Lead in your Lipstick

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently released its expanded survey/report on lead levels in lipsticks. Over 400 lipsticks were tested and all of them contain trace amounts of lead. The complete list can be found on their website. Currently the US FDA "does not set limits for lead in cosmetics," but  according to the web Q&A:

"FDA limits lead in color additives to maximum specified levels, typically no more than 20 parts per million (ppm) for color additives approved for use in cosmetics. In addition, the color additives listed under regulations in 21 CFR Parts 74 and 82 are required to be batch-certified by FDA, which includes testing each batch for lead, before they may be used in cosmetics."

Because lipstick is not intentionally ingested, it is mentioned that the minuscule amounts of lead found is not considered as a safety concern for the public.  For the record, it was observed that lead found in lipstick was higher than acceptable lead levels for candy (which is only 0.1 parts per million) but FDA maintains that candy is ingested, while lipstick is not because it's a topical product, and so they cannot be compared. 

On the other hand, groups such as Campaign for Safe Cosmetics say that this poses danger to the public because lead may cause cancer and other health defects such as learning disabilities and behavioral problems. They also say that lead builds up in the body (I don't know if bioaccumulation is the term for this) and continuous exposure, such as applying lipstick everyday, may cause lead levels to rise in the body over time, which may pose greater health risks.

I'm not trying to scare  people here, I'm just thinking out loud if this is something to be concerned about or not. I am a lipstick lover---if I could choose one makeup product to bring on a desert island, I'd choose lipstick. It's the easiest and simplest perk-me-up beauty product;  it brightens up the face and is a great confidence-booster. This issue here should be analyzed carefully, but not to point of giving out false information or misconceptions to the public. For instance, I remember those emails about gold rings, which are supposed to detect lead levels in lipstick by scratching them against the colors, and if they turn black then the lipstick has lead in it. It became viral and it was being shared by everyone to the point that even beauty columnists believed them. It makes me laugh now because these stories are completely false and you cannot detect lead in lipsticks with such a simple process! We need to be informed here.

This piece isn't meant to take sides, I think both parties have a point and I just want to share my thoughts on this issue:


  1. Let me say first that the FDA came out with a pretty comprehensive list. There is a good mix of drugstore and high-end brands, plus the variants and shades are specified. For  example, if you're a fan of Maybelline Color Sensational, a number of their shades do contain lead. High-end brands are no exception. Well-known shades such as Mac Cosmo and Lady Danger, or Clinique Black Honey also contain lead. They've also tested  Chanel, Dior,  Bobbi Brown, and  Lancome, and some of their lipstick variants also contain lead. So really it's a matter of consumer preference now whether they would still buy these shades or not. 
  2. Most of the top 10 (those with the highest lead content) are from Maybelline, NARS, L'Oreal, and Estee Lauder. . Personally I don't own a lot of lipsticks from these brands, with the exception of NARS perhaps, but I've only tried their lip pencils, not the specific lipstick shades they mentioned in the list.
  3. Natural/organic brands are not exempted---the eco-friendly Burt's Bees was also included in the list. Their lip shimmers contain lead. 
  4. I observed that most of lipsticks with higher lead levels are the pigmented ones or those with metallic finishes. Again that's just my general observation.
  5. I was surprised that Shiseido was also included in the list, being a Japanese brand, which I presume has stricter health and safety standards. 

So what now?

Again let me share my two cents on this issue:

  1. If you're being paranoid on this then you should avoid lipsticks mentioned in the list. It's a way of informing consumers that there trace amounts of lead in lipsticks which are considered to be very low and may not be health hazards. But then again there are those who believe that it's much better to be safe than sorry, so the list is a great way to start.
  2. It doesn't mean though that you should altogether ban or avoid the brands included in the list.  Again specific variants and shades were mentioned. Personally I'd be wary of the top 10, but other than that, the brands mentioned were already tested by the FDA and chances are a lot of their shades could be negative, or have lower lead levels.  I'd even be more careful on brands that weren't tested because I wouldn't have any idea on the lead levels in those products. 
  3. FDA should continue to monitor lead levels in lipsticks. This will determine if lead levels are increasing or not, plus it will keep cosmetic companies aware of the issue and they may impose self-regulation on lead levels in their products. Also,  newer variants and reformulations are coming out every year so it's best to keep up with the latest batches of lipsticks. For example, FDA tested Chanel Rouge Allures but they did not include Rouge Cocos. Rouge Allures have also been recently reformulated. Other brands like Shu Uemura or Laura Mercier were also not included in the test. 
  4. I'd say FDA should set limits for lead levels in lipstick. Currently they're still evaluating whether there's a need for it, as the levels found in lipsticks are still considered very low, but really, what if it does accumulate over time? I don't know of any study on this (if you know something please comment below) but it doesn't mean we should totally dismiss the idea. It's bad enough to inhale lead from smoke fumes and car emissions, so I don't see why it shouldn't be completely eliminated from lipsticks.
It would be great if you can share your thoughts, just leave a comment below!

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