Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Lead in Lipstick

Yesterday's beauty news was old news. There's lead in lipstick. The Food and Drug Administration had a contractor test 400 lipsticks purchased from retail stores between February and July 2010. The selection of lipsticks tested was based on the parent company’s market share. The FDA also included some lipsticks from niche markets in an effort to capture lipsticks with unusual characteristics. The highest lead levels found were in the three parts per million (ppm) neighborhood, found in Maybelline, CoverGirl, Revlon, and L'Oreal lipsticks. Brands also showing trace levels of lead included Clinique, Dior, Estée Lauder, and M·A·C. The list is a virtual who's who of the cosmetics industry.

In the FAQs, they published additional, qualifying information...

The...survey found that the average lead concentration in the 400 lipsticks tested was 1.11 ppm, very close to the average of 1.07 ppm obtained in our initial survey. The results ranged from the detection limit of 0.026 ppm to the highest value of 7.19 ppm. For a table of the results, see FDA Analyses of Lead in Lipsticks – Expanded Survey. The expanded survey will be published in the May/June, 2012, issue of the Journal of Cosmetic Science.

Here's what the FDA had to say about their findings.

In response to a number of inquiries FDA has received regarding reports of lead contamination in lipstick, we have developed and validated a method for analyzing lead content in currently marketed lipstick. Our results do not show levels of lead in lipstick that would pose a safety concern.

This conclusion was based on the assumption that lipstick isn't ingested. Hello, out there, scientists...we eat our lipstick to some extent every day! "The FDA-recommended upper limit for lead in candy [which we ingest] is 0.1 ppm. It is not scientifically valid to equate the risk to consumers presented by lead levels in candy, a product intended for ingestion, with that associated with lead levels in lipstick, a product intended for topical use and ingested in much smaller quantities than candy." How much of our lipstick is ingested, FDA? Isn't that the critical question?

iStock photo


Anonymous said...

Interestingly, if you look through the results, there isn't a trend by brand - the amount of lead really depends upon the shade.

Charlestongirl said...

Yep! Makes me glad I don't wear red lipstick.

Elysse said...

Gosh.. I bet it's a man who chose to work on the assumption that we don't eat out lipsticks. It's on our lips all day! Duh! Even if we wanted to avoid eating it, we can't which is why we have to keep reapplying lipstick and not eyeshadow.

What do we have to do to get a 'healthy' lipstick? rub berries on our lips? It's so frustrating. I wish they had measured Shu Uemura lipsticks as well, so that I know where I'm standing. I have over 30 of them and I keep going back for more. Maybe I should use this as a guide to buying lipsticks from now on. I'm glad 'Black Honey' is so low in the list. I hope it's the same for the other honeys,too.

Charlestongirl said...


Of course, it had to have been a man! All of us gals knew that. :)

As for fear of lead, ingestion of trace amounts won't hurt adults as much as it would hurt children. That's little comfort, I know. It does bother me that there has to be some dose at which ingestion becomes harmful. They need to figure out what percent of "trace" is being ingested by the "average" woman. They don't need to do animal tests to determine that lead ingestion is a bad thing. Let's not harm any more animals trying to prove the obvious!

Eileen said...

Several years ago, I read a humorous article that mentioned how many pounds of lipstick a teenage boy ingested during his dating years ;-) Humor aside, though, it does make you wonder just how much of the stuff we actually swallow or is absorbed by our lips.

There are lots of alarming pseudo-statistics out there proclaiming the amount Ingested to be anywhere from 3-10 pounds, but when you actually crunch the numbers, those claims become absurd. Case in point: It would take 454 complete bullets of Revlon Super Lustrous Lipstick to equal 3 pounds. Assuming a woman wears lipstick from age 15 to 70, she would have to eat 8 entire tubes of lipstick a year, for 55 years, to ingest 3 lbs during her lifetime. How likely is that?

There are questions, though, that remain: Is there such a thing as a safe level of lead? What would that level be seeing as woman do ingest/absorb lipstick? If paint can be formulated without it, why can't lipstick? What other products are we using on our bodies that might contain lead? If lead continues to be permitted, should warning labels be required?

Thanks for the thought provoking post this morning.

pretty addicted said...

Thanks for this post - I wasn't aware of the lead findings, so this was news to me. I know they say that lipstick is only ingested in small quantities, but I found myself wondering about prolonged exposure, even if it is in small quantities like they say. I feel sick right now thinking about what ELSE is in the products we use that we don't know about.

toughdoc said...

Firstly, I want to thank you Charlestongirl for posting about this issue. I've read about this same issue for years. As a dermatologist, I read about this ALL THE TIME.

The public needs to know that the lead is not an added ingredient in the lipsticks. Lead is a natural element that gets measured by the fact that it is present in the dyes used in cosmetics. These dyes are elements, and the lead is a contaminant in these inert powders that are used to confer color. That is why generally speaking, the sheerer the lipstick, the lower the lead level.

Ever read the ingredient lists? "FD&C red #7", "iron oxide #4" "aluminum lakes #8" and the like, are derived specifically for the FDA and no cosmetic in the US can be sold without these specific dyes, which have been vetted by the FDA and they continue to be. These dyes often have aluminum too, and though I'm not a chemist, the way I understand it is that these metals impart color fastness and stability, so the red lipstick will remain a red lipstick.

Lead has a very long and ancient history as a cosmetic dye because it makes the pigment more stable. Queen Elizabeth I wore a lead based facial paint to cover up bad facial smallpox scars. Supposedly she also suffered from lead poisoning along with untold others.
Currently lead poisoning affects children the most because their growing systems can't handle exposure to this substance, and the old flaky paint used before 1975 ( I think) shed lead particles nto the air. The lead dust can be inhaled and cause lead toxicity. But that's a whole other story.

In the past century there have been no cases of lead poisoning from a cosmetic in the US. In fact, pigment is what gives lipsticks their variable inherent SPF level. It has been shown that women have much lower rates of cancer of the lip vs. men because women tend to cover their lips with lipstick, and though not formally rated, the zinc oxides and pigment bases provide some level of ultraviolet protection. Lead is well known as a UV and radiation blocker, which is why you get a lead apron draped over you when you get Xrays at the dentist :-)

There are many flaws in the FDA's logic, namely that lipstick isn't a "food". They are lumping the lead risks from lipsticks together with the lead risk from other cosmetics, no other cosmetic gets ingested, only lipstick. Eileen, to answer your question, I believe the FDA has set the safe threshold for lead in a color additive at 20 parts per million, similarly Canada and the EU. All of these lipsticks tested on their list fall below 5 parts per million.

To conclude this long rant, knowledge is power. Nothing is perfectly safe in this world. Don't take anybody's word for it. You must educate yourself and form your own opinions about what you're willing to use and not use. It's your body.

However, if we wanted to be perfectly natural we'd wear zero makeup. But where's the fun in that?

Charlestongirl said...

Thanks, Eileen! Good questions all.

Charlestongirl said...

Pretty Addicted,

You can probably take comfort that we haven't identified any "death by makeup" cases. :)

Charlestongirl said...

Hi Toughdoc!

Thank you very much for weighing in on this provocative subject!

Walls said...

Wow, this is good to know. Thank you for sharing, Charlestongirl!

Charlestongirl said...

Thanks, Walls!