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Do You Need To Worry About Lead in Lipstick?

A few of you have written me today, concerned about the claim that lipsticks are laced with lead. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics tested many lipsticks to detect the presence of lead, which can cause learning, language and behavioral problems as well as infertility. The story's findings:

  • More than half of 33 brand-name lipsticks tested (61 percent) contained detectable levels of lead, with levels ranging from 0.03 to 0.65 parts per million (ppm). None of these lipsticks listed lead as an ingredient.
  • One-third of the tested lipsticks exceeded the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s 0.1 ppm limit for lead in candy – a standard established to protect children from directly ingesting lead.

Lipsticks with the highest amounts of detectable lead included L’Oreal Colour Riche in True Red and Classic Wine; Cover Girl Incredifull Lipcolor in Maximum Red; and Christian Dior Addict in Positive Red. For more on the story, and what you can do about lead in lipstick,

To understand what the amount of lead means, it's important to understand how lead works in your body. It accumulates over time, and small amounts of lipstick are ingested through wearing it (for instance, when you bite into a sandwich, lipstick rubs off, and you digest it). As I wrote earlier this week, the FDA does not approve or review the safety of finished cosmetics, only the colorants that go into them. Because lead is a byproduct of the manufacturing process, it doesn't show up on the packaging.

So what can you do to protect yourself? The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics is encouraging people to write L'Oreal and insist that it create lead-free lipstick. (Consumers in Europe, where cosmetic regulations are tighter, already have lead-free options. Sucks to be North American, huh?)

Before you go into full-blown panic, though, consider this: Toxic substances surround us every day, and simply living has some risk. Wall paint, for example, is allowed to have 600 parts per million, which is thousands of times higher than the lipstick lead levels. Or consider this: If you eat fish, you're digesting similar levels of another poison, mercury—and since you're actively eating fish, you're ingesting more of it. But it doesn't hurt to be an informed consumer. Some brands, such as Josie Maran Cosmetics, are lead- and paraben-free. On Monday, I'll post my review of the line, so you can see how well natural cosmetics work.


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