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Lipstick - an essential cosmetic used since the days of Cleopatra has long been associated with glamor, sex appeal, and high fashion. However recent tests by both the FDA and Campaign for Safe Cosmetics found traces of lead in every brand tested.

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics tested 33 lipsticks from major manufacturers in 2007, using their results to convince the FDA to perform their own study on 22 lipsticks. Both studies confirm the presence of a varying amount lead present in the lipstick tubes tested. The highest being Cover Girl’s” Incrediful Lipcolor 964 Maximum Red” at approximately 3 ppm (parts per million) and  the lowest being Avon’s “Ultra Color Rich U250 Cherry Jubilee” at 0.09 ppm.

FDA Lead Levels in Popular Lipstick Brands

Brand name Parent company Lipstick Lineand Shadea Lead (Pb)c(ppm)d
Cover Girl Procter & Gamble Incrediful Lipcolor964 Maximum Red 3.06
3.05
Revlon Revlon, Inc. ColorStay Lipcolor345 Red Velvet 2.91f
2.38
Cover Girl Procter & Gamble Queen CollectionQ580 Ruby Remix 2.24
Body Shop L’Oreal Lip Colour22 Garnet 1.79
Cover Girl Procter & Gamble Continuous Color435 Cherry Brandy 1.76
L’Oreal L’Oreal Colour Riche315 True Red 1.47
Revlon Revlon, Inc. Super Lustrous660 Bed of Roses 1.37
Maybelline L’Oreal Moisture ExtremeF315 Cocoa Plum 1.21
Revlon Revlon, Inc. Super Lustrous725 Love That Red 1.04
L’Oreal L’Oreal Colour Riche752 Classic Wine 0.79
0.67
Clinique Estee Lauder Companies Inc. Long LastFJ Merlot 0.55
Clinique Estee Lauder Companies Inc. Long LastF9 Paprika 0.48
Estee Lauder Estee Lauder Companies Inc. Pure Color1A3 Maraschino 0.43
Burt’s Bees Clorox Company Lip ShimmerMerlotg 0.33
Maybelline L’Oreal Moisture ExtremeE215 Midnight Red 0.23
PeaceKeeper PeaceKeeper Paint Me Compassionateg 0.17
Dior LVMH Replenishing Lipcolor752 Red Premiere 0.15
Dior LVMH Addict Ultra-Shine750 Shiniest Sexiness 0.12
MAC Estee Lauder Companies Inc. Matte LipstickViva Glam I 0.10
Avon Avon Ultra Color RichU250 Cherry Jubilee 0.09

In all honesty I was surprised to see Burt’s Bees brand to be present on this list, but since the company was purchased by the Clorox corporation there have been significant changes to (forgive the pun) the “makeup of the makeup”.

So, Is This a Problem?

According to the FDA website there is no apparent health risk with these levels of lead. According to their lead standards:

“No. FDA has assessed the potential for harm to consumers from use of lipstick containing lead at the levels found in its testing. Lipstick, as a product intended for topical use, is only ingested incidentally and in very small quantities. FDA does not consider the lead levels that it found in the lipsticks to be a safety concern. FDA also notes that the lead levels that it found are lower than limits recommended by other public health authorities for lead in cosmetics, including lipstick.”

No Safe Dose…

However, there are many dissenting voices in the scientific community including the Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice president Mark Mitchell, M.D., MPH who states:

“Lead builds up in the body over time and lead-containing lipstick applied several times a day, every day, can add up to significant exposure levels. The latest studies show there is no safe level of lead exposure,”

“Lead is a proven neurotoxin that can cause learning, language and behavioral problems such as lowered IQ, reduced school performance and increased aggression. Pregnant women and young children are particularly vulnerable to lead exposure, because lead easily crosses the placenta and enters the fetal brain where it can interfere with normal development,” according to Dr. Sean Palfrey, a professor of pediatrics and public health at Boston University and the medical director of Boston’s Lead Poisoning Prevention Program. “Since recent science suggests that there is truly no safe lead exposure for children and pregnant women, it is disturbing that manufacturers are allowed to continue to sell lead-containing lipsticks.”

Furthermore, a recent study published in Opinions in Pediatrics (Apr 2008) found that there is no safe level of lead exposure in children:

“No level of lead exposure appears to be ‘safe’ and even the current ‘low’ levels of exposure in children are associated with neurodevelopmental deficits. Primary prevention of exposure provides the best hope of mitigating the impact of this preventable disease.”

It gets better,the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states: “No safe blood lead level has been identified.” The agency suggests avoiding all sources of lead exposure, including lead-containing cosmetics (Read CDC’s lead exposure prevention tips). The irony of one government agency saying there is no problem, yet another agency encouraging the complete avoidance of such products.

Recommendations:

I recommend that if you use any of these lipsticks to stop immediately. I have compiled a list of safe lipsticks on the Environmental Working Group cosmetic safety site: Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database.

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