Organic Spa Blog

Lead In Lipstick, and Then Some

lipstick shmear

A recent study shows that your lubricous lipstick tube may hold concentrations of heavy metals like aluminum, chromium and manganese, too.

Lead in lipstick is a headline again, grabbing the lead in a story by Deborah Blum in this week’s New York Times.

We’ve all heard about the lead. But what you may not know about are the other metals in your lipstick (and gloss). A study published in the Journal of Environmental Health Perspectives in May, by S. Katharine Hammond, a UC Berkeley professor of environmental health sciences, along with a team of researchers, found up to eight metals, in addition to lead, in a variety of lipstick brands. (The brands were not named in the study.)

The metals—cadmium, chromium, manganese, cobalt, copper, aluminum, titanium, nickel—can cause adverse health effects, and most don’t even have a reason to be there. Aluminum is an additive, used to stabilize color. Titanium is a whitener, to adjust color. But the others, most likely, are contaminants that serve no purpose, except to put women (and young children) at risk.

Health Issues

Some of the metals are known to cause potential damage to the kidneys and the nervous system, especially in children (ie, little girls playing dress-up), whose bodies are smaller and proportionately absorb more. For adults, over the short term, exposure may not be a problem, but it does raise concern when the metals build up in the body over a lifetime of lipstick use, several times a day.

By now it is a well-established fact that many brands of lipstick contain at least trace amounts of lead, in amounts that beauty industry sources assure us is too small to cause concern. After all, trace metals are also found in water, air, and earth. But if they are all around us, and buildup is an issue, isn’t that greater cause for concern, not justification to keep them in our cosmetics and tell us not to worry?

Back Story

In 2007, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics published a report on lipstick and lead contamination called “A Poison Kiss.” In 2007 and 2010/11, in response, perhaps, to a wave of consumer outcry, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) studied and analyzed the lead content of lipsticks and found traces of lead in 400 lipsticks. But they also agreed with industry sources who said it is safe.

Here’s the thing: What woman wants lead in her lipstick? Why does there need to be any? Who ever thought putting lead and making other metals acceptable in lipstick—which millions of women and young girls apply and ingest several times every day—was a good idea?

An Alternative

There is an alternative, and it’s a good one. Many natural makeup brands are completely free of lead and synthetic FD&C dyes, and they look as stylish and sophisticated as any traditional products. The colors are achieved via mineral and botanical ingredients, and, in some cases—not for vegans, that’s for sure—carmine, which is derived from insect shells. The question is, why wouldn’t you use them?

Tip: If you must, apply a base layer of color with a lipstick pencil from a natural brand. Then, layer your lipstick on top, it will help reduce absorption

Stay tuned for a follow up on Top 10 lead-free lipsticks.


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