When I was growing up my mother was the neighborhood “Avon Lady”, so I was the lucky
little girl who got to play “dress up” with mommy’s miniature red lipstick samples.
From the moment I was officially allowed to wear lipstick, I have worn red.
Bright, red lips became my trademark look.
Red was my thing.
Years flew by.
From frosty to nude to shimmery–despite the fact that lipstick trends flowed with the
seasons–I stayed true to my hue.
Happily stuck in my bright red rut.
Is There Lead in Your Red?
I would have continued to happily rouge my pout if I had not become aware of this disturbin
ad by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.
Then I investigated further and read the eye-opening findings on most recent FDA
study of 400 lipsticks which was publicized on The Campaign’s website.
“Hundreds of lipsticks contaminated with lead,
reports new FDA study.
Levels up to twice as high as previously reported;
L’Oreal worst offender”
This quote from their 2012 press release really got my attention and took me back to my
childhood memories of playing with my mother’s lipstick.
I felt like Janet Nudelman was talking about me, personally.
“How many millions of women have applied and reapplied lead-containing lipsticks
since we first raised concerns about this problem five years ago?
How many kids have played with their mom’s lipstick?” said Janet Nudelman,
interim director of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and
policy director at the Breast Cancer Fund.
“It’s time for L’Oreal to get the lead out of its products,
and for FDA to set a safety standard for lead in lipstick.”
The Trouble with Lead
It may surprise you to learn that lead is not added as an ingredient in the lipstick manufacturing
Lead generally gets into lipstick from the particular colorant that is used or it can be a by-product
of the lipstick making process.
Every time we apply lipstick or lick our lips we ingesting some of it during or throughout the day.
And if you are like me and reapply your lipstick through the day, even more lead gets into your
bloodstream through the skin of your lips.
“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,”
said Mark Mitchell, M.D., MPH, policy advisor of the Connecticut Coalition
for Environmental Justice and co-chair of the Environmental Health Task
Force for the National Medical Association.
“Lead is a proven neurotoxin that can cause learning, language and behavioral problems.
Pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to lead exposure, because lead easily
crosses the placenta and enters the fetal brain where it can interfere with
normal development,” said Sean Palfrey, M.D., a professor of pediatrics and
public health at Boston University and the medical director of
Boston’s Lead Poisoning Prevention Program.
Let’s face it, cosmetic products are one of the least regulated product categories by the FDA.
We all know that many lipstick brands contain lead–even greater amounts than the government
allows for use in candy.
Can you believe that?
FDA-approval does not guarantee safety or that a product is automatically safe to consume or use.
It is also important to note that the most contaminated brand in the study, Maybelline Color
Sensation by L’Oreal USA, contained more than 275 times the amount of lead found
in the least contaminated, and least expensive, brand, Wet & Wild Mega Mixers Lip Balm
— revealing that price is not always a reliable indicator of quality manufacturing practices.
L’Oreal makes five of the 10 most lead-contaminated brands in the FDA study.
And to my dismay, I have been buying and wearing most of the most contaminated lipsticks on
the list for decades.
*Visit this page to see the full list of 400 lipsticks tested by FDA.
What Else in Lurking in Your Lipstick?
Lead is not the only harmful ingredient included in the production of most lipsticks.
Many of lipstick brands we wear everyday may contain other harmful ingredients
besides lead, including:
*Formaldehyde which is a preservative and known carcinogen.
*Petrochemicals have been also been found to be harmful to human health.
*Mineral oil is a substance in lipsticks which is known to block pores.
*Parabens which are known carcinogens, are often used as a preservative.
*Methylparaben is a preservative used in many beauty products in the U.S.
*Propylparaben can irritate skin, eyes or may cause allergic reactions.
Some studies indicate that it may cause endocrine disruption, cancer and other effects.
*Retinyl Palmitate, which is a synthetic form of vitamin A, could be toxic to pregnant
women, plus there is some evidence linking exposure to this ingredient to cancer or
reproductive side effects.
*Tocopheryl Acetate, also known as vitamin E acetate, might be toxic and could
cause burning, itching, hives, scaling and skin blistering.
*Colorants, such as D&C Red 36 and D&C Red 22 Aluminum Lake, are usually tested on
animals, plus some studies indicate that exposure may be linked to nervous system damage
and other health concerns.
*Bismuth Oxychloride, which is a known carcinogen.
Taking Action To Limit Lead in Lipstick
The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics urged the FDA to set a maximum limit for lead in
lipstick based on the lowest lead levels cosmetic manufacturers can feasibly achieve.
They also called on L’Oreal to make a public commitment to reformulate its
lipsticks to ensure the lowest possible levels of lead.
Note that the Skin Deep database was conceived and created by, and is run by, the
research team at the Environmental Working Group (EWG) in Washington DC.
They are also cofounders of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.
EWG has helped the coalition by using their Skin Deep database to monitor companies’
progress in meeting safe cosmetics standards.
However, Skin Deep is an independent EWG project.
What You Can Do
Because lead is a contaminant that is not listed on lipstick ingredient labels, it’s next to
impossible for us to avoid it completely.
But don’t let that stop you from taking responsibility, doing your homework and getting
The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics suggests that you:
–E-mail, call or write to the companies that make your favorite lipsticks and let them know that
lead-free products are important to you.
–Vote with your pocketbook: Don’t buy products that are harmful to your health.
-Be an informed consumer.
Fortunately for us, we can use EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database to find safety scores
for thousands of products.
They provide invaluable support in the struggle to keep consumers informed about what toxic
and potentially harmfully ingredients are in the hair, skin care, cosmetic and cleaning products
we often buy.
Vegan and Lifestyle Concerns
It is equally important to be aware of the fact that every ingredient in a product
labeled “natural” may not be as safe as it appears to be or harmonize with
your belief system, conscience, diet or lifestyle.
For example, vegans may not want to use products with ingredients that are
animal-based or tested on animals.
A few cases in point include:
Beeswax is derived from bees so it is not vegan.
Lanolin is derived from sheep.
Carmine –a common alternative to Red Lake petroleum dye– is derived from an
insect and thus is not a vegan ingredient.
Tocopherol, which isVitamin E, is actually a soybean oil byproduct–and many
commercial, soybean based products are GMO.
Mica, Titanium Dioxide, and Iron Oxide are suspect and implicated in minor
adverse health conditions, especially Titanium Dioxide.
Let’s Face Facts…
I’m really up in arms about this because lipstick has been near and dear to my
heart for most of my life.
And I know I’m not alone.
Sure, looking cute is important to us, but we’re worth so much more than
“just a pretty face”.
Wearing a lovely shade of lipstick should not be hazardous to your health.
Make it your business to be a savvy and informed consumer.
Do your homework before buying lip products or wear homemade.
Let’s be safe cosmetic activists and spread the word.
Note: A few important references:
400 lipsticks tested by FDA
Senators urge FDA to take action to reduce lead in lipstick
January 2012 advisory panel report to US Centers for Disease Control
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