400 lipsticks found to contain too much lead and could be harmful

Reuters first reported that a new study conducted by the FDA found that 400 lipsticks on the market tested positive for lead, according to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a coalition that advocates for safer cosmetics and hygiene products.

Maybelline Color Sensation by L’Oreal USA was the worst-offending lipstick of the group tested, the Campaign said. It contained more than 275 times the amount of lead that was found in the least-contaminated product.

The group added that children’s products in the U.S. cannot contain more than 100 parts per million of lead. The highest offending lipstick contained 7.19 parts per million, the group said. Surprisingly, the least contaminated was also the least expensive: Wet & Wild Mega Mixers Lip Balm. This just shows that cost is not a factor in lead levels, said Stacy Malkan, co-founder of Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.

Lead is a poisonous metal, and it was banned from paint products in the U.S. in 1978. The element is particularly dangerous to young children because it can cause blood and brain disorders in developing bodies. Malkan said, “There is no safe level of lead exposure… It builds up in the body over time. A little bit every day is adding up and staying with you.” There is no safe level of lead for children, according to the CDC. The government agency issued a report that implored companies to keep lead out of their products to prevent exposure to pregnant women and children.

“Lead builds in the body over time, and lead-containing lipstick applied several times a day, every day, can add up to significant exposure levels,” Mark Mitchell, co-chairman of the Environmental Health Task Force for the National Medical Association, said in the group’s statement.

She added women use an average of 12 cosmetic and hygiene products per day. “We know that ingestion of lipstick happens. It gets into our bodies,” she said, noting that lead accumulates in people. There are no FDA standards in regulating the amount of chemicals in products, said Malkan. Companies don’t even need to know the chemicals that they are putting in their products. “When these companies are asked about these chemicals, they argue, ‘it’s legal, so it’s OK,’” said Malkan. “That’s why we’re calling for the FDA to set a standard and give guidance to these companies for the best manufacturing practices.”

“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 said in a statement sent to Reuters. “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.”

The FDA, for its part, agreed there is no cause for alarm. “The FDA did not find high levels of lead in lipstick,” FDA spokeswoman Tamara Ward said. “We developed and tested a method for measuring lead in lipstick and did not find levels that would raise health concerns.”

The Personal Care Products Council, the trade group that represents the cosmetics industry, agreed with the FDA’s assessment. Halyna Breslawec, the council’s chief scientist, said her group has petitioned the agency to set a limit on the amount of lead allowed in cosmetics. The consensus on what that limit should be — 10 parts per million, Breslawec said — is higher than the levels detected by the two rounds of FDA testing and in line with proposals in Canada and Germany. Breslawec said that lead is not intentionally added to lipstick or any other cosmetic but that many color additives approved by the FDA are mineral-based, and therefore contain trace levels of lead that is naturally found the soil, water and air.

Lipstick is only the latest cosmetic to raise red flags. Kim Anderson, executive director of Ava Anderson Non-Toxic, a cosmetic line of chemical-free products, said customers should shy away from any product that lists “fragrance” as an ingredient. “If they’re using the word fragrance, that company could be hiding up to 600 chemicals under that word,” said Anderson, who advocates for safer cosmetic regulations. “Seventy-five percent of the time, fragrances contain phthalates, a known-carcinogen that causes reproductive issues in the body.”

The federal government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention headquarters enacted a policy in Spring, 2010, which banned employees from wearing fragrances. “We support such a ban,” said Malkan. “As we see more perfumes, we see more people who are sensitive to the fragrances, that can cause headaches, breathing difficulties and asthma. The fact that the CDC has a fragrance-free policy should be an indicator of something.”

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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