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Benefit Cosmetics LLC

Lipstick and Lead: The Controversy and the DangerThe Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (CSC), a consumer rights group based in the United States, has reported that tests conducted in Santa Fe Springs, CA by the Bodycote Testing Group on 33 brand name red lipsticks revealed that 61% of them had detectable levels of lead. The levels reported ranged from 0.03 to 0.65 parts per million (ppm).


So what does that mean for those of us who probably use one of the brands tested?


Since lipstick is used on the lips, it naturally gets ingested in small quantities throughout the day – whether through eating or drinking or just the occasional wetting of the lips. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has not yet published a limit on the amount of lead that is allowable in lipstick, although it does limit the concentration of lead in other products such as candy (which is ingested in much larger quantities than lipstick) to 0.1 ppm (although until recently it was 0.5 ppm).


The CSC report claims that one third of the lipsticks tested exceeded that level. Of course, to be fair to the manufacturers, 39% of the lipsticks tested had no detectable levels of lead and no one is eating lipsticks by the bagful.


The FDA limits on lead in candy were established to prevent children from ingesting harmful quantities of lead. In high enough doses, lead can cause a variety of learning, language and behavioral problems. These include increased aggression and decreased scholastic performance. The risk of these conditions is increased in younger children. In addition, pregnant women are particularly at risk when exposed to lead as it has been linked to miscarriage and infertility.


But lipstick is not candy nor is it something likely to spend a lot of time in the mouth of a small child. Furthermore, there have been no cases in the United States of lead poisoning or contamination. The Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association issued a statement that said that lead was a naturally occurring element which was not added to cosmetics intentionally. According to the statement, the FDA does have limits on allowable lead levels in the colors used in lipsticks and other cosmetics and the products identified in the CSC report meet those standards.


One cosmetics manufacturer said in a statement that the amount of lead a consumer might be exposed to through lipstick "is hundreds of times less than the amount that she would get from eating, breathing and drinking water."


Dr. Mark Mitchell, president of the Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice countered this statement by saying, “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."


The debate will continue until (and perhaps after) the FDA issues a standard for lead in lipsticks. Until then, it’s up to you. If the possibility of there being trace amounts of lead in your lipstick worries you, a quick search of the Internet or a trip to the cosmetics counter can give you some brand name options that have not been shown to contain lead. This may be a good idea if you are pregnant or are trying to conceive. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

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