Break Up with Your Makeup: It Could Be Toxic

Summer days are here, and romance is in the air. But before puckering up, you’d be wise to consider the results of a new analysis that found troubling levels of toxins in cosmetics–particularly lipstick.

Researchers at the University of California-Berkeley School of Public Health detected lead, cadmium, chromium, aluminum, and five other metals in 32 different lipsticks and lip glosses commonly found in drugstores and department stores. According to the report, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, some of these metals were found at levels that could have long-term health effects.

As far as I’m concerned, any level of any metal found in any makeup product is too much–particularly in lipstick or lip gloss, which are easily ingested and absorbed, bit by bit, by the person wearing them. The researchers in this study noted that even average daily ingestion of lip makeup, defined as 24 milligrams (mg) per day, could result in excessive exposure to chromium, which has been linked to stomach tumors.

High use, defined as 87 mg per day, could overexpose users to metals like manganese, which has been linked to nervous system toxicity.

It has long been acknowledged, but not necessarily well studied, that conventionally produced makeup contains numerous carcinogens, and might be harmful to our health. And it’s not only adults who are at risk–don’t you know a precocious toddler or young child just dying to try on Mom’s lipstick, or get all made up for Halloween or a school play? As the UC-Berkeley study found, lead is commonly found in lip makeup, and no level of lead exposure is considered safe for children. It can lead to decreased bone and muscle growth, nervous system and kidney damage, speech problems, and seizures.

Lead is undeniably dangerous to children, but ingesting or absorbing products containing lead and other metals on a regular basis can’t be good for anyone. The study focuses a lot on “acceptable” daily intake levels of these poisonous substances–but why is any level that is more than zero considered acceptable at all?

Like the cleaning-products industry, which is largely unregulated by the U.S. government and does not require manufacturers to disclose ingredients to consumers, there are currently no U.S. standards for metal content in cosmetics.

Interestingly, and as the study authors note, the European Union considers any level of cadmium, chromium, and lead in cosmetics unacceptable. Why don’t we?

Because the so-called “health” establishment remains lax on protecting consumers from the dangers of metals in makeup (and toxins in other personal care products), it is imperative to educate yourself. The Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database remains a wonderful resource for assessing just how safe–or not–your favorite lipstick, mascara, or foundation might be, and selecting the least harmful option. Rodale’s features natural, safe cosmetics. TheDailyGreen.com suggests actually reading those tiny ingredients lists on every item of makeup you buy, and opting for products whose lists have the most pronounceable names–they’re least likely to be carcinogenic. And be wary of makeup advertising two or three organic ingredients, as the rest of the contents could be synthetic.

Use common sense, do your research, and spread the word. If fewer people buy poisonous makeup, companies will be compelled to change their ways and adopt safer practices if they want to make money. The power, as always, is in your hands–or in this case, on your lips.

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by guest blogger Deirdre Imus, author and environmental health advocate

85 comments

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Jeorge B.5 months ago

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.8 months ago

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Timon B.1 years ago

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Raymen D.
Past Member 1 years ago

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Mac C.
mac C.2 years ago

Envirormental Working Group is a very helpful site. Thanks.

J J
J. J.3 years ago

Summer's here so I definitely need my gloss:D

Tanya W.
Tanya W.3 years ago

Thanks but I don't wear it enough but love it when I do.

Maurene T.
Maurene T.3 years ago

Made the switch to only organic and cruelty free cosmetics and body products.
There are many wonderful companies which are certified and it is not necessary to completely give up make up with so many great products available.

Shawn P.
Shawn P.3 years ago

When I was younger I couldn' t leave the house without makeup on! Now I realize I was beautiful without it, wish I could go back and tell my younger self that, ( and alot of other things too!! ) So I don' t wear makeup anymore, esp after I had a huge eye infections from old mascara, which I had put on for a special occasion. My eyes sealed shut with nasty pus, and I was unable to see for 5 days............lesson learned the hard way, as usual.....;-)

Genoveva M.
Genoveva M M.3 years ago

Thanks for is article.