Lead in lipstick? Turns out, the urban legend is true. In October 2007, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics tested 33 popular brands of lipsticks at an independent lab for lead content.
The results: 61 percent of lipsticks contained lead, with levels ranging up to 0.65 parts per million. Lead-contaminated brands included L'Oreal, Cover Girl and even a $24 tube of Dior Addict. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration promised it would conduct an investigation, but dragged its feet in doing so.
It took nearly two years, pressure from consumers and a letter from three U.S. Senators, but in 2009 the FDA released a follow-up study that found lead in all samples of lipstick it tested, at levels ranging from 0.09 to 3.06 ppm – levels four times higher than the levels found in the Campaign study. FDA found the highest lead levels in lipsticks made by three manufacturers: Procter & Gamble (Cover Girl brand), L'Oreal (L'Oreal, Body Shop and Maybelline brands) and Revlon. Yet FDA has thus far failed to take action to protect consumers.
No Safe Dose
The recent science indicates there is no safe level of lead exposure.
“Lead builds up in the body over time and lead-containing lipstick applied several times a day, every day, can add up to significant exposure levels. The latest studies show there is no safe level of lead exposure,” according to Mark Mitchell, M.D., MPH, president of the Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice.
“Lead is a proven neurotoxin that can cause learning, language and behavioral problems such as lowered IQ, reduced school performance and increased aggression. Pregnant women and young children are particularly vulnerable to lead exposure, because lead easily crosses the placenta and enters the fetal brain where it can interfere with normal development,” according to Dr. Sean Palfrey, a professor of pediatrics and public health at Boston University and the medical director of Boston's Lead Poisoning Prevention Program. “Since recent science suggests that there is truly no safe lead exposure for children and pregnant women, it is disturbing that manufacturers are allowed to continue to sell lead-containing lipsticks."
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states: “No safe blood lead level has been identified.” The agency suggests avoiding all sources of lead exposure, including lead-containing cosmetics. (Read CDC's lead exposure prevention tips.)
The Campaign continues to pressure the FDA to set a maximum limit of lead in lipstick, based on the lowest lead levels manufacturers can feasibly achieve. Thus far the agency has failed to take action to protect consumers.
A state bill to ban lead from lipstick passed the California Senate in 2008, but died after a massive industry lobby effort.