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Left to right: Ilia Pure Lip Care lipstick $25 through www.iliabeauty.com. Delipscious Sheer lip colour $12 through www.bodyshop.ca. Bite Luminous Crème lipstick $24 through www.sephora.com.

Women don't set out to eat their lipstick. But where else – in addition to wineglasses and friends' cheeks – does it end up? It has been tossed around that women ingest between four and seven pounds of lip product over their lifetimes. Perhaps this wouldn't be so disconcerting if these products were meant to be edible.

Health Canada prohibits the addition of metals to cosmetics, but a recent report from Environmental Defence, a national advocacy group, revealed that nearly all lip products contain traces of cadmium, arsenic and lead, a neurotoxin that can build up in soft tissue and bone.

In an age when people have become more vigilant about what they put in their bodies, it is only natural that lips have become a hot zone for new products that focus on "food-grade" ingredients.

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The timing couldn't be better for Susanne Langmuir, the maker of Bite, a line of food-grade lipsticks, pencils and glosses available exclusively at Sephora.

Bite's bases consist of organic castor, jojoba and argan oils as well as natural waxes that mimic the smoothness of petroleum, a common mainstream ingredient. Colorants okayed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration give the products high-intensity hues.

Another entrepreneur, Vancouver-based Sasha Plavsic, has just launched Ilia Pure Lip Care. Her lipsticks are produced in California, have a smooth finish, get their intense hues from an iron-oxide base and are scented with various essential oils.

These start-up lip lines and others, including Eminence from Hungary, Laverra from Germany, Zuii from Australia and Canada's Green Beaver, have a leg up on the beauty behemoths, which would have to incur massive costs to reformulate bestsellers. Even so, they show signs of adapting.

Last year, the Body Shop introduced the Delipscious collection made from 100-per-cent food-grade ingredients, including natural food flavouring and fair-trade cocoa butter from Ghana. According to Shelley Simmons, its director of brand communications and values, "it is on its way to becoming a bestseller."

Some brands, however, use words like "natural" loosely, making buyer caution advisable.

"Consumers are being duped," Gillian Deacon, author of There's Lead in My Lipstick, says bluntly, noting that labelling claims such as "natural" don't have to be substantiated. She also believes, though, that companies are waking up to the importance of offering alternatives: "It shows an understanding of consumer demand."

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Celeste Côte, toxics program manager with Environmental Defence, offers the following tips when shopping for lip colour: Look for fewer ingredients and do your research. She notes that mineral oil is just another term for petroleum jelly, which she says can be contaminated with dioxins. She directs consumers to an online database called Skin Deep (www.ewg.org/skindeep), which profiles more than 68,000 cosmetics and personal-care products.

Over all, Deacon says, consumers are becoming more informed, and therefore concerned, about the buildup of metals. "I am blown away by how much people [want]solutions. It's the power of women talking to other women."

In other words, just read their organically tinted lips.

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