WOMEN'S HEALTH
May 10, 2013

Toxic Lipstick?

It's not a new band, but it is about the heavy metals found in lipstick and lip gloss. Some women may ingest dangerous amounts.

Did you ever wonder how those deep and shimmering lipstick colors, the ones that make lips look so luscious, are produced? Well, the answer is not quite so pretty. Researchers have found evidence of lead, cadmium, chromium, aluminum, and five other metals in lip products, some of which were found at levels that could raise potential health concerns.

Although previous studies have detected metals in lip makeup, the current study evaluated the risk to consumers by analyzing the concentration of these metals and estimating their daily intake by lip product users, and then comparing this intake with existing health guidelines.

Some of the toxic metals are occurring at levels that could possibly have an effect in the long term.

Lipstick and lip gloss are of special concern, the study authors said, because when they are not being blotted on tissue or left as kiss marks, they are gradually ingested or absorbed by the individual wearing them. “Just finding these metals isn't the issue; it's the levels that matter,” said study principal investigator S. Katharine Hammond. “Some of the toxic metals are occurring at levels that could possibly have an effect in the long term.”

If you are a heavy user of lipstick and lip gloss, and reapply it frequently, you could be exposed to levels of lead, cadmium, chromium, and aluminum at concentrations exceeding recommended levels, Sa Liu, a researcher in environmental health sciences at the University of California at Berkeley, tells TheDoctor.

The study's findings don't mean you have to toss your lipstick and lip gloss; but given the concentrations of metals detected, there appears to be a need for more regulatory oversight. No U.S. standards currently exist for metal content in cosmetics, although the European Union considers any evidence of cadmium, chromium, and lead ingredients in cosmetics to be unacceptable.

Lead is never intentionally added to lipstick formulas, but during the manufacturing process it can contaminate the raw materials used in making the lipsticks. Some of the pigments used in formulas may contain lead, says Ron Robinson, cosmetic chemist and founder of beautystat.com, in an e-mail. There is no truly safe level of lead, especially for pregnant women and children under the age of six.

Robinson believes manufacturers should do everything they can to remove lead from their products, even trace amounts. And consumers need to push manufacturers and state legislators to remove lead from lipsticks.

The FDA actually studied hundreds of lipsticks several years ago, and found an average trace level of lead that was about 1 part-per-million (ppm). According to Jim Hammer, Director of Research and Development at Pharmasol Corporation, which specializes in consumer product formulation testing, this is a very small amount and it is virtually impossible to eliminate all traces of lead from the products that we use.

Since lipsticks are not directly ingested, the FDA believes the level of exposure is safe, “We do not consider the lead levels we found in the lipsticks to be a safety concern.”

Liu begs to differ. “I believe that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration should pay attention to this,” says Liu. “Our study was small…but based upon our findings, a larger, more thorough survey of lip products and cosmetics in general is warranted.”

The study is published online in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

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