Lead in Lipstick

I did some research [admittedly because I had to write a paper on the matter] regarding the controversy that surrounds cosmetics manufacturers making products that contain lead, specifically lipstick. I was surprised by what I found. Not only is research supporting the notion that this is a dangerous practice, but the guidelines currently in place are based on outdated research.

In 2007, 33 popular lipstick brands ranging from the drug store market to high-end department store brands were independently tested for lead content based on a call for action by The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (CSC). The results of this testing indicated that 60% of the brands included contained lead levels ranging up to 0.65 parts per million (ppm). CSC believes that this amount of lead should be considered toxic based on research published in Current Opinion in Pediatrics.

In response to this, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) conducted an expanded survey through a private laboratory located in Seattle, WA. The survey found that the average lead concentration in the 400 lipsticks tested was 1.11 ppm, with the highest value of 7.19 ppm. The FDA maintains that the lead content found in lipstick does not pose a safety concern. The United States currently follows the guidelines set forth by Health Canada which states that lead levels under 20 ppm are acceptable for cosmetics. This information comes from a study conducted by the German Federal Government in 1985. It is important to consider the timeframe during which the German study was conducted. The research could be considered outdated by some proponents of stricter guidelines for lead content in lipstick and cosmetics. Furthermore the FDA acknowledges that lipstick is an item that is intended for topical use and therefore has limited absorption. Ingestion of lipstick occurs only in small quantities; toothpaste, which has a higher level of ingestion, has an upper limit for lead of 1 ppm.

Organizations like The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics contend that lead is a considerable problem, regardless of the quantity present. According to Mark Mitchell, MD, MPH, president of the Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice, “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 toxic effects of lead are primarily due to its ability to replace other metals in biochemical reactions in the body. This can lead to symptoms including delayed brain development, high blood pressure, anemia and infertility among other concerns. Over time lead can accumulate in the body, distribute in the blood and accumulate in the bones.

The concern of The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics lies in the continued use of products containing lead and the build up lead levels in the body over time. The FDA fails to address the outcome of chronic exposure and focuses more on the levels present in one application of lipstick. Results from one study suggest that the type of lead used in the preparation (lead acetate or lead nitrate) can affect the amount of lead that accumulates in the skin.The study found that regardless of the amount of lead to accumulate or the type of lead that accumulates, there is significant disruption of the skin based on histopathological and proteomic analysis. The current health concerns around lead in lipstick seem to be lacking solid evidence that specifically relates to cosmetics. The long-term effects of exposure to low levels of lead through cosmetics should be further examined to gain better understanding of the implications and to determine the rate at which lead accumulates in the body.

Is beauty worth the health risks that can arise from toxic exposure?

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