Is lead hiding in your lipstick?
Public pressure marks a triumph. On September 5, 2013, Procter and Gamble, the multi-national, multi-billon-dollar maker of Cover Girl, Always, Pantene, Herbal Essences, Olay, Tide, Crest, and Ivory, among other brands, finally announced a ban on two nasty toxins used to make plastics more flexible and fragrances more eternal. Some of the synthetic scents that linger in elevators and restrooms will have to get reformulated by 2014.
“The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics congratulates P&G for taking bold and globally-significant action to protect the health of its 4.8 billion consumers by eliminating two dangerous toxic chemicals—triclosan (link to my triclosan piece) and DEP—from all its products,” says Janet Nudelman, co-founder of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and Director of Program and Policy at Breast Cancer Fund.
Considering the mind-boggling array of products produced by the consumer products giant, and the stakes involved in ensuring that their brands continue to dominate the market, chemists should also take another step to analyze the onslaught of chemicals across the entire personal care industry.
Our question: Will the elimination of two toxins make their products safe?
Bionsen, a British natural deodorant company, reported in November 2009 that women in the UK wear approximately 515 different chemicals on their bodies each day. These chemicals accumulate from the use of lotions, moisturizers, foundation, hair sprays, lipsticks, blush, fake tanning creams, and perfume, among other toiletries.
The vast majority of the 2016 women polled were not concerned and only 10 percent routinely shop for chemical-free products.
Many Americans share the same responses. When The Environmental Working Group (EWG) reported in 2008 that teenage girls are exposed to a Molotov cocktail of chemicals from cosmetics and body products that interfere with puberty, the story slipped away from national headlines, allowing many of those toxic ingredients to continue to pop up in mainstream cosmetic products, notably parabens in perfume and lead in lipstick.
No stranger to the lipstick issue, the FDA has been conducting follow-up studies ever since it concluded that every one of the 20 brands it tested in 2007 contained levels of lead. Studies conducted in 2009 and 2012 found an increasing amount of lead—as much as 7.19 parts per million. Of the 400 lipsticks sampled in 2012, Maybelline topped the list as the maker of the most lead-laden lipstick. L’Oreal took silver, NARS bronze, and Cover Girl got a notable mention in fourth place.
While the FDA remains remarkably tongue-tied about the hazards of lead in lipstick, government agencies elsewhere are outspoken. As reported in an advisory notice from the FDA in the Philippines, where knock-off lipsticks from China allegedly vex health officials across the country:
“Lead is a proven toxicant that accumulates in the body through constant exposure and absorption over a prolonged period. Health problems through chronic ingestion of high level of lead in lipsticks may manifest as neurologic, hematologic, gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, and renal problems.”
According to Mark Mitchell, MD, MPH, policy advisor of the Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice and 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 significant levels of exposure.”
Nevertheless, according to the FDA, if you use lipstick “as intended,” there are no safety concerns. And that’s why the FDA has set no limits on the amount of lead in lipstick. We all know how to use it properly. We don’t use it every day and we never catch our children playing dress up.
Lipstick Plus A Load
If only it were lipstick.
The FDA’s assertion that the lead levels in lipstick are not a safety concern may be true for each isolated dab of Revlon or L’Oreal, but it’s slicing and dicing the issue. Women don’t stop the cosmetic party at lipstick. Instead, a typical beauty regimen includes hairspray, blush, creams, perfume, moisturizers, and a host of other products with “permissible” chemical levels. It’s this untold combination of chemicals and their accumulation in each individual body that renders a single-product study, at best, incomplete.
Alternatives for moisturizers and creams such as E3 Live Light Crème are gradually gaining exposure and help lessen the toxic load. With a cosmetic industry entrenched in mass production that is slow to change, consumers, particularly women and teens, should consider dumping commercial formulations for homemade avocado concoctions and natural skin care lines such as PurO3, which uses organic oils and ozone only. And of course there’s always the option of clearing out the cupboard, dumping all those chemicals, and living make-up free.