In a shocking report recently published by Reader’s Digest, toxic chemicals including lead have been found in lipsticks and other cosmetics.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States began researching lead in lipstick in 2007 in a joint study with the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and found that 61% of 33 popular brands contained lead. When they expanded on their study three years later, they found lead in 400+ lipsticks! The University of California went a bit further and found that lead wasn’t the only thing to be worried about in cosmetics – toxic metals such as chromium, aluminum, cadmium, and manganese show up too!
Why lead and other toxic metals?
Lead is a naturally-occurring metal in the environment. This means that it can show up in products as an impurity in the color additives. The FDA, recognizing this impurity, set out a rule that 10 ppm of lead is the highest amount tolerable (note: tolerable does NOT equal safe). But some brands in the US and particularly from other countries contained much higher levels. And for the time being, only color additives are tested and subject to approval by the FDA before they go on the market. So, could the levels of lead be even higher from other ingredients?
Other heavy metals like arsenic, mercury, aluminum, zinc, chromium, and iron are also found in personal care products. Some of these metals are intentionally added, while other are impurities as mentioned above. They can also be found in eyeliner, foundation, sunscreen, eye shadow, blush, concealer, and moisturizers. Ingredients do not have to be listed, but some to watch out for are lead acetate, chromium, thimerosal, hydrogenated cotton seed oil, and sodium hexametaphosphate.
Which brands to avoid?
The following brands are known to use lead in their lipstick, as shown from the 2010 study:
- Maybelline (L’Oréal USA) – their Color Sensational 125 Pink Petal contained 7.19 ppm
- L’Oréal – their Colour Riche 410 Volcanic contained 7 ppm
- NARS (Shisedo) – their Semi-Matte 1005 Red Lizard contained 4.93 ppm
- Cover Girl (Procter & Gamble) – their Vibrant Hues Color Q580 Ruby Remix contained 4.92 ppm
- Revlon – their Matte 009 Fabulous Fig contained 3.32 ppm
- Dior (LVMH Perfums & Cosmetics) – their Rouge Dior 365 VIP Pink contained 1.56 ppm
Even if your favorite brand isn’t on this list, you should still contact them and ask if they do anything to test the raw ingredients used for any lead contamination.
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Why is too much lead bad for you?
Lead is a neurotoxin and is linked to learning, behavioral, and language problems. This makes it particularly worrisome if children use a product containing lead, such as playing with Mom’s lipstick. As their brains haven’t yet fully developed, exposure to lead can lead to irreversible consequences.
It can also reduce fertility in men and women, lead to hormonal changes and irregularities in menstruation, and delay the onset of puberty in girls and boys.
Even if the dose per application is low and within the 10-ppm limit set out by the FDA, the cumulative effect is non-negligible and where things begin to be problematic. A woman may apply lipstick up to 14 times a day, meaning 87 mg of lead absorbed or ingested a day! Multiple that by multiple days a week, each week, over a lifetime and a significant amount of lead is ingested from lipstick alone.
In addition to contacting your favorite brand(s), use less lipstick each day and try to skip some days. And absolutely do not allow children to play with lipstick as they are more vulnerable to its effects.
Effects to watch out for
We must emphasize that there is no safe level of lead. Even small amounts can cause an increase in blood pressure, anemia, and generalized weakness. Higher amounts can be life-threatening, damaging organs including the brain and kidneys. Signs and symptoms of lead poisoning tend to only appear only once a dangerous amount has accumulated in the body.
If you, a loved one, or a friend begins showing any of these signs of lead poisoning, contact a doctor or local health department for testing:
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Sluggishness and fatigue
- Abdominal pain
- Hearing loss
- Eating things that aren’t food, such as paint chips
- Developmental delay
- Learning difficulties
- High blood pressure
- Joint and muscle pain
- Memory or concentration problems
- Abdominal pain
- Mood disorders