Is There Lead in Your Lipstick? The Truth About What You Put on Your Pucker

Major beauty companies like L'Oreal have been caught with lead in their lipstick products -but is it enough to pose a health concern?

Is There Lead in Your Lipstick? The Truth About What You Put on Your Pucker

Major beauty companies like L’Oreal have been caught with lead in their lipstick products –but is it enough to pose a health concern?

-Diana Denza


When most of us roam the drugstore aisles in search of a lipstick with lasting shine or the perfect pop of color, the last thing on our minds is whether these products contain lead.

That’s right –according to a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) testing of 400 lipsticks, almost every single tube of the stuff you swipe across your lips contained lead. And what’s worse, a Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) committee has reported that no levels of the metal matter are safe for kids.

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So, if lead has been banned in paint for the past three decades, why do major cosmetic companies like L’Oreal continue to use the substance in products that millions of women use every day? And what exactly can we do about it?

Stacy Malkan, author of Not Just a Pretty Face – The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry and co-founder of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, wants to ensure that women’s voices are heard in this fight.

“The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics officially formed as a coalition of national health and environmental groups in 2004,” Malkan told us in an exclusive interview. “We knew lipsticks contain lead; our 2007 study on this topic prompted FDA to do this research. We were surprised by the levels of lead found in this recent FDA testing –twice as high as the levels found in their 2009 study, and far higher than what we found five years ago. The other disturbing trend is that, in all the studies, the most popular lipsticks have consistently had the highest levels of lead– particularly L’Oreal, which makes five of the top 10 most lead-contaminated brands in the recent FDA study.”

Malkan hopes that her campaign will persuade the FDA to control the amount of lead in lipstick and to conduct studies on the possible side effects of using these types of products, especially during pregnancy.

“Unfortunately, there are many toxic secrets lurking in beauty products,” Malkan explained. “Companies are allowed to put nearly any ingredient into personal care products with no required safety studies, and without listing everything on the label. There are two huge loopholes in labeling law: companies do not have to disclose fragrance ingredients (such as phthalates) or contaminants (such as lead or formaldehyde). They can even market these products as ‘pure,’ ‘healthy,’ ‘natural,’ or even ‘organic’ because there are no legal standards for using these terms on cosmetics.”

However, the FDA has also reported that the lead found in the 400 tested lipsticks isn’t enough to get them pulled from shelves.

“The FDA did not find high levels of lead in lipstick,” Tamara Ward, an FDA spokeswoman, told Reuters. “We developed and tested a method for measuring lead in lipstick and did not find levels that would raise health concerns.”

So just how much lead is in the worst offender, Maybelline’s “Color Sensational” Pink Petal lipstick? About 7.19 parts per million of lead, which is a relatively small number when you consider that children’s products sold in the United States are allowed to have up to 100 parts per million of the element. In addition, the lip products tested had an average of only 1.11 parts per million of lead.

And if you’re wondering where this lead comes from, think about this: lipstick colors are typically mineral-based. In a statement from the Personal Care Products Council, “lead is ubiquitous and found naturally in air, water, and soil.”

But Malkan has still expressed concern over the lead found in our beauty products –no matter the amount.

“There’s no need for it,” she argued. “The great news is that many companies are making safe, non-toxic products that work really well, if not better, than conventional brands. You just have to do the research to find them. Check out our website for lots of great tips for finding safe products.”

Want to join the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics’ cause? Start with the Kiss Lead Goodbye video/photo contest, which is accepting applications through February 29, 2012. You can also urge the FDA to demand a standard for lead in lipstick by penning letters to your favorite publications.

Tell us: what do you think about the debate over lead in lipstick?

Diana Denza is a regular contributor to BettyConfidential.

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0 thoughts on “Is There Lead in Your Lipstick? The Truth About What You Put on Your Pucker

  1. Thanks to Diana for writing about this topic and for including my comments. One important addition: Since there is no safe level of lead exposure for children (and therefore for pregnant women, and women who hope to one day become pregnant), the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics is asking FDA to set a limit for lead in lipstick based on the lowest lead levels companies can achieve. This is the approach the agency used in setting a limit for lead in candy at .1 ppm (many times lower than the levels found in lipstick). They chose .1 ppm not because that amount of lead is considered safe, but because FDA determined that was the best companies could do to get lead out of candy. They should apply the same standard to lipstick, a product that millions of women are putting on our mouths, and ingesting, every day.

    Thank you!
    Stacy Malkan

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