Only On 6: Lead In Lipstick

For most women, applying lipstick is part of the daily routine, but many don't realize in order to get that perfect pout, it may mean coating your lips in traces of lead. The toxin was found in every brand the Food and Drug Administration tested. Newschannel 6 Lindsey Forst talked with a Texoma specialist about the potential health risks associated to lead in your lipstick.

Lipstick comes in every shade you can imagine, but something most women can't imagine is that the tiny tubes also contain a harmful toxin. The FDA this month is publishing the results of its investigation into lead in lipstick.  The agency did the tests in response to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics' survey that found traces of the toxin in a number of lipsticks on the market.

"The FDA released a follow up study that found lead in all samples of lead it tested and actually found levels four times what we found in our study," Lisa Archer said.  She is the director for the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.

Maybelline, L'Oreal and Cover Girl were among the brands earning a place in the top ten lipsticks with the highest lead content.  Of the 400 tested, the worst is Maybelline's Color Sensational Pink Petal with 7.19 ppm. The FDA has no set limits for lead in cosmetics, only specifications for the amount in color additives used in the products.

"What we're calling for is to update outdated laws. They're from 1938 and the industry has changed a lot. We have a 70 year-old law governing a $60 million industry. With thousands of products and thousands of new chemicals in the market, most of which has never been assessed for safety," Archer said.

While the FDA claims there is no safety concern with the amount of lead it found, Archer disagrees.

"It's a real concern for women of child-bearing age because they're putting lead-tainted lipstick on many times a day and eating a lot of that because, you know, the lipstick doesn't just stay on your lips it goes on your coffee cup, you lick your lips, you're swallowing a lot of it," Archer said.

While you do have to ingest lead for it to get in your body, Dr. Praveen Reddy, a blood specialist in Wichita Falls, was surprised to learn cosmetics you put on your mouth are so contaminated.

"Lead can affect any single organ system in the body," Dr. Reddy said, "Even very minimal lead poisoning in kids can cause long term neurological complications."

Dr. Reddy said while using the products every once in a while won't do any major damage, constantly reapplying might.

Marie Westerman said she puts lipstick on at least three times a day and has been for about 50 years. Rose Lopez is the same way. She reapplies two to three times a day, every day.

"If you are using it day in and day out over 30 to 40 years, it can accumulate. So, it can be detrimental later down the line," Dr. Reddy said.

Paying closer attention to the product label would be any easy fix, but the problem is, lead is considered a contaminant not an ingredient so you won't find it listed on the packaging. That leaves you with no way of knowing how much lead is in the lipstick you're about to buy.

"Ingredients are listed everywhere else, why not on that? They should list it," Westerman said.

"It's scary because leads dangerous and most women don't just put lipstick on their lips without constantly rubbing or moving your lips and your absorbing that and it could be dangerous over time. I think we need to let women be aware of it so they can make a good choice," Lois Anne Neal said. 
There are several bills working their way through the U.S. Congress which would require lead limits in cosmetics but, until then, groups like the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics are pushing companies  to make the change.

"We shouldn't have to worry about this problem.  We shouldn't have to be chemists to be able to find safe products and send our tube of lipstick to a lab to assure it doesn't contain lead. We know lead testing is pretty inexpensive test to do but companies just aren't doing it. They're not looking at the ingredients they're putting into their products to make sure they're not contaminated with lead because no one is requiring them to do so," Archer said.

Most of the women we talked with said they're still going to wear lipstick even after learning about the lead contamination, but they are willing to try a safer alternative. Archer recommends using all-natural products like Burt's Bees or colorless chapsticks.

Wet 'N Wild, one of the cheapest brands out there, makes the lipstick with the lowest level of lead testing at .026 ppm, indicating the contamination has nothing to do with the price of the products. Avon, Estee Lauder, Mac, Clinique and Lancome are just some of the brands listed on the survey. To see the FDA's expanded survey of lead in lipstick click here.