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How Lipstick Endangers the Health of Women

Red lipstick

Women universally love lipstick for its flattering shades and its ability to enhance their natural beauty. Unfortunately, research shows that heavy metals and other chemicals lurk in many brands of popular lipstick. These toxins endanger the health of women everywhere.


In 2007, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics conducted a study to evaluate the levels of lead and other toxins contained in lipstick. The results were horrifying. Out of the 33 lipsticks tested, 61% contained lead.

Popular brands on the naughty list included:

• Maybelline
• L’Oreal
• Cover Girl

Lipstick from Maybelline ranked highest on the lead scale. The culprit was Color Sensational Pink Petal with 7.19 ppm of lead.

The study also found that women applying lipstick two to three times per day can ingest 20% or more of the daily consumption of heavy metals considered safe in drinking water. These metals included aluminum, cadmium, chromium, and manganese. In some cases, for instance when women reapplied lipstick often because of their job, they surpassed the daily exposure recommendation to these metals.

Lead is a potent neurotoxin. Medical experts have warned that there is no safe level of lead in the blood. According to Dr. Mark Mitchell, co-chair of the environmental health task force for the National Medical Association: “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 outcry sparked an investigation by the FDA in 2010, and the results of their study indicated that the levels of lead in lipstick were higher than ever. The agency detected lead in all 400 lipsticks tested, and the levels were 4 times higher than those previously discovered in the Safe Cosmetics study. It is frightening to acknowledge that the amount of toxins will only continue to increase in the cosmetic industry unless women protest by refusing to financially support products that will allow the continuance of this travesty.

The University of California conducted yet another study and their findings revealed that eight lipsticks and 24 lip glosses contained a total of 9 heavy metals including:

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• Cadmium
• Lead
• Aluminum
• Chromium
• Manganese

Heavy metals aren’t the only toxic threats that lipsticks pose to women. Lipsticks often contain parabens and fragrance as well.

Parabens are a chemical class of anti-androgens. We are seeing record numbers of women under the age of 50 being diagnosed with breast cancer. A study published in 2012 suggests that parabens do indeed increase the risk of breast cancer. One of the many products containing parabens are anti-perspirants, and the research (reviewed in an editorial published in the Journal of Applied Toxicology) determined that higher concentrations of parabens were found in the upper quadrants of the breast and axillary area where antiperspirants are usually applied. The paraben concentrations were up to 1 million times higher than natural levels of estrogen (estradiol) usually found in mammary tissue.

Fragrance is often a broad term masking hidden phthalates. Phthalates trigger the signal mechanism in our body that kills cells. This phenomenon is known as “death-inducing signaling”. Billions of cells die naturally in our bodies every day, but phthalates directly shorten the life span of cells. To learn more about parabens, pthalates, and other endocrine disruptors, check out my article here.

With the exception of aluminum, none of these metals are added deliberately as an ingredient. They end up in cosmetics because of contamination, making it difficult to detect and avoid them. A resource I depend upon in making my cosmetic choices is the Environmental Worker’s Group Skin Deep Database. On a toxicity scale of 1 to 10, you can depend on accurate research to base your decisions upon.

Estimates vary, but the general consensus is that women will ingest at least 3 lbs. of lipstick during the course of their lifetime and perhaps much more. Congress passed a law regulating cosmetics in 1938, and it hasn’t been updated since. This lack of regulations gives the cosmetic and skincare industries a lot of wiggle room when it comes to ingredients, and we are seeing a rise in the accumulation of product toxins.

I used to wear a lot of Rimmel lipstick because their shades were universally flattering to my skin-tone. I checked EWG’s database, and I didn’t check again for a long time because I remembered that the rating had been very good. It wasn’t until I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder that I decided to re-evaluate my cosmetic choices. The shades of Rimmel lipstick that I had continued to purchase had jumped from 2 to 10 on the toxicity scale in less than 3 years. Needless to say, I tossed 90% of my cosmetics in the trashcan.

I have discovered several natural makeup brands that I have personally researched and found safe for me. Everyone’s skin is different, and I believe that everyone should do their own cosmetic research to determine what is best for them. However, because we are on the subject of lipstick today, I will mention that I have been very satisfied with lipsticks and lip crayons from Mineral Fusion and Juice Beauty.

The sad truth is that no cosmetic company, even the natural brands, can be trusted implicitly. The amount of toxins lurking in the cosmetic industry is a travesty that we cannot allow to continue. As woman we must all become our own advocates and tirelessly protect our health. Our strength is inner beauty that no lipstick could ever hope to enhance.

Check out these other great articles by EMaxHealth: Prevent Breast Cancer By Making Your Own Aluminum Free Deodorant and Top 10 Personal Favorites in Non-Endocrine Disrupting Skincare Products.