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Makeup Brand Lime Crime Slapped With FDA Warning Letter for 'Unsafe' Lipstick Ingredients

The color cosmetics label has had a tumultuous year.

Indie color cosmetics company Lime Crime is best known for its wild, nontraditional lip colors. Now, the company is in trouble with the FDA for some potentially unsafe ingredients in those very same products. 

The FDA first sent Lime Crime a warning letter at the end of July, but it came to light publicly online Tuesday evening. (You can read the letter in full here.) The letter takes issue with Velvetines Liquid Matte Lipstick, because the labels say that these lip products contain ferric ferrocyanide and ultramarines, both coloring agents. The FDA has approved both for use in "externally applied cosmetics," but that designation doesn't include lipstick, since it comes into contact with the mucous membranes of the mouth and ingredients can be absorbed. (To be clear, the FDA has not tested the lipsticks. It issued the warning letter based on the ingredients listed on the label.) That leaves Lime Crime with two choices: Get rid of those ingredients if they are indeed in the lipsticks, or fix the labeling if the ingredients aren't present.

Neither ferric ferrocyanide nor ultramarines are particularly toxic (both score a low/moderate rating on the Environmental Working Group database), but they can both be potential irritants. Randy Schueller, a cosmetic chemist and co-founder of The Beauty Brains, notes that FDA letters like this are a relatively common occurrence, but Lime Crime has had a rather tumultuous history with its customers, especially in the last year, which makes this latest violation noteworthy. 

The brand, founded by former musician and fashion designer Kseniya Vorotova (who now goes by the name Doe Deere) launched in 2008 aiming to fill a hole in the market for colorful cosmetics — and has been embroiled in drama pretty much ever since (Take, for example, the unsubstantiated accusations in 2013 that she repackaged other brands' products and employed mean girl tactics when dealing with bloggers). Tumblr posts and threads on Reddit and Sephora (which no longer carries the brand) have been dedicated to picking apart Lime Crime's products and its founder. A few years ago, vegan makeup aficionados called out the company, which bills itself as vegan, for products containing beeswax and carmine. Deere addressed the issues and removed those ingredients. In February of this year, Lime Crime suffered a credit and data breach, which customers thought the company did not handle in an expeditious or forthright manner. Then a few months ago, threads starting appearing online questioning the use of ferric ferrocyanides in the Velvetines products, which is likely how the FDA warning came about.

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The company, for its part, claims the products were merely mislabeled. In a statement emailed to Fashionista, a spokesperson for Lime Crime wrote, "The Velvetines are absolutely safe to use. However, a misprint occurred on some of the labels. We are working with the FDA to correct this. Customer's safety is always a top priority for us. We apologize for any concern or confusion the misprint may have caused."

Makeup enthusiasts can be absolutely rabid about their favorite brands, and Lime Crime has been on sh*t lists for so long that it may be difficult for the company to earn back credibility. After all, there are now many brands offering offbeat color selections: Obessive Compulsive Cosmetics and NYX immediately come to mind. 

UPDATE: Lime Crime has set up a communication page here to update customers on how it is dealing with the FDA requests. The company "expects it to be 100% resolved with the FDA by early next week," according to a Lime Crime representative.