Lead in Lipstick

By Marcia Anderson

For us ladies, we may not think twice when putting on our favorite lipstick or getting a hair-straightening treatment to fight the frizziness, but exactly how safe are these beauty products? Truth is, these products may contain toxins such as formaldehyde (found in hair-straightening treatments) and heavy metals (such as arsenic and lead in lipstick) that are harmful to your health.

Lead is in lipstick either because the raw materials are contaminated with lead, or the pigment contains lead. Lead in lipstick is not new. In the 1990s, reports of analytical results from a commercial testing laboratory suggested that traces of lead in lipstick might be of concern. You could be paying a high and harmful price to get those ruby red lips each day.

A study completed by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (CSC) in 2007 reported finding lead in most brands of lipsticks.  The amounts found in some brands are of concern. FDA scientists found lead in all of the 20 lipsticks they tested. Lead levels ranged from 0.09 ppm to 7.9 pm.

Some people may think, “how much harm can something that’s just going on my lips really cause?“ Lead-containing lipstick applied several times a day, every day, can add up to significant exposure levels over time. Women swallow somewhere between three and nine pounds of lipstick over the course of their lifetime.

Unfortunately, on packages you will not see lead listed in its ingredients, but there are lists and other tips out there that can help when trying to find a safe shade to compliment your lips.  Stay away from products that say they are “not easy removable” or “longer lasting”. These lipsticks are not easy to “remove” because they contain more lead.

Don’t be overly concerned, however. There are a number of lipstick brands that have been tested and are found to be lead free. You can get plenty of information on these brands on the internet. And, here, in the New York Metropolitan area, you can find many of those brands at the corner drugstore.

Years ago, you could play with your mom’s makeup without her thinking they could be harmful. We now know that mom should exercise caution with her cosmetics. Our bodies store lead and having more lead in your system puts you at a greater risk of cancer and other health problems.  Remember, there is no safe lead level.

You may also want to look at your other cosmetics. The average woman applies 168 different chemicals to her face every single day. The average man applies only 85. But of the thousands of chemicals in today’s personal care products, only 11% have been tested for safety. What other toxic chemicals might be lurking in your cosmetics?

Concerned about lead in your environment? Go to www.epa.gov/lead , or call 311 in New York City or  the National lead hotline: 1-800-424-LEAD (5323).

About the author: Marcia is the bed bug and vector management specialist for the Pesticides Program in Edison. She has a BS in Biology from Monmouth, second degree in Environmental Design-Landscape Architecture from Rutgers, Masters in Instruction and Curriculum from Kean, and is a PhD in Environmental Management candidate from Montclair – specializing in Integrated Pest Management and Environmental Communications. Prior to EPA, and concurrently, she has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology and Oceanography at Kean University for 14 years.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.