So What Is Lipstick Made of Anyway?

Lipstick trends have changed a lot over the years, but from ancient times to the present day, it’s still considered by many to be the swiftest way to elevate your look. Whether you favor a classic red, a versatile nude, or anything in between, there are a host of options for getting your lipstick fix. But as times have changed, we’ve also come to ask more from our cosmetics, and it’s important to know what lipstick is made of, where it comes from, and what that means for your beauty bag.

What Is Lipstick Made Of?

The materials lipstick is made from can vary widely, but a few of the top ingredients worth noting are wax, oils, and emollients. Waxes used can include candelilla, beeswax, and carnauba, which is especially valued for its ability to retain shape and resist melting or smudging. Oils can include anything from mineral oil and olive oil to animal-derived oils like lanolin.

Animal byproducts are still found in a number of lipsticks. From ancient Egypt to the 19th century in Europe and the U.S., crushed insects were one of the most common lipstick ingredients because of the wide array of vivid shades it offered. While we’ve mostly gotten away from insect squishing, ingredients like lanolin, also called “wool grease” or “wool wax,” are still common. Another ingredient frequently used to boost shine in lipstick is fish scales. As recently as 2007, ingredients as toxic as lead were common ingredients in lipstick. Fortunately, the times are changing, but it’s always a good idea to scout the ingredient list and safety standards of a brand the next time you hit the makeup counter.

As cosmetics and consumer demands have evolved, healthier, more socially conscious options have risen. Vegan lipsticks by brands like Urban Decay and Too Faced have proven that clean composition can still yield a luxe look. For a list of companies that don’t test on animals, PETA’s cruelty-free list is a fantastic resource.

For a few of our favorite beauty picks, check out these 11 vegan lipsticks our editors love.