Your favorite shade of Marilyn Monroe red may contain lead, according to a recently updated test of lipstick by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The agency found that 400 popular lipsticks contained trace amounts of the toxin.
The worst offenders on the list were Maybelline’s Color Sensation in Pink Petal, which had 7.19 parts per million of lead, and L’Oreal Colour Riche in Volcanic, which had 7 parts per million. Several other brands, including Cover Girl and Nars had products hovering in the 4-to-5-parts-per-million range. (The average lead concentration found across the 400 lipsticks was 1.11 parts per million; click here to see the products ranked.)
That’s higher than what the FDA found in its first lipstick-lead test in 2007, which looked at 20 lipsticks and found lead in all — but none over 3.06 parts per million. In that test, all the products fell below the safety limit recommended by the state of California — 5 parts per million — the most stringent law in the country on lead in consumer products. While several of the products included in the recent analysis exceeded the lead levels measured in 2007, all but two still fell under the California threshold.
MORE: Lead Poisoning Could Lurk in Spices
The FDA first began testing for lead in lipsticks in response to pressure from the consumer group Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, whose own 2007 test of 33 lipsticks found lead in most of them. The group has long called on the FDA to set a lead limit for lipstick, but the agency has resisted, saying that the amount of the toxin found in lipstick poses no risk to consumers, especially since so little of the makeup is actually ingested by wearers.
“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,” the FDA said on its website.
In a letter to the FDA last week, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics countered that “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” — a particular concern for millions of women of childbearing age, the group said. Citing a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stating that no amount of lead is safe for children and that exposure in both children and pregnant women should be prevented, the group pushed the FDA again to set a maximum allowable limit for lead in cosmetics.
“We want to see the FDA recommend a limit based on the lowest level a company can achieve, like candy manufacturers are required,” says Campaign for Safe Cosmetics co-founder Stacy Malkan. The group also launched a video contest for consumers to send videos and photos appealing to cosmetic companies to rid their products of lead.
Exposure to lead can cause learning, language and behavioral problems in children and has been linked to lower IQ; exposure in pregnant women can interfere with development of the fetus.
MORE: Eating a Regular Breakfast May Help Reduce Lead Poisoning
So how much lead exposure is acceptable? Reports Forbes:
To put the latest lipstick lead levels in context, the EPA’s maximum allowable lead level in drinking water is 15 parts per billion. The EPA’s goal for lead in drinking water is zero, which is what consumer advocates would like to see happen in consumer products as well. In the case of lead in lipsticks, the jump from a maximum of 3.06 ppm to 7.19 ppm is disconcerting; most consumers would prefer to see those numbers decreasing as opposed to more than doubling in three years.
Lead is never intentionally added to cosmetics. According to the Personal Care Products Council, a trade group that represents the cosmetics industry, “lead is found naturally in air, water, and soil. It may also be found at extremely low levels as a trace contaminant in the raw ingredients used in formulating cosmetics, just as it is in many thousands of other products.”
Although the FDA does not believe that the lead in lipstick poses a safety concern, it noted on its website that it is “evaluating whether there may be a need to recommend an upper limit for lead in lipstick in order to further protect the health and welfare of consumers.” No formal proceedings are taking place yet.
MAGAZINE: Friends With Benefits: The Science of Animal Friendships