Is lead a danger in lipstick?

A report released in October 2007 by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (CSC) has suggested that 61% of 33 top brands of lipsticks on sale in the US tested by an independent laboratory, contain detectable levels of lead ranging from 0.03 to 0.65 parts per million (ppm). (Click here for full report.)

One third of the lipsticks tested by the laboratory were found to contain more than the 0.1 ppm limit imposed by the US Food and Drug Administration on candy and sweets. Although the limit for candy was set to protect children from ingesting lead, the CSC is using this comparison to show that lipstick, which is put directly onto the lips, is also a source of directly ingested lead, to which pregnant women, for example, are particularly vulnerable. But the CSC pointed out that the FDA has not set a limit for lead in lipstick.

The report said 39% of the lipsticks tested had no detectable levels of lead, suggesting it was possible to make them without lead. The worst offenders were:
* L'Oreal Colour Riche ‘True Red’ (0.65 ppm);
* L'Oreal Colour Riche ‘Classic Wine’ (0.58 ppm);
* Cover Girl Incredifull ‘Maximum Red (0.56 ppm);
* Dior Addict ‘Positive Red’ (0.21 ppm).

Referring to studies that said there is no safe level for lead because it builds up in the human body and cannot be excreted, Dr Mark Mitchell of the Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice, said: ‘Lead-containing lipstick applied several times a day, every day, can add up to significant exposure levels.’

John Bailey, from the Science Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association, said that despite repeated allegations to the contrary, the cosmetics industry does not add lead to its products; the metal occurs naturally in a range of ingredients and that the average quantity of lead a woman would be exposed to from cosmetics amounted to one-thousandth of the amount she would ingest from eating, breathing and drinking water that met the drinking water standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

A pediatrician at Baylor College of Medicine, Dr Sara Rizvi said the report's findings were ‘troubling’ and that although more research was needed to establish conclusive evidence one way or the other, the industry should reformulate products to remove lead completely, since this was an avoidable risk.

High doses of lead have been linked to learning and behavioural problems in children. The unborn and the very young are especially vulnerable because lead affects early brain development.

First published February 2008

 

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