Smart discussion about toxics policy reform

I’ll take my lipstick unleaded, please

You may have missed the Federal Food and Drug Administration’s latest study on lead in lipstick. After all, how many women peruse the latest ($35) issue of the Journal of Cosmetic Science while touching up for their next appointment?labellipstick

You’d hope you wouldn’t need to scour the scientific literature before choosing a tube from the makeup aisle, to make sure it’s not laced with a neurotoxic chemical.

Fact is, FDA has found lead in all 20 lipsticks tested, in significantly higher amounts than those that caused a minor media uproar when the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (CSC) tested lipstick in 2007. The FDA detected lipstick lead concentrations up to 3.06 parts per million (ppm), more than 4 times the maximum (0.65 ppm) measured by CSC.

Why the dramatic difference? FDA scientists say they used more powerful acids to extract lead, not only from pigments that impart color to the lipstick, but also from lead-tainted minerals like mica that add sheen to the lips.

Even so, FDA officials say not to worry. The study authors write that they expected to find these levels, because the agency permits up to 20 ppm of lead pollution in lipstick color additives. The levels, they pronounce in their official, online Q&A, are “not a safety concern.”

Not a safety concern. This is the same lead that the government ordered removed from house paint, gasoline, water pipes, and food cans because of the damage it does to a child’s brain. It’s the same stuff that several state legislatures have recently banned in the balancing weights attached to automobile wheels. The Environmental Protection Agency is pressing companies to eliminate lead wheel weights nationally.

At the same time EPA is trying to get the lead out of cars, FDA is defending its presence in lipstick.

Apparently, we need to tell FDA that lipstick should be at least as safe as wheel weights.

A few weeks ago my daughter, just home from a 9-girl slumber party, poured out the contents of her goodie bag onto the kitchen table.

When she got to the Wink Strawberry Sangria Shimmer Lip Gloss, she paused. “Mom, listen to this lip gloss label… ‘WARNING: NOT TO BE EATEN…FOR ADULTS USE ONLY… THIS PRODUCT CONTAINS LEAD, A CHEMICAL KNOWN TO THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA TO CAUSE BIRTH DEFECTS AND OTHER REPRODUCTIVE HARM.’ ”

“I don’t think Lindsey read this label,” she said, wide-eyed. “I’m not using this stuff.”

When I read the label myself, I saw the sweetener saccharin listed as an ingredient. But it’s not to be eaten? If it’s made for the lips and contains lead at levels that mandate a warning under California’s Proposition 65, why doesn’t the manufacturer take steps to reduce the lead in this “Made in China” lip gloss?

In its latest study FDA argues that the lead we swallow with our lipstick is too little to pose health risks. Independent experts disagree. “Since recent science suggests that there is truly no safe lead exposure for children and pregnant women, it is disturbing that manufacturers are allowed to continue to sell lead-containing lipsticks,” Sean Palfrey, M.D., a professor of pediatrics and public health at Boston University and the medical director of Boston’s Lead Poisoning Prevention Program, said.

When it comes to lead in lipstick, FDA could do worse than listen to the common-sense wisdom a 7th grader brings to the table.


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One Response to “I’ll take my lipstick unleaded, please”

  1. Annabelle Roggen says:

    When I read the ingredients label, I don’t see lead listed. How is one to detect its presence without a warning label?