Lead Levels in Many Lipsticks Higher Than Reported
But new FDA analysis does not create 'safety concern,' agency says
WEDNESDAY, Sept. 2, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- A new analysis finds lead levels in many lipsticks are higher than those reported in 2007 by the consumer advocacy group Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.
This new analysis, conducted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and published in a recent issue of the Journal of Cosmetic Science, used new techniques to determine the lead levels.
Despite the findings, the agency reiterated its stance on the issue.
"Lipstick is a product intended for topical use, and is only ingested incidentally and in very small quantities," said FDA spokeswoman Stephanie Kwisnek. "FDA does not consider the lead levels that it found in lipsticks to be a safety concern. FDA also notes that the lead levels that it found are lower than limits recommended by other public health authorities for lead in cosmetics, including lipstick."
The Personal Care Products Council, which represents the cosmetic and personal care products industry, agreed.
"[FDA] . . . found the lead levels present to be safe and well below limits recommended by international regulatory and public health authorities," the council said in a statement. "Consumers who use lipstick ingest only a tiny fraction of the lipstick they apply, and much of the lead that is ingested in that tiny fraction of lipstick is not biologically available because it is trapped inside larger particles and excreted by the body."
A medical expert agreed that the levels are still low, but wondered if they could build up to more toxic amounts, especially in fetuses and children.
"If you put this on your mouth every day, or little kids' mouths or when you're pregnant, is this small amount of lead building up in a way that would actually affect infants, fetuses and young children significantly over time?" asked Dr. Sean Palfrey, a professor of pediatrics and public health at Boston University School of Medicine and medical director of Boston's Lead Poisoning Prevention Program.
"[These levels are] unlikely to actively harm most children, but they could, so why do it?" he added.
This new study used a technology called "inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry" to assess lead levels in 22 different lipsticks, all in shades of red.
According to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, the average level of lead found in the lipsticks -- 1.7 parts per million -- is more than 10 times higher than the standard imposed on candy.
The group called on the FDA to "immediately set standards to require manufacturers to minimize lead in lipstick to the lowest achievable levels."
FDA does have authority to regulate color additives in cosmetics, but not other ingredients.
The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics study from 2007 tested 33 top-brand lipsticks sold in the United States and showed that more than half had detectable levels of lead, with 11 exceeding 0.1 parts per million, the federal lead limit for candy.
L'Oreal, Cover Girl, Christian Dior and Maybelline were among the brands found to have high lead levels. For example, L'Oreal Colour Riche True Red had a lead content of 0.65 parts per million, L'Oreal Colour Riche Classic Wine had 0.58 parts per million and Cover Girl's IncrediFull Lipcolor Maximum Red had 0.56 parts per million.
In the current study, FDA said that lipsticks from three manufacturers had the highest amounts of lead, but it did not specify the brands.
"It's apparent that basically no lead is really good for you, so if you're a company that's making a cosmetic, why include lead at all when you can make a perfectly equal adequate product without lead?" Palfrey said.
The burden of facilitating change rests largely with consumers, he added.
"Don't buy it," Palfrey said.
On its Web site, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that "because no threshold for adverse health effects in young children has been demonstrated [no safe blood level has been identified], all sources of lead exposure for children should be controlled or eliminated."
The FDA has more on lipstick and lead.