Is Lipstick Safe Given the Lead Contamination?

Is Lipstick Safe Given the Lead Contamination?
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Dozens of lipsticks and lip glosses are put to the test.

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

Over the past years, the use of cosmetic products has evidently increased “at an alarming rate due to unending pursuit for individual beautification.” Nothing necessarily wrong with that, unless cosmetic products contained ingredients that may be linked to disease: ingredients such as toxic heavy metals, like lead. Lead has been found in a wide range of cosmetic products, from eye shadow to skin cream, foundation, blush. I talked about henna before. But, looking at the data, an important warning can be recognized—the presence of lead in lipsticks—because you end up inadvertently actually swallowing a little bit of it. It has been estimated that a woman may end up ingesting three pounds of lipstick over her lifetime; “moreover, lipsticks can be used by pregnant women or women of child bearing age.” Uh, duh.

Yes. “Lead is highly toxic;” but how much lead can there be in lipstick? Surely, it’s “a very minor source.” “Nonetheless, one should not exclude the fact that lead accumulates in the body..over time, and [so] repetitive lead-containing lipstick…application [might] lead to significant exposure.” But, you don’t really know…until you put it to the test.

Thirty-two lipsticks and lip glosses tested, and lead was detected in three-fourths of the products, suggesting “public health concerns.” But how much lead did they find? About half exceeded the FDA-recommended maximum level set for candy.

Yeah, but come on. That limit is set for something kids may eat every day. Kids are not going to eat tubes of lipstick every day. “Nevertheless, it is generally accepted that there is no safe level of (lead) intake.” Ideally, we should get contaminant levels down to zero. And look, as a consumer group pointed out, a quarter of the lipsticks were lead-free, so we know it can be done. So, maybe we should better regulate toxic metals in cosmetics “to protect women’s health in the United States,” as has already been done in Europe. Fair enough.

The billion-dollar lipstick industry, however, wasn’t happy. In an article that tried to downplay the risks, the scientists-for-hire firm, that once played villain in the real-life Erin Brockovich case, concluded that “Although lipstick may contain (lead), the concentrations are so low that they would not be “expected to pose any health risks to adults or children.” Children’s blood (lead) levels are influenced more by background(lead) exposures (in the air/dust/water/food) than by lipstick exposures.”

Okay, but just because our environment is so contaminated doesn’t mean we need to add to the problem. In fact, because there’s so much lead around anyway, maybe it’s that much more reason to cut down on additional exposures. But they calculate that an adult would need “to apply lipstick over 30 times a day” to raise their blood lead level to even the most stringent limits, and 695 times a day to get blood levels up to more concerning levels.

Ah, but this was based on an assumption that lipstick would only have about one part per million lead, or at the extreme end maybe two or three. But by 2016, about ten times more lipsticks were tested, and they averaged nearly 500 parts per million, with 10 percent over 1,000, all the way up to 10,000, with more than one out of five exceeding FDA and even Chinese safety limits on lead in cosmetics.

Lip gloss was worse than lipstick; orange and pink had more lead than brown, red, or purple, and all the really contaminated ones were the cheaper ones—under five bucks.

But wait a second. 10,185 milligrams? That’s 10 grams per kilogram, which means the lipstick was 1 percent pure lead. That means a single application could expose a grown woman to perhaps 12 times the tolerable daily intake.

And if she’s interested in having children, then that poses a “particular concern,” as lead accumulates in your bones and “may [then] be released into the bloodstream during pregnancy,” where it can slip through the placenta or into breastmilk.

The good news is that the FDA is considering lowering the maximum allowable lead levels in lipstick from 20 to 10, something Canada arrived at a decade ago. But without enforcement, it doesn’t matter. Moving the legal limit from 20 down to 10 would just mean that instead of 23 percent of lip products exceeding legal levels, 27 percent would be exceeding legal levels. Right now, the limit’s 20. But what does it matter if there still may be products like these on store shelves?

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image credit: rawpixel via Unsplash. Image has been modified.

Motion graphics by Avocado Video

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

Over the past years, the use of cosmetic products has evidently increased “at an alarming rate due to unending pursuit for individual beautification.” Nothing necessarily wrong with that, unless cosmetic products contained ingredients that may be linked to disease: ingredients such as toxic heavy metals, like lead. Lead has been found in a wide range of cosmetic products, from eye shadow to skin cream, foundation, blush. I talked about henna before. But, looking at the data, an important warning can be recognized—the presence of lead in lipsticks—because you end up inadvertently actually swallowing a little bit of it. It has been estimated that a woman may end up ingesting three pounds of lipstick over her lifetime; “moreover, lipsticks can be used by pregnant women or women of child bearing age.” Uh, duh.

Yes. “Lead is highly toxic;” but how much lead can there be in lipstick? Surely, it’s “a very minor source.” “Nonetheless, one should not exclude the fact that lead accumulates in the body..over time, and [so] repetitive lead-containing lipstick…application [might] lead to significant exposure.” But, you don’t really know…until you put it to the test.

Thirty-two lipsticks and lip glosses tested, and lead was detected in three-fourths of the products, suggesting “public health concerns.” But how much lead did they find? About half exceeded the FDA-recommended maximum level set for candy.

Yeah, but come on. That limit is set for something kids may eat every day. Kids are not going to eat tubes of lipstick every day. “Nevertheless, it is generally accepted that there is no safe level of (lead) intake.” Ideally, we should get contaminant levels down to zero. And look, as a consumer group pointed out, a quarter of the lipsticks were lead-free, so we know it can be done. So, maybe we should better regulate toxic metals in cosmetics “to protect women’s health in the United States,” as has already been done in Europe. Fair enough.

The billion-dollar lipstick industry, however, wasn’t happy. In an article that tried to downplay the risks, the scientists-for-hire firm, that once played villain in the real-life Erin Brockovich case, concluded that “Although lipstick may contain (lead), the concentrations are so low that they would not be “expected to pose any health risks to adults or children.” Children’s blood (lead) levels are influenced more by background(lead) exposures (in the air/dust/water/food) than by lipstick exposures.”

Okay, but just because our environment is so contaminated doesn’t mean we need to add to the problem. In fact, because there’s so much lead around anyway, maybe it’s that much more reason to cut down on additional exposures. But they calculate that an adult would need “to apply lipstick over 30 times a day” to raise their blood lead level to even the most stringent limits, and 695 times a day to get blood levels up to more concerning levels.

Ah, but this was based on an assumption that lipstick would only have about one part per million lead, or at the extreme end maybe two or three. But by 2016, about ten times more lipsticks were tested, and they averaged nearly 500 parts per million, with 10 percent over 1,000, all the way up to 10,000, with more than one out of five exceeding FDA and even Chinese safety limits on lead in cosmetics.

Lip gloss was worse than lipstick; orange and pink had more lead than brown, red, or purple, and all the really contaminated ones were the cheaper ones—under five bucks.

But wait a second. 10,185 milligrams? That’s 10 grams per kilogram, which means the lipstick was 1 percent pure lead. That means a single application could expose a grown woman to perhaps 12 times the tolerable daily intake.

And if she’s interested in having children, then that poses a “particular concern,” as lead accumulates in your bones and “may [then] be released into the bloodstream during pregnancy,” where it can slip through the placenta or into breastmilk.

The good news is that the FDA is considering lowering the maximum allowable lead levels in lipstick from 20 to 10, something Canada arrived at a decade ago. But without enforcement, it doesn’t matter. Moving the legal limit from 20 down to 10 would just mean that instead of 23 percent of lip products exceeding legal levels, 27 percent would be exceeding legal levels. Right now, the limit’s 20. But what does it matter if there still may be products like these on store shelves?

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image credit: rawpixel via Unsplash. Image has been modified.

Motion graphics by Avocado Video

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