Poison Makes Me Pretty

So lipstick not only tastes like a bizarre combination of paint, paste and chalk, costs way too much money and dries out your lips, according to a new study it might also be dangerous to your health. Maybe all of that lead makes it last longer? Or makes the color prettier?

Lipsticks tested by a U.S. consumer rights group found that more than half contained lead and some popular brands including Cover Girl, L’Oreal and Christian Dior had more lead than others, the group said on Thursday.

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics said tests on 33 brand-name red lipsticks by the Bodycote Testing Group in Santa Fe Spring, California, found that 61 percent had detectable lead levels of 0.03 to 0.65 parts per million (ppm).

Lipstick, like candy, is ingested. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a coalition of public health, environmental and women’s groups, said the FDA has not set a limit for lead in lipstick.

One-third of the lipsticks tested contained an amount of lead that exceeded the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s 0.1 ppm limit for lead in candy — a standard established to protect children from ingesting lead, the group said. Thirty-nine percent of the lipsticks tested had no discernible lead, it said.

“It’s critical that manufacturers reformulate their product,” said Stacy Malkan, a co-founder of the coalition. “It’s possible to make lipsticks without lead, and all companies should be doing that.”

Lead can cause learning, language and behavioral problems such as reduced school performance and increased aggression. Pregnant women and young children are particularly vulnerable to lead exposure, the group said in its statement. Lead has also been linked to infertility and miscarriage, it said. (emphasis mine)

This is one of those days when I’m glad that I found feminism in college and stopped wearing almost all makeup instead of, like many women, started wearing more. I say that not to judge women who do wear makeup or say that makeup-wearers are not feminists, but because, well, I am really glad.

And of course, the cosmetic companies have done nothing but deny, deny, deny:

The Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association trade group said in a statement that lead was a naturally occurring element that was not intentionally added to cosmetics.

The FDA has “set strict limits for lead levels allowed in the colors used in lipsticks, and actually analyze most of these to ensure they are followed,” the association’s statement said. “The products identified in the (CSC) report meet these standards.”

L’Oreal’s U.S. arm said its products are reviewed and tested by a safety team that includes toxicologists, pharmacists and doctors.

“All the brands of the L’Oreal Group are in full compliance with FDA regulations” as well as safety requirements in international markets, L’Oreal USA said in a statement.

Yeah, the lead occurs naturally . . . and yet, 39% of lipstick didn’t have any lead. Funny how that works.

I encourage you to spread the word, but the sad thing is, how many women are going to stop wearing lipstick because of this study? I imagine extremely few. My mom is a lipstick fanatic — and mostly uses L’Oreal. I intend on telling her, but hardly expect a change. How many beauty magazines are going to even report the results, let alone stop actively recommending brands that have been found to contain dangerous substances? And what about all of those women who have a job where they are forced to wear makeup as part of “professional dress?”

And according to the Campaign For Safer Cosmetics, who has conducted this study, lipstick is far from being the only offender. In fact, other personal grooming products like shampoo, deodorant, etc. can also contain potentially harmful chemicals . . . and I don’t mean just for the environment. Also, “natural” doesn’t necessary mean “safe.” Unknown to me until this morning, the FDA does not have to review or approve the chemicals that go into personal care products. Not only do they not test the products, they also don’t monitor the effects of any commonly-used chemicals on users.

I try to use as many natural products as possible (a Burt’s Bees fanatic, here!), but reviewing all of the products I use, I’m far from out of the woods. The Campaign for Safer Cosmetics has a list of safer companies— most major cosmetic companies have refused to sign. Of course, the “safe” products also tend to be harder to find and more expensive, putting them out of reach for many women. But if you do insist on wearing — or have little choice but to wear — cosmetics, do your best to be safe about it.

UPDATE: The FDA has agreed to look into the lead claims. That will be interesting.

0 thoughts on “Poison Makes Me Pretty

  1. Lancastrian

    Not to imply that major cosmetic companies have our best interests at heart, but I feel the comparison to the allowable lead in candies is misleading, considering most women who wear lipstick on a regular basis have significantly more body mass than children and do not consume entire sticks of lipstick whole. My skepticism comes in large part from this article on snopes: http://www.snopes.com/medical/toxins/lipstick.asp

    I agree though that since it is entirely clear that perfectly good lipstick can be made without lead, there really is no excuse for having it in there. CARGO lipstick, anyone?

  2. Cara Post author

    I agree that the lipstick to candy comparison is not a perfect one. I would argue, though, that while small children are likely to eat a few pieces of candy a week, women who use lipstick are likely to apply it several time a day.

    We also have nothing else to compare lipstick to, since the FDA has no regulations on how much lead can be in cosmetics. The snopes article talks about how the FDA regulates dyes used on cosmetics, and this is true. But it’s also perfectly possible for dozens or even hundreds of other unmonitored chemicals to be present. The fact that the FDA is not monitoring cosmetics, I think, is definite cause for alarm. While you’re skeptical of the study, I’m skeptical of anything that the FDA does or says after reading Fast Food Nation.

    Also, little kids do play with lipstick. I played with my mom’s as a kid. And yes, I am pissed that we spend an awful lot of time and effort making sure that things are safe for kids (as we should), but when it comes to adult women we just say eh, fuck it.

  3. Stupendousness

    “But it’s also perfectly possible for dozens or even hundreds of other unmonitored chemicals to be present.”

    Perhaps not.

    There are articles on the web that talk about “trade and consumer protection” laws in the US and other countries that require testing of the ingredients in cosmetics. However, I have not been able to find (in the short time I looked – I should be working instead) exactly which laws those are and what they stipulate.

  4. Cara Post author

    A quote from the a link in the post:

    From the FDA website:

    “The regulatory requirements governing the sale of cosmetics are not as stringent as those that apply to other FDA-regulated products… Manufacturers may use any ingredient or raw material, except for color additives and a few prohibited substances, to market a product without a government review or approval.”

  5. Rich

    The cosmetics industry, and all industry in fact, would do well to study cradle to cradle design. It’s rooted in ecological sustainment, but the theory has created real-life, tangible products minimizing artificial and harmful agents in everyday products to buildings. It would be to everyone’s interest to promote such forward thinking to people around you. Here are some case studies about the concept.


    Plus, you can read the book, Cradle to Cradle, and see for yourselves. Cosmetics is a prime industry to benefit from the ultimate cost savings and health benefits of such a superb theory.

  6. Rich

    Check this out for more info as well, pertaining specifically to cosmetics, in home products, etc.


    Sorry I keep pushing the point on a blog that may not have this issue as one of its primary aims, but the lipstick issue speaks to a larger issue that can first be combated by consumers making informed decisions on the products they buy and what they can do to you, and spreading the word.

  7. misscripchick

    my prof was telling a story today about how his daughter went into her mom’s room and started throwing away all her mom’s lipsticks… of course he had to be like “uhhh we should probably wait til mommy comes home!”

  8. Ken

    Lead has been outlawed in household paints since, I think, the late 1960s.

    We’ve had lead free petrol for about 20 years.

    Why, oh why is Lead still allowed to be put in lip stick!!?


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