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July 2013

Do Toxic Metals Lurk in Your Lipstick?

Many women pucker up with shades like Ripened Red, Plum Luck, and Instant Mocha. Coloring the lips has been a beauty basic for centuries. A recent study, though, questions whether a daily dab of lipstick or gloss is a harmless habit.

Less-than-desirable ingredients

In a recent issue of Environmental Health Perspectives, researchers detailed how they analyzed the ingredients in 32 different products of lipstick and gloss. Using a scientific machine called a spectrometer, they discovered that all the products contained various amounts of toxic metals. The results included lead, cadmium, chromium, aluminum, and magnesium.

Photo of a woman applying lipstick

These metals are naturally found in the environment. But they can be harmful to humans if inhaled or ingested in high amounts. In particular, cadmium and chromium are known carcinogens. That means they may cause cancer. And because of its toxicity, lead has been outlawed in building materials and other consumer products for more than 30 years.

So why might your lipstick or lip gloss contain such metals? They may be introduced during manufacturing. Machines used to make the products may have lead or other metals in their paint or parts. Plus, pigments used to create our favorite shades may naturally contain these less-than-desirable ingredients.

At a loss for lipstick

You may feel compelled to toss out all your lipstick. But that may not be necessary. Although toxic metals have been found in various lip-coloring cosmetics, typical use will likely not expose you to high enough levels for concern.

That's the conclusion from past research by the FDA. Researchers looked at the lead levels in more than 400 types of lipstick. They found that all the products had varying amounts of lead. But because women ingest very little of the products once applied, the FDA deems them safe for their intended use.

To protect consumers, the FDA already closely monitors lead levels in color additives. But it doesn't test cosmetics for all harmful ingredients. For now, manufacturers are responsible for their products' safety.

You can limit your own exposure to lead and other metals by applying lipstick less often. You may also want to keep children away from lip products. Lead at any level is unsafe, especially for little ones.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information. 

Using Cosmetics Safely

Applying makeup every day is a common beauty ritual. Follow these tips from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to practice proper cosmetic safety:

  • Always use cosmetics as intended. Pay attention to any warnings or cautions on the label.

  • Wash your hands before applying any makeup.

  • Never share cosmetics.

  • Never dilute makeup with water or saliva.

  • Store cosmetics in a cool place. Temperatures above 85 degrees F (29 degrees C) can degrade products.

  • Tightly secure lids and caps.

  • Don't use makeup that has changed color or smell. Mascara, in particular, may not last longer than three months.

  • Avoid using a product if it gives you a rash or other bad reaction.

For more details on how the FDA keeps cosmetics safe, click here.

Online Resources

FDA - Lipstick and Lead: Questions and Answers

National Women's Health Information Center - Cosmetics and Your Health

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