Leaded lipstick: How much is too much?

The FDA says, “our results do not show levels of lead in lipstick that would pose a safety concern.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports:

Lead is in many lipsticks. But is that okay?

Yesterday, the national Campaign for Safe Cosmetics highlighted an analysis of lead in lipsticks done for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The study found lead in all 400 lipsticks tested, with levels of up to 7.19 parts per billion.

Safe Cosmetics says this is more than twice the levels reported in a previous FDA study, and it has concerns…

Click for the debunking of the lead-in-lipstick scare by the Personal Care Products Council.

6 thoughts on “Leaded lipstick: How much is too much?”

  1. Ahh, this begs a light-hearted response. But, seriously, the PCPC website is a great source of information for product ingredients facts. I am not a cosmetics customer myself, but I check the label of everything else I buy and use, and of course, Google it. Something to consider, without being sexist, I wonder how concerned cosmetics buyers are about ingredients? Cosmetics are meant to hide and enhance, not reveal facts.

  2. Forbes published an article on this matter: http://www.forbes.com/sites/amywestervelt/2012/02/07/is-that-lead-in-your-lipstick-fda-tests-reveal-raised-lead-levels-in-u-s-lipsticks/

    Stacy Malkan (a leading light in the “Campaign For Safe Cosmetics”) replied, giving the usual data distortion. My response to her is below:

    Taking the highest figure from a study containing 400 data points is not a good way to evaluate the data. Given that the AVERAGE value from those 400 data points is 1.11ppm compared with 1.07ppm from the 2007 study, it is much more realistic to state that there is no statistical difference across the industry over that time period. In other words, it is not possible to claim that the situation is any different now than 5 years ago. Even if one takes the 7.19ppm and compares it to the limit for drinking water, it is 500 times higher, not 1,000 – so this represents an exaggeration of double the amount. The article is disingenuous in claiming a doubling of lead, as this applies ONLY to that single data point. If that same product (at 7.19ppm) was also tested in the 2007 study, it may have given the same result which, using the same logic as Ms. Westerfelt, would represent no change. A doubling can only be claimed if the lead concentration refers to exactly the same product. Any other claim represents dubious manipulation of the data.
    Let’s take the average figure from this study – 1.11ppm – and compare THAT to the limits for water. This gives us a factor of approximately 70 times higher in lipstick than in water (using the same logic). This, however, is not a good comparison, because water is completely ingested and any lead is probably bioavailable, whereas lipstick is not completely ingested, and neither is the lead necessarily bioavailable. Even if it is assumed that lead in lipstick IS bioavailable, let’s compare EXPOSURE. One study of 360 women (Food Chem Toxicol. 2005 Feb;43(2):279-91.) found a mean exposure to lipstick of 24mg/day. It would be unusual to use 0.1g of lipstick per day (and it would be even more unusual for the entire application of lipstick to be ingested, but let’s leave that to one side, for now). For lipstick to be as “dangerous” as water containing the maximum lead permitted, it would be equivalent to drinking only 7g of water per day. I do not know the average water consumption, and I guess it varies widely (and this would include water-based drinks, such as tea, coffee and beer, etc), but a single cup of tea represents somewhere around 70g of water, so it is safe to assume that actual water consumption for most people is several times greater than 70g. It is a simple logical path to then conclude that lip-stick is at least 10 times safer than drinking water. I have allowed a huge margin of error in this assessment of exposure to lipstick – a more likely figure for actual ingestion would be closer to 0.01g per day – equivalent, therefore to only 0.7g of water! This, without considering the probable lack of bioavailability of the lead in the lipstick. This article and your comments are highly misleading.

  3. The study found lead in all 400 lipsticks tested, with levels of up to 7.19 parts per billion.

    The EPA permits levels as high as 0.015 mg/L of lead in drinking water. That is equivalent to 15 parts per billion.
    Dene Godfrey? in reply to Stacy Malkan states; “Even if one takes the 7.19ppm and compares it to the limit for drinking water” Is it ppb or ppm? There is a big difference.

  4. @Brian – you might be surprised by how interested women are in cosmetic ingredients. Have a look at the many beauty blogs. It is a regular topic of discussion and it is often a very well informed discussion at that. It is actually proving quite a problem for scaremongers. Stacey Malkan referred to by Dene is a good example. Her rather inaccurately named Campaign for Safe Cosmetics has been steadily losing traction because whenever a scare story like this comes up somebody debunks it pretty rapidly and the debunking spreads just as virally.

  5. Tom was actually wrong about the lipsticks having lower levels than drinking water and you are correct – theb drinking water limit is 15ppb, but the lipsticks were at ppm levels. However, it is vital to consider the exposure rather than the absolute levels, hence my calculation in my response to Stacy Malkan. which demonstrates that, even if the lead in lipstick were bioavailable (which is unlikely) the exposure to lead in lipsticks is at least an order of magnitude below that of drinking water.

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