Get the Lead Out ...of Your Lipstick!

The latest report that many common lipsticks brands contain detectable levels of lead is enough to turn your beautiful smile into a frown and leave you wondering the true cost of beauty.

A Poison Pucker
In a 2007 issue of the Journal of Cosmetic Science , U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) scientists reported that all of the 20 lipsticks it tested contained lead, a proven neurotoxin that occurs naturally in the environment, at levels ranging from 0.09 parts per million (ppm) to 3.06 ppm. These results build on two previous studies, one from Health Canada and another from the U.S.-based Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (CSC), a national coalition of not-for-profit organizations working to improve the safety of personal care products.
"There are many others sources of lead exposure, which is why we don't need to also be exposed to lead through products we smear on our lips," says Stacy Malkan, co-founded of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (CSC) and author of Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry (New Society).
You might be thinking – surely, a little lead is worth it to have the perfect  lips. It depends on who you ask.  Well, one study estimates that the average woman consumes about 

4 to 6 pounds of lipstick a year, from licking her lips and eating it with food. Ever wonder why you need to re-apply after a meal? And men, don’t be complacent because you don’t wear lipstick. How many women have you kissed?

How much lead is too much?
In 2007, it was the CSC that uncapped the issue with " A Poison Kiss: The Problem of Lead in Lipstick (pdf)." The organization found that 61 percent of the red lipsticks it tested contained lead, in levels up to 0.65 parts per million, spurring California lawmakers to attempt to ban the substance in lipstick. Brands included drugstore brands such as L'Oréal and Cover Girl as well as pricier brands such as Dior Addict.
In 2008, Health Canada tested 26 samples at its product safety laboratories and found that 21 contained lead (levels ranged from 0.079 to 0.84 ppm).  By the way, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s limit for lead in candy is 0.1 ppm.

Effects of Lead
There is no safe amount of lead for human consumption.  Considering that lead is a proven neurotoxin that can cause learning, language, and behavioral problems, lead in lipstick—in any amount—is a health concern, says the CSC, especially because lipstick is applied several times a day, every day. Our bodies do not dispose of lead, rather, lead stays in our systems and builds up over time. So daily consumption, compounded over decades, can lead to toxic levels of lead. The science on lead and its effects on the human body is mature and unequivocal: it can damage the nervous system, kidneys and the blood manufacturing system; it builds up and persists in the body over long periods of time.   For pregnant women, the effects of trace levels of lead are even more pernicious. Lead easily crosses the placenta and enters the fetal brain, where it can interfere with normal development. According to Health Canada "The latest medical and scientific research shows that absorption of even very low levels of lead into the blood may have harmful health effects on the intellectual and behavioral development of infants and young children."  It is also linked to infertility and miscarriage.

Is There Such a Thing as Unleaded Lipsticks?

Yes, lead is not an ingredient in lipstick but rather a contaminant, meaning it sneaks into lipsticks in pigments (especially red pigments) and other raw materials. This makes it difficult--but not impossible--for manufacturers to eliminate and consumers to avoid. "[Companies] can source cleaner materials, not use raw materials that are likely to be contaminated or make sure that the pigments they're buying don't contain any lead," says Malkan. "At this point, they don't even have to know how much lead is in their products. And lipstick is probably not the only cosmetic product that contains lead. Canada found lots of heavy metals in kids face paint last year."

If you've decided to play it safe when it comes to lead, here are some tips on choosing an unleaded lipstick:
•    Avoid identified leaded brands: The CSC identified several brands as the worst offenders (brands that consistently produced lipsticks with higher levels of lead) when it conducted its study in 2007: L'Oréal, Cover Girl, Dior and Maybelline. On the other hand, Revlon's lipsticks had low to no lead.

•    Choose lead-free lipsticks: Although natural lipsticks are the better environmental choice for many reasons, a natural lipstick isn't necessarily lead-free. There are a few brands, however, that promise to be - Eco Bella has tested its FlowerColor Lipsticks for lead, as well as cadmium and mercury, and posted the results online. Lavera also makes lead-free lipsticks, as do both Cargo (PlantLove 100% Natural Lipstick) and Aveda. There are many smaller local producers of natural beauty products – check out Lori’s  - Face Facts by Lori  or Vashon Organics they create their lipsticks with hemp.

•    Avoid lipstick altogether: Opt for colorless balms and glosses to keep your skin health and your smile bright--without adding color.

•    Be wary of all cosmetics if you're pregnant: Reducing or eliminating where you can, especially products such as lipsticks that can be ingested and products such as perfume that are breathed in and may contain phthalates.

Status Update

The FDA released a follow-up study in 2009 that found much higher levels of lead in lipstick than reported by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics in 2007.  A state bill to ban lead from lipstick passed the California Senate in 2008, but died after a massive industry lobby effort

What You Can Do
Because lead is a contaminant not listed on lipstick ingredient labels, it's next to impossible for consumers to avoid. But don't let that dissuade you from doing something:

    * E-mail, call or write to the companies that make your favorite lipstick shades and tell them that lead-free products are important to you.

    * Check out the Safe Cosmetics Org website  and sign the petition for safe cosmetics.

    * Forward this blog post to friends, family and loved ones making them aware of this issue.

Until next time - Smooches!

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