Pucker Up for a Dose of Lead

On Valentine's Day, sweethearts bestow millions of lipstick-stained kisses. But those smooches could include a dose of lead.

Lead is a nervous system toxin with no safe level of exposure, and the dangers of lead in drinking water and old paint rightfully cause the most concern. But many brands of lipstick also contain lead.

Lead can contaminate the mineral pigments that color lipsticks – particularly red lipsticks. In 2012, the Food and Drug Administration tested several hundred lipsticks from 20 popular brands. FDA scientists found lead in every one.

The European Union prohibits lead in cosmetics, and Canada limits its use in cosmetics. Lead is especially dangerous for pregnant women and those of childbearing age because it can cross from the mother’s blood into the placenta, causing permanent damage to the developing fetus’ brain. Babies exposed to lead are vulnerable to learning, language and behavioral difficulties. Lead has no place in products applied to the lips or anywhere else on the body.

Until manufacturers eliminate lead contamination or warn lipstick users of its presence, buyers should be wary. Lead content in the products tested by the FDA ranged widely, so it is clear that some companies are more careful than others. Manufacturers don’t have to disclose the presence of lead on the label, so consumers who want to avoid it should either skip wearing lipstick or find safer choices EWG’s Skin Deep® database.

Under current law, cosmetics companies like Mary Kay can put anything, including lead, in their products, and don't even have to disclose it. Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California and Susan Collins of Maine, and Reps. Frank Pallone and Leonard Lance, both of New Jersey, have introduced bipartisan legislation to subject the most dangerous cosmetics chemicals to FDA scrutiny.

It's long past time for Congress to finally subject cosmetics and other personal care products to FDA review. Getting to work on updating the law, which has been largely unchanged since 1938, would be a great Valentine's Day present.

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