How Lipstick Works

What's in Lipstick? And How is It Made?

A single lipstick can contain dozens of separate ingredients, and the exact blends are usually a closely guarded secret. They typically fall into a few categories: waxes, oils and fats, emollients, and pigments. The different types of waxes used in lipstick include beeswax, paraffin and carnauba wax. Wax stabilizes the stick and allows it to be molded into shape. There are also a number of different types of oils used in lipstick manufacturing, including lanolin oil, castor oil, olive oil and cocoa butter (this is where the cow brains come in -- a very inexpensive fat can be extracted from it). The oils and fats in lipstick keep it just the right texture -- soft enough to apply but firm enough to keep it from melting. Emollients make the lipstick more moisturizing to your lips, and they may include vitamin E and aloe vera.

The thing that sets each lipstick apart in most consumers' minds, however, is the pigment. Lipstick color can come from combinations of plant, animal, mineral or synthetic ingredients. The beetles mentioned in the first section of this article are the source of a color often listed as carmine or cochineal extract. Cochineal insects are killed by steam, dried, powdered and processed to create a bright crimson dye that's nontoxic and noncancerous, unlike some red dyes used in the past. Lipsticks may also contain preservatives such as alcohol, or other ingredients such as sunscreen and fragrance.


Lipstick is prepared in batches. After being formulated, the ingredients must be carefully combined so that the entire batch has consistent color and texture. It's actually much like making crayons. The pigment and other dry ingredients are finely ground so they will be smooth and evenly distributed within the mixture, then combined with the heated oils. Once this mass is stirred, it's mixed with heated wax and the other ingredients. Finally, the hot liquid is poured into cold aluminum molds and then chilled until firm. Typically it's quickly passed through a flame to create a satiny finish, and then the lipsticks are inserted into their metal or plastic tubes and packaged.

But what if you don't have all the fancy equipment and want to make your own lipstick? Read on.