You may have heard it on your local nightly news, or spied the article on CBS News or in the Washington Post. Lead found in 400 shades from popular lipstick brands! "Poisonous Puckers" they scream, leading millions of people to wonder: "Am I killing myself in the interest of a perfect pout?" Well, unless you've recently been featured on the show "My Strange Addiction", probably not.
The lead on lead is a typical "scare tactic" story that has been going around for years. In the 1980s and 90s, news was made when a supposed copy of a lab test was leaked, revealing the presence of lead in a commercial lipstick. The issue cropped up again in 2007 when a report from The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics prompted an FDA investigation. Stories like this make great headlines and nice teaser stories to get people to tune in to the nightly news cast, but sadly, they only hold a kernel of real journalism.
In fact, FDA findings show that trace levels of lead found in the tested lipsticks "do not show levels of lead in lipstick that would pose a safety concern." It's important to note: no one is adding lead to their lipstick formulations. The lead detected in the samples are trace impurities from some of the minerals used to make pigments (these pigments, by the way, are the exact same ones used by mineral, natural and indie formulators. Thus, these companies are just as likely to contain traces of lead as the larger brands tested).
The truth is, the lead levels in lipsticks are FAR below safe levels. The average of the lipsticks tested contained 1.11 parts per million (ppm). The sample that tested the highest (Maybelline Color Sensational in Pink Petal, in case you're wondering) rang in at 7.19 ppm. To put this in perspective, children’s products in the U.S. are allowed to contain up to 100 ppm of lead. Anyone who has had a toddler knows how often their toys are in their mouths! Even more telling? According to cosmetic scientist Dene Godfrey, drinking just under one cup of water could expose you to over 400 times more lead than your lipstick!
Of course, it would seem like any exposure to a dangerous chemical should be avoided, but we are talking about an element that occurs naturally in our ecosystem; exposure is simply unavoidable. I can't say it any more clearly than the FDA:
"Is there a safety concern about the lead levels FDA found in lipsticks?
No. We have assessed the potential for harm to consumers from use of lipstick containing lead at the levels found in both rounds of testing. Lipstick, as a product intended for topical use with limited absorption, is ingested only in very small quantities. We do not consider the lead levels we found in the lipsticks to be a safety concern. The lead levels we found are within the limits recommended by other public health authorities for lead in cosmetics, including lipstick."