The FDA recently analyzed 400 brands of lipstick and found lead in all of them. Some offenders are far worse than others: topping the charts are a couple shades from L’Oreal USA, with 7 parts per million in each tube of lipstick. The troubling part is that this isn’t a new problem: Care2 Causes brought attention to the FDA’s initial survey of 22 brands of lead-containing lipstick back in the summer of 2010, and we’ve run several petitions pleading for greater FDA oversight dating all the way back to 2008!
The FDA claims these small amounts of lead aren’t harmful – but lead poisoning isn’t something that happens all at once when exposed to the toxin in large amounts. More often, it’s a slow build-up of heavy metals in the body. If a woman is applying lipstick several times a day, and bits of it are ingested or absorbed through the skin, are these small amounts really “safe” once they accumulate in the body? The truth is, the research hasn’t been done, and no one really knows. How can the FDA say it’s “safe” when they haven’t bothered to actually study the potential harm?
The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics has been fighting with the FDA over this issue, literally for years, protesting that no amount of lead in makeup is a “safe” amount. The group has recently published a letter to the FDA questioning what appears to be a complete lack of any scientific research demonstrating the safety of trace amounts of lead in lipstick. You really should read the whole thing, but here’s a quick taste:
The CDC committee’s report identifies imported cosmetics as a risk factor for lead exposure in pregnant and lactating women. However, the FDA study on lead in lipstick indicates that lead is also a problem with cosmetics manufactured in the US. The new FDA analysis indicates that the lead in lipstick problem is more widespread than previously reported. Your new analysis found lead levels in lipstick more than twice as high as your previous report. As in previous studies, certain manufacturers consistently have higher lead levels than other brands. The most-contaminated brand, Maybelline Color Sensation made by L’Oreal USA, had lead levels more than 275 times the level found in the least contaminated brands, and more than seven times higher than the average found in all the lipsticks. Clearly, some manufacturers could be doing more to protect women from unnecessary lead exposure.
The letter also notes that after a year and a half, the FDA has yet to even respond to the Campaign’s concerns. It begs the question: how long is it going to take? How many people need to demand safe cosmetics before action is taken? You’ll have to forgive my skepticism, but I’m starting to genuinely wonder if the FDA cares about women’s health.
In the meantime, NPR’s Shots is recommending concerned women check out the list and opt for the brands with the least amount of lead. Considering the extent of the problem, maybe swearing off lipstick entirely is the best solution, at least until more research is done on the health effects.
Photo credit: Zitona