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Metals in Lipstick Troubling: 8 Tips to Avoid Health Risks

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
New concerns over metals in lipstick

Scientists from California have analyzed the health risks associated with lipstick and lip glosses that contain lead, cadmium, chromium, aluminum and five other metals. The researchers have found high levels of metals in the cosmetics that they say are concerning


For their study, University of California, Berkeley scientists measured the concentration of toxic metals and then looked at how often a consumer is likely to use the cosmetic. Then they compared the amount of the toxins we might absorb with existing health guidelines.

Toxic metals in lipstick could have long-term health effects

The study authors say the presence of toxins in lipstick is not the problem. It’s the levels that can add up that are also not regulated in the U.S.

With average use it is possible to absorb chromium through the skin or by ingesting lipstick in high enough amounts to raise concern about stomach cancer.

Katharine Hammond, professor of environmental health sciences at UC Berkeley said in a press release some of the levels of metal are high enough to “possibly have an effect in the long term.”

High use of the products could also mean excessive exposure to aluminum and cadmium, in addition to manganese that can cause neurotoxicity.

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The scientists found lead in 24 of the lipsticks at levels that are lower than what is considered safe daily intake. Their concern is for children who sometimes play with cosmetics. No level of lead is considered safe for kids.

The authors point out that the European Union considers any level of cadmium, chromium and lead in cosmetics to be unacceptable. They suggest a large survey of lipstick brands is warranted. The study was small, but included commonly available lipsticks and lip glosses used by Asian women in California.

The researchers aren’t saying you should toss your lipstick in the trash – at least not yet, but they do think the U.S. Food and Drug Administration should pay more attention to toxic metals in lip products. There are currently no standards for metal levels in cosmetic in the U.S.

How to avoid toxins in personal products

  1. If you are concerned about toxins in lipstick, consider making your own. The activity can also be fun for children as well as non-toxic
  2. Search the Environmental Working Group (EWG) Skin Deep database for safe cosmetics and sunscreens.
  3. Don’t rely on so-called natural lipsticks and cosmetics for safety. Read the ingredients thoroughly and see if they are listed on the EWG database. Look for the USDA organic logo on your makeup that means strict organic standards have really been used – but still read the ingredients.
  4. Understand that reapplying lipstick throughout the day can result in significant amounts of lead exposure. Chemicals that are potentially harmful are in other products we use like lotions and soaps.
  5. Call your cosmetic company to find out if they have a policy to protect consumers from lead in lipstick and other cosmetics.
  6. Minimize or avoid use of L’Oreal lipstick that is one of the top 3 highest lead-containing lipstick brands. Next on the list are Cover Girl and Maybelline.
  7. Don’t let children play with your makeup.
  8. Check the FDA website to see if your brand of lipstick contains lead.

Environmental Health Perspectives
May, 2013

This page update May 3, 2013