Heavy Metals in Lipstick and Lip Glosses
When it come to cosmetics, each woman is on her own in judging the safety of products. There is often little or no meaningful information from the producer and no aid from government watch-dogs. The research, if done at all, can be withheld by the company.
I’ve written before about the many chemicals and toxins found in cosmetics and other health and beauty products in, “The Real Price of Beauty” . Now, another study has found that heavy metals in lipsticks and lip glosses may be of concern.
Researchers from University of California, Berkeley tested 32 lipsticks and lip glosses used by young women in a California youth program. They found concerning levels of nine heavy metals in many of the lip products, no matter what brand they were or how much they cost. The lip product prices ranged from $5 to $24.
Do you spend much more than that? Think you’re safe using a natural or organic lipstick? Think again. Read about the regulation (or lack thereof) about such labeling in ‘Natural’ Doesn’t Always Mean ‘Non-Toxic’. Heavy metals are natural ingredients, found in air, water, soil, rock. They’re found in many of the raw materials and pigments used in cosmetics.
High Ingestion Rates
Lipstick and glosses are often ingested over the course of the day so the impact of any toxin is heightened above and beyond skin absorption levels. According to prior research, the Berkeley scientists estimated average lipstick use as twice-a-day applications and heavy use as applying lip gloss or lipstick 10 times a day. One application spreads 10 milligrams of product across a woman’s lips, most of which is ingested. Average use of lipstick means that a woman ingests about 24 milligrams of product. Women that apply lipstick or lip gloss frequently may be ingesting as much as 87 milligrams of product per day.
The researchers compared what the women were likely ingesting in lip products to health standards for heavy metal consumption like those defined by the EPA for drinking water. They found that average lipstick or lip gloss use in these products resulted in women exceeding daily intake guidelines for aluminum, cadmium, chromium and manganese. In 10 of the products they looked at, daily use meant that a woman would exceed chromium intake recommendations by 100 percent.
Both Canada and the European Union regulate allowable levels of heavy metals in cosmetics. The European Union has banned the presence of cadmium, chromium and lead altogether in cosmetics. The Canadian government has set limits for the content of antimony, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, mercury and lead in cosmetics. They’re still trying to determine what levels are avoidable in the manufacturing process. That’s because many studies have found that government limits for heavy metals are much higher than what can be avoided in manufacture.
Canada’s Environmental Defense organization conducted their own study of heavy metals in cosmetics. They found that the highest levels of arsenic, cadmium and lead are found in lipsticks and lip glosses.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US does not regulate heavy metal content in cosmetics.
Lead Was Found in 75% of the Lipsticks Examined
The Berkeley scientists found lead in 75 percent of the lipsticks and lip glosses they looked at but weren’t concerned because the daily exposure rates were lower than government-recommended guidelines for lead consumption.
The FDA did take a look at 400 lip products in 2011 to determine their lead levels and concluded they were too low to be dangerous, especially since lipsticks aren’t meant for consumption.
While the FDA does limit lead in certain color additives used in cosmetics, it doesn’t set limits on lead in final products. This is troubling because heavy metals accumulate in the body over time. Low amounts can add up to big effects.
That’s why the Berkeley researchers did admit that children shouldn’t play with lipsticks or lip glosses. Researcher David C. Bellinger, in his study, “Very Low Lead Exposures and Children’s Neurodevelopment,”, says that “No level of lead exposure appears to be ‘safe’ and even the current ‘low’ levels of exposure in children are associated with neurodevelopmental deficits.”
While children are more susceptible to lead than adults, both can suffer from lead poisoning as it accumulates over time. Lead accumulation can affect the central nervous system, immune system and the kidneys. Its symptoms vary so widely that they are easily misdiagnosed. In adults, lead poisoning can show up as fatigue, irritability and sleeplessness, reproductive problems, joint, muscle and headaches, poor appetite, nervousness or constipation.
FDA Analyses of Lead in Lipsticks – Initial Survey
The following results for lead content in a selection of lipsticks were obtained by scientists at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and reported in the Journal of Cosmetic Science1 . FDA purchased lipsticks from retail stores between October and December 2007.
Procter & Gamble
Procter & Gamble
Procter & Gamble
Bed of Roses
Love That Red
Paint Me Compassionate
Viva Glam I
Ultra Color Rich
Health Effects of Other Heavy Metals
What does science tell us about heavy metal accumulation over time?
- Antimony impacts the cardiovascular system, the liver and the lungs.
- Arsenic has been linked to cancers of the bladder, liver and lung. It also plays a factor in heart and vascular diseases, death from diabetes, and gastrointestinal function.
- Cadmium is also a human carcinogen. It’s been linked to bone and kidney dysfunction.
- Chromium is linked to stomach tumors.
- Manganese may be linked to neurobehavioral problems.
- Mercury can cause allergic reactions and affect the nervous system. It can impair kidney function or cause weakness and memory loss.
The Berkeley scientists worry that “some of the toxic metals are occurring at levels that could possibly have an effect in the long term” and suggest that the FDA begin regulating heavy metal levels in cosmetics.
You can check out lead levels of 400 lipstick brands from the FDA study on “Lipstick and Lead: Questions and Answers”. The Berkeley researchers didn’t reveal brand names but you can visit the Environmental Working Group’s SkinDeep website to check out harmful ingredients in your cosmetics at EWG’s SkinDeep: Cosmetics Database. Visit Environmental Defence’s website to download Heavy Metal Hazard: The Health Risks of Hidden Heavy Metals in Face Makeup, in which the authors reveal brand names and types of cosmetics they tested for heavy metals.
- The FDA does not regulate heavy metal levels in cosmetics.
- You ingest most of the lipstick or lip gloss that you apply.
- Heavy metals in lip products can accumulate in your body over time.
- Keep young children away from makeup products.
- Visit helpful databases to determine what beauty products are lowest in toxins.
Shaunacy Ferro, “Ladies, Are You Smearing Toxic Metals on Your Lips Every Day?” Popsci.com, May 2, 2013, http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2013-05/are-you-smearing-toxic-metals-your-mouth-every-day
Lindsey Konkel, “Some Lipsticks Contain Toxic Metals,” LiveScience.com, May 2, 2013, http://www.livescience.com/36957-lipsticks-toxic-metals-lead-chromium.html
Sarah Yang, “Poison Lips? Troubling Levels of Toxic Metals Found in Cosmetics,” Berkeley News Center, May 2, 2013,
“Heavy Metal Hazard: The Health Risks of Heavy Metals in Makeup,” Environmental Defence, http://environmentaldefence.ca/reports/just-beautiful-heavy-metals-in-cosmetics-factsheet
“Guidance on Heavy Metal Impurities in Cosmetics,” Health Canada, July 26, 2012, http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/cps-spc/pubs/indust/heavy_metals-metaux_lourds/index-eng.php
“Lipstick and Lead: Questions and Answers,” Food and Drug Administration, Last updated June 5, 2013,
David C. Bellinger, “Very Low Lead Exposures and Children’s Neurodevelopment,” Current Opinion in Pediatrics, 2008, http://www.precaution.org/lib/neurodevelopment_and_vy_low_lead.080601.pdf
“Lead Fact Sheet,” University of Maryland Department of Environmental Safety, July 1997, http://www.des.umd.edu/os/rest/lead.html
Jason Rano and Jane Houlihan, “Myths on Cosmetics Safety,” Environmental Working Group, http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/myths-on-cosmetics-safety/