Could Your Lipstick Give You Lead Poisoning?
Beauty boost or health hazard? That’s the question women everywhere are asking in the wake of a new study from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
According to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a coalition that advocates for healthier makeup and hygiene products, hundreds of popular lipsticks currently on the market have tested positive for lead, which can be toxic even in small amounts.
The Campaign reports that the FDA analyzed 400 different lipsticks and found low levels of lead in almost all of them. Maybelline’s “Color Sensational” Pink Petal was the worst offender, with 7.19 ppm (parts per million) — 275 times the amount found in the least-contaminated product, Wet & Wild’s Mega Mixers Lip Balm — but L’Oreal, CoverGirl, and Nars had products in the top five, too. The average lead content across all 400 brands (which include other drugstore lines, as well as high-end companies such as Dior, M.A.C., Chanel, and Lancome) was 1.11 ppm.
To put these numbers in context, the Environmental Protection Agency’s allowable maximum contaminant level (MCL) is 15 ppm in drinking water; 100 ppm in children’s toys. (There is currently no such regulation for makeup by either the EPA or the FDA.)
Consumer advocacy organizations like the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics have stricter standards, however. They’d like to see all MCLs set at zero, or as close to it as possible.
“There is no safe level of lead exposure,” Campaign co-founder Stacy Malkan told ABCNews.com, citing a recent report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about the dangers of lead, which include blood and brain disorders in children. “It builds up in the body over time. A little bit every day is adding up and staying with you.”
Indeed, rumor has it that women swallow somewhere between three and nine pounds of lipstick over the course of their lifetime. Given that the average tube amounts to a mere three grams, however, you would have to ingest more than 150 entire sticks to swallow just one pound. So even if you slather on fresh color every morning — which as many as 81 percent of women do, according to a poll from the market research group Mintel — are you really in danger of consuming enough lipstick (and therefore lead) to put you at risk for poisoning?
The FDA says no — for now, at least. “[The study] did not find high levels of lead in lipstick,” the organization said in a statement to Reuters. “We developed and tested a method for measuring…and did not find levels that would raise health concerns.”
“The FDA’s independent study, which will be published in the May/June 2012 issue of the Journal of Cosmetic Science, confirms that lipsticks pose no safety concerns for the millions of women who use them daily,” L’Oreal representatives added. “The lead levels detected by the FDA in the study are also within the limits recommended by global public health authorities for cosmetics, including lipstick.”
Malkan, for her part, claims those “limits” are part of the problem. “When these companies are asked about these chemicals, they argue, ‘it’s legal, so it’s okay,’” she said. “That’s why we’re calling for the FDA to set a standard and give guidance to these companies for the best manufacturing practices.”