Red lipstick spreads the lead

lipstickSome of the red lipsticks manufactured in the United States and used daily by millions of women contain high levels of lead, according to new product tests commissioned by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a nonprofit coalition.

The tests for lead in lipstick were conducted by an independent laboratory over the month of September on red lipsticks bought in Boston, Hartford, Connecticut, San Francisco and Minneapolis.

20 of 33 brand-name lipsticks tested contained detectable levels of lead, with levels ranging from 0.03-0.65 parts per million (ppm). None of these lipsticks listed lead as an ingredient, according to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a coalition of women’s, public health, labour, environmental health and consumer rights groups.

“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,” said Mark Mitchell, MD, president of the Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice.

11 of the tested lipsticks exceeded the US Food and Drug Administration’s 0.1 ppm limit for lead in candy — a standard established to protect children from directly ingesting lead.

The Food and Drug Administration has not set a limit for lead in lipstick.

Among the top brands testing positive for lead were:

  • L’Oreal Colour Riche “True Red” — 0.65 ppm
  • L’Oreal Colour Riche “Classic Wine” — 0.58 ppm
  • Cover Girl Incredifull Lipcolor “Maximum Red” — 0.56 ppm
  • Dior Addict “Positive Red” — 0.21 ppm

Lead can affect almost every organ and system in your body, according to the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). The main target for lead toxicity is the nervous system, both in adults and children.

Long-term exposure of adults can result in decreased performance in some tests that measure functions of the nervous system, says the ATSDR. It may also cause weakness in fingers, wrists, or ankles. Lead exposure also causes small increases in blood pressure, particularly in middle-aged and older people, and can cause aneamia. Exposure to high lead levels can severely damage the brain and kidneys in adults or children and ultimately cause death.

In pregnant women, high levels of exposure to lead may cause miscarriage, says the ATSDR. High-level exposure in men can damage the organs responsible for sperm production.

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics says the tests show it is possible to make lipstick without lead — 39% of lipsticks tested had no detectable levels of lead — and cost does not seem to be a factor. Some less expensive brands such as Revlon ($7.49) had no detectable levels of lead, while the more expensive Dior Addict brand ($24.50) had higher levels than some other brands, said the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.

The US Food and Drug Administration will conduct its own tests to follow up on the group’s results, although the agency has not found dangerous levels of lead in previous tests, said FDA spokeswoman Stephanie Kwisnek.

Once added to most house paints, lead in paint has been outlawed in the United States since 1978. The Housing and Urban Development Agency says lead was originally used in paint “because it made colours more vibrant”.

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics is calling on the industry to reformulate products to remove lead, to require suppliers to guarantee that raw materials are free of lead and other contaminants, and to join the campaign in demanding that the FDA more strictly regulate personal care products.

The Campaign says it finds “disturbing” the “absence of FDA regulatory oversight and enforcement capacity for the $50 billion personal care products industry”.

“The cosmetics industry needs to clean up its act and remove lead and other toxic ingredients from their products,” said Stacy Malkan, author of the just-released book, Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry.

“Repeated, daily exposures to low levels of lead add up — and they add up on top of lead from paint and drinking water, which is especially a problem in low income communities. There’s no excuse for lead in lipstick or toys. Companies should act immediately to reformulate lead-containing products,” Malkan said.

The industry association says the FDA has set “strict limits for lead levels allowed in the colours used in lipsticks, and actually analyse most of these to ensure they are followed”. The products identified in the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics report meet these standards, the industry association says.

“Despite the negligible levels of lead found in some lipsticks,” the trade association said, “cosmetic companies are committed to reducing that level even further. For decades, cosmetic companies have worked to minimise all product contamination, including lead. They actively and continually review all raw materials to ensure that they contain the lowest levels of impurities possible.”
Source: ENS, 15 October 2007

The full report, “A Poison Kiss: The Problem of Lead in Lipstick,” including complete test results, is online at: