Is there lead in my lipstick? Yes, there’s lead in your lipstick. The latest update (December 2011) of an U.S Food and Drug Administration analysis of 400 shades of the fastest-selling lipsticks in the United States shows that all 400 of them contain trace amounts of lead.
But will this poison you? Is the amount so tiny that consumers have nothing to be worried about? Or will all those years of applying lipstick several times a day lead to a dangerous accumulation of a dangerous substance?
It seems the jury is still out—despite the fact that the FDA has repeatedly assured consumers that the amounts of lead found in the lipsticks were so tiny and within the limits recommended by global public health authorities for lead in cosmetics, including lipstick.
In October 2007, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a coalition of health and environmental groups, run an independent analysis that found that one-third of 33 lipsticks had lead in excess of 0.1 parts per million, the federal limit for candy.
Prompted by these findings, the FDA conducted two rounds of testing on lipsticks.
The first testing, done in 2009, was conducted on the same 20 lipstick shades/brands found by the consumer coalition to have lead levels above 0.1 ppm.
FDA scientists found lead in all 20 lipsticks tested, ranging from 0.09 ppm to 3.06 ppm, with an average value of 1.07 ppm. This was “within the range that would be expected from lipsticks formulated with permitted color additives and other ingredients that had been prepared under good manufacturing practice conditions,” the agency said.
In 2010, the FDA conducted an expanded test on 400 shades of lipstick, covering “a wide variety of shades, prices, and manufacturers.”
Chosen for testing were the bestselling lipsticks, based on the parent company’s market share, but the agency also included some lipsticks from niche markets in an effort to capture a broader swathe of the lipstick market.
The survey found that the average lead concentration in the 400 lipsticks tested was 1.11 ppm, very close to the average of 1.07 ppm obtained in the initial survey, and ranging from the detection limit of 0.026 ppm to the highest value of 7.19 ppm.
The worst offenders were L’Oreal Colour Riche “Volcanic” lipstick (with a lead content of 7.00 parts per million), Maybelline’s Color Sensational “Pink Petal”(7.19 ppm), NARS Semi-Matte “Red Lizard” (4.93 ppm), and Cover Girl Queen Collection’s Vibrant Hues Color “Ruby Remix” (4.92 ppm).
Price had nothing to do with lead levels: less expensive brands, like a US$1.99 tube of Wet and Wild Mega Colors “Cherry Blossom,” contained no lead, whereas a US$24 tube of Dior Addict “Positive Red” contained 0.21 ppm, the New York Times reported in May 2009.
Stacy Malkan, a Campaign for Safe Cosmetics founder, told the New York Times in 2007 that lead is often present in the pigment of the reddest lipsticks. The group is urging lipstick manufacturers to reformulate their products and calling on the FDA to set a safety standard for lead in lipstick. In November 2008, U.S. Senators John Kerry, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein supported the call, urging the FDA to do the same.
Negligible lead levels
Despite the seemingly alarming findings, the FDA says there’s no reason to worry.
“We do not consider the lead levels we found in the lipsticks to be a safety concern,” it asserts in an article on its website that reported the findings.
“We have assessed the potential for harm to consumers from use of lipstick containing lead at the levels found in both rounds of testing,” the FDA reveals. “Our initial findings, as well as our expanded findings posted in December 2011, confirm that the amount of lead found in lipstick is very low and doesn’t pose safety concerns.
“Lipstick, as a product intended for topical use with limited absorption, is ingested only in very small quantities,” the FDA explains. “The lead levels we found are within the limits recommended by other public health authorities for lead in cosmetics, including lipstick,” it adds.
The agency also said it was unfair to compare the lead levels in lipstick with those allowed in candy. “The FDA-recommended upper limit for lead in candy is 0.1 ppm,” it says. “It’s not scientifically valid to equate the risk to consumers presented by lead levels in candy, a product intended for ingestion, with that associated with lead levels in lipstick, a product intended for topical use and ingested in much smaller quantities than candy.”
The agency did concede that, “Although we do not believe that the lead content found in our recent lipstick analyses poses a safety concern, we are evaluating whether there may be a need to recommend an upper limit for lead in lipstick in order to further protect the health and welfare of consumers.”
The findings of both tests, as well as the “highly sensitive analytical method” developed by FDA scientists for measuring the amount of lead in lipstick, were published in the journal, Journal of Cosmetic Science.