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Hundreds of Lipstick Brands Found to Contain Traces of Lead

  • Zulima Palacio

A chemical analysis of 400 popular lipstick brands, conducted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, has found that all the lipsticks contained lead, a toxic metal linked to severe health problems. The agency says the lead levels are so low that the products are safe, but health groups insist there is no safe level.

Women have always used lipstick to adorn themselves.

Today, many use it not once but several times a day. In a Virginia suburb, paramedic Denise Condetti says she loves lipstick. "I cannot imagine not using lipstick; I have to accent my lips," she said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says all 400 lipstick products it tested, in response to consumer and health groups, contain trace amounts of lead.

The FDA says the low levels of lead it found do not pose a safety risk. "It does concern me slightly but not to the point that would prevent me from actually using the products," said Condetti.

The US cosmetics industry sells products worth $50 billion a year. Halyna Breslawec is scientific director at the Personal Care Products Council, which represents more than 600 cosmetic companies. "Lipsticks are safe. Consumers should be not concerned about the safety of their lipsticks," she said.

For many years, lead was used in gasoline, paint and many other products. But growing awareness of the dangers lead poses, particularly to children and pregnant women, caused it to be banned from most consumer products.

The lead traces in lipstick come from natural pigments. The FDA has not set lead limits on these compounds.

The cosmetic industry's Halyna Breslawec was asked whether pregnant women should continue to use lipstick. "I think that is a personal choice. I can tell you, though, that the safe levels of trace lead elements that have been recommended by the industry and other groups, the calculations on what is considered safe, are based on pregnant and lactating women," she said.

Those assurances don't convince Jason Rano, director of government affairs with the Environmental Working Group, or EWG, a research and advocacy organization. "There is no safe level of exposure to lead," he said.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency calls lead a hazardous substance and says no safe blood levels have been established.

Rano says the EWG has posted a database on its website where people can learn the ingredients of personal care products they use... and whether or not they're safe. "You can enter your product right here with more than 69,000 products. There are nearly 1,500 lipsticks in here," he said.

Although the cosmetics industry says it has no plans to recommend changes in lipstick ingredients, EWG says it will continue to pressure Congress for stricter regulation of toxic chemicals, in cosmetics and other consumer products.