How to Go Green With Silv: Lead in Lipstick - Worth the Perfect Shade of Red? by Silvia Milanova, February 24 2012, 0 Comments

Photo courtesy of Bernie C via Flickr.

Is finding the perfect shade of red worth getting sick over? You might want to rethink your pucker color after a recent FDA study found that about 400 lipsticks manufactured by some of the most popular drugstore brands, contain traces of lead, a toxin long banned in paint due to its negative effect on humans. The element can affect the nervous system and cause blood and brain disorders, especially in children. Some of the brands that were tested and found to contain the highest amounts of lead are Cover Girl, Revlon and L'Oréal.

This concern first surfaced in the 1990s, and again in 2007, when The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics conducted research on 33 popular brands, and found lead in 61 percent of the lipsticks. Two years later, the FDA conducted new research and found that all of the lipsticks they tested contained lead, and in higher amounts than the Campaign previously concluded. This new study, which tested lipsticks purchased in early to mid 2010, shows that even higher amounts of lead are now found in some lipsticks (some as much as 7.19 ppm—Maybelline, Color Sensational 125 Pink Petal), and five of the 10 most contaminated brands are marketed by L'Oréal USA. (The expanded survey will be published in the May/June, 2012, issue of the Journal of Cosmetic Science.)

Currently, the FDA regulates safety in cosmetics under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, but has no set limits for lead in cosmetics, and they don’t require pre-market approval. What is regulated is the amount of lead in the color additives used in cosmetics, as those found in lipsticks. The safety amount, determined by “on safety evaluations that consider the color additives’ intended uses and estimated consumer exposure resulting from those uses,” is usually no more than 20 parts per million (ppm) and the additives must be batch-approved.

The FDA states that these amounts are minimal and fall under the safety limit set by them and other public health authorities; but lead accumulates in the body over time – much like radiation. Although these are cosmetic products with limited absorption, prolonged exposure can add up in the body. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is no safe blood lead level, and children can be exposed to the metal through all kinds of sources: paint, gasoline, solder, and consumer products. Pregnant women are also at risk, since lead can easily penetrate the placenta.

Considering these findings, the FDA has yet to set a higher limit for lead in lipstick, albeit urgent requests by The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and other health regulatory groups. The FDA is currently further evaluating their findings.

While waiting to see what comes out of this cosmetic war on lipstick and lead safety, there are plenty of brands out there that offer colors formulated without toxic ingredients.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Zosimos Botanicals – Natural Lipstick
  • Josie Maran Cosmetics - Argan Natural Volume Lip Gloss (not a lipstick, but lead-free regardless)
  • EyesLipsFace (e.l.f.) - Mineral Lipstick
  • Ferro Cosmetics - Glossamour Mineral Lip Gloss (not a lipstick, but lead-free regardless)
  • Jane Iredale - PureMoist LipColour