.
  6. Store in a cool, dry place. The lip balm is good for at least a year.


Makes about 18 tubes of lip balm.

If you want a firmer product, add more beeswax. If you want a smoother, oiler product, add less beeswax. I personally love the recipe just as written, so try this first and then adjust to meet your personal taste.

I found chapstick tubes and lip balm containers for reasonable prices both on Amazon and at Abundant Health.




Flavor ideas:

My favorite right now is one I call “peppermint patty” (can you tell that I’m still a junk food junkie? In remission, but it’s always there in the background 😉 ) I make this recipe using cocoa butter and then add 20 drops of peppermint essential oil as my oil of choice.

You can also make orange chocolate using cocoa butter and 20 drops of orange essential oil.

Grapefruit or other citrus essential oils would make great flavors/scents (using mango butter – yum!) and using a melaleuca/lavender combination (and possibly adding frankincense too) would make a very healing lip balm.

Have fun experimenting, and enjoy being healthy!



~ Alicia



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