Get the Lead Out (of Lipstick)

By Mia Davis   |  5Comments|


Dear Cosmetics Industry: Please stop defending lead and other nasty chemicals in your products.  Love, Mia

A $25 tube of department store lipstick should be safe, right? You might assume it is safer than $2 drugstore brand. Not necessarily …

During the busy 2011 holiday season, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) quietly released its new data on 400 popular lipsticks sold in the U.S. These products are contaminated with widely varying levels of lead, including higher amounts than found in earlier studies.  Perhaps the cosmetics industry was dismayed to see that just in time for Valentine’s Day 2012, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics picked up the story and spread the word with their “Kiss Lead Goodbye” campaign. The consumer group is asking the worst offender and the FDA to get the lead out of lipstick, already.

The jury isn’t out on lead—it is toxic to the developing brain, even in small amounts, and it builds up in our bodies over time. That’s why we took it out of house paint and gasoline decades ago.  We have limits for the amount of lead allowed in drinking water and candy.  But in the stuff many, many women put on their lips several times a day, even while pregnant? Not so much.

Interestingly, the brand with the highest levels of lead also makes one of the lipsticks with the lowest levels in the FDA study. They are all over the map. But note: they can make lipstick with little-to-no lead. Vested interests have long defended lead in lipstick, saying that these are low levels, and compared to other exposures, these amounts are safe. But in January 2012, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention restated that there is no safe level of lead for children and pregnant women.

Haven’t we been through this already—big companies defending lead in lipstick, FDA doing nothing about it, and experts saying that there is no safe level, period? The point here is that there might be heavy metal exposures we can’t control in life, but apparently in lipstick, companies can get the levels really low. Yep, I’m definitely having déjà vu. And lately, haven’t there been other members of the cosmetics industry defending the use of chemicals known to harm humans, animals and/or the environment, like formaldehyde in baby shampoo and in hair straighteners?

So, Cosmetics Industry, I have a crazy idea: What if the you stopped wasting time and money declaring that lead in lipstick is safe, carcinogens in baby shampoo is nothing to worry about and formaldehyde in hair straighteners is okey dokey, and instead made sure that your products are free of (or have as little as possible) heavy metals and other toxins in the first place?  We see that you can do it! Oh, and you don’t need a focus group to see if women will choose lipstick with lead or without lead, if given the option. We’ll always pick the one without it.  (There—I just saved you some more money!)

I think that it is time that the cosmetic industry enter the 21st century and stop making excuses for negligent behavior.  I think we’re all worth it. Don’t you?

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Photo credit: _Frankenstein_

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5 responses to Get the Lead Out (of Lipstick)
  1. I think you mean
    Smiles : -)

    I am so passionate about this. I feel so empowered when I read up on what’s safe and buy the stuff that’s good for me and the earth!

  2. Great, thanks.

  3. I spoke to a friend of mine who works for a natural cosmetics company and expected her to say that their cosmetics were different. Instead I was suprised to hear her say it was true – although the lead was in microscopic quantities as part of the pigment. It’s impossible to avoid lead with some pigments. She recommended me to stick to less pigmented formulas in lighter colours if it concerned me.
    However, I’d like to point out that although some of the cosmetics have a very slightly higher quantity of lead than children’s candy – candy is designed to be eaten, where as the amount of lipstick a woman consumes is minimal.
    Yes, it’s not ideal to have any form of lead in cosmetics, but to avoid all toxins at these levels I’d have to cease breathing which wouldn’t do me much good either.

  4. Don’t forget water. You get more lead in your morning cup of coffee than you do in your lipstick…

    I don’t want to be tongue in cheek about the entire thing but the reality is that lead is a naturally occurring product. It’s in the soil – which means it gets into anything that comes from the soil (read: naturally sourced colorants, water, dried plums, apples etc…).

  5. I’m a huge advocate of natural and organic cosmetics and of safety. I think it’s important for consumers to be conscious of their decisions so they can make educated choices. I was also really concerned when this topic came to light on Valentines by CSC after the FDA released their report in Dec ’11. I decided to investigate the issue myself and after a month of scientific research, interviews with natural lipstick manufacturers and a 20 yr Chemist/Cosmetic Formulator veteran – what I found was that there is far more hype than facts on this issue.

    There is at least 45 times *more* lead in bottled water than lipstick. I want consumers to be safe *and* smart. I want consumers to put this hysteria into perspective and be careful about claiming “the sky is falling” so as not to divert attention away from what we really should be focusing on – the great majority of synthetic crap that regular lipsticks are made of.

    What I’m really interested to know is why The Campaign For Safe Cosmetics is focusing so heavily on an innate heavy metal that exists in miniscule amounts – far less than what could be found in balsamic vinegar. I’m in no way defending lead, I’m advocating seeing the bigger picture and putting things into perspective so consumers really understand that lead in lipstick is far less of a risk than drinking bottled water.

    I look forward to hearing/reading your thoughts about the facts: