More Lead In Lipstick Than Thought

Back in November of 2007 we wrote that <"">lead in lipstick had attracted the attention of some powerful lawmakers. Now, a new study reveals lead levels in an array of lipsticks are greater than what was reported nearly two years ago by Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (CSC), a consumer advocacy group, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC).

The recent analysis was carried out by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA); the findings were just published the Journal of Cosmetic Science, said the AJC, which noted that the FDA utilized new methods to measure lead levels—”inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry”—and looked at lead levels in 22 red-shaded lipsticks.

Regardless, the FDA stood by its prior standing saying, “Lipstick is a product intended for topical use, and is only ingested incidentally and in very small quantities,” according to FDA spokeswoman Stephanie Kwisnek. “FDA does not consider the lead levels that it found in 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,” Kwisnek added, quoted the AJC.

Sadly, and not unexpectedly, the Personal Care Products Council, which represents the cosmetic and personal care products industry, agreed with the agency, said the AJC. “[FDA] . . . found the lead levels present to be safe and well below limits recommended by international regulatory and public health authorities,” quoted the AJC from a council statement. “Consumers who use lipstick ingest only a tiny fraction of the lipstick they apply, and much of the lead that is ingested in that tiny fraction of lipstick is not biologically available because it is trapped inside larger particles and excreted by the body,” the statement indicated.

While a medical expert agreed that lead levels in lipstick are low, he asked if those levels can build to toxic levels, especially in children and the unborn, said AJC. “If you put this on your mouth every day, or little kids’ mouths or when you’re pregnant, is this small amount of lead building up in a way that would actually affect infants, fetuses, and young children significantly over time?” asked Dr. Sean Palfrey, a professor of pediatrics and public health at Boston University School of Medicine and medical director of Boston’s Lead Poisoning Prevention Program, quoted the AJC. “[These levels are] unlikely to actively harm most children, but they could, so why do it?” he added.

Lead is known to cause cancer and reproductive harm and can cause mental and physical retardation and behavioral and other health problems in children. In adults, lead can damage the nervous system. Recent studies indicate that no level of lead is safe. The FDA does not set a limit for lead in lipstick, but argues its regulations cover lead levels in lipstick coloring. But, the CSC found, said AJC, that the average lead level in lipstick is 1.7 parts per million, over 10 times higher than the lead level standard in candy and urged the FDA to “immediately set standards to require manufacturers to minimize lead in lipstick to the lowest achievable levels.”

Some feel it is unfair to make a direct comparison between lead levels in food and lipstick, that the amount of lipstick one ingests normally is much smaller than if consumed; however, lead builds up in the body over time and others feel that lead-containing lipstick, applied several times a day, every day, can add up to significant exposure levels. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Website states, “because no threshold for adverse health effects in young children has been demonstrated [no safe blood level has been identified], all sources of lead exposure for children should be controlled or eliminated.”

In 2007, former presidential candidate Senator John Kerry—along with senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein—led an attack on the FDA, criticizing them for failing to respond to the potential health hazard of this toxic substance in lipsticks.

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