Lethal Lipstick: How Much Lead is Too Much?

Target: Thomas D. Williams, Executive Officer for the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition

Goal: Ensure that cosmetics are safe to use by placing limits on how much lead can be found in them.

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics issued a warning to those preparing for their romantic night. Simply put, according to the organization there is reason to be worried about certain cosmetic products being applied to lips or to the lips to be kissed.

In an attempt to study the safety of the compounds used in hundreds of different makeup brands, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tested and reported that 400 lipsticks currently on the market tested positive for tangible levels of lead.  Some tested much higher than others; for instance, Maybelline Color Sensation, which falls under the L’Oreal brand, was the worst of those tested in that it contained 7.19 parts per million the amount of lead.  L’Oreal did not fare well in the study with five of their products ranking in the top nine worst.

In what is somewhat of a surprise, the least expensive (Wet & Wild Mega Mixers Lip Balm) also had the least amount of lead, leaving researchers to note that higher prices do not equal higher quality. Cosmetics companies have argued that there is no intention to put lead in lipstick; it is simply a byproduct of the process.

The FDA, however, still maintains that there is no danger in the tested amounts of lead in the lipstick, issuing as part of their statement on their website: “Our initial findings, as well as our expanded findings posted in December 2011, confirm that the amount of lead found in lipstick is very low and does not pose safety concerns.”  But not everyone is convinced.

For activists, it is simply a matter of how much lead will the FDA let slide when it comes to the production of cosmetics. Already in place are restriction of lead amounts in both water (15 parts per billion) and children’s toys (which cannot contain any more than 100 parts per million).  But where to draw the line with cosmetics, and especially with lipstick (that although many argue is not consumed and therefore less of a hazard) has yet to be decided.  What is necessary now is for the FDA to decide on a safe limit that can be accepted in lipstick and other cosmetics in much of the same way that water and children’s toys have.


Dear Mr. Williams,

After the recent research performed by the Food and Drug Administration, assessing the levels of lead found in cosmetics such as lipsticks, many consumers are alarmed and worried that perhaps the makeup they are applying may be detrimental to their health and the health of their children.

In order to provide citizens with the safest products available, restrictions need to implemented and enforced that will help to regulate these harmful products.

I urge you and the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, to join together with groups like the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and set and maximum limit for lead that can be found in lipsticks.


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