Lead, Not The Only Metal Lurking In Lipstick

Back in 2007 the now well-known “Poison Kiss” report by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics found that some of the most popular lipsticks on the market contain varying amounts of lead. Lead, of course, is a heavy metal that wreaks all sorts of horrible havoc when it’s in the body; it’s been associated with everything from infertility to learning disabilities, muscular problems, and death. As such it’s been legally banned from products we’re exposed to in our daily lives, like paint.

But not lipstick. Even though we put lipstick on multiple times a day, and can accidentally eat  the stuff—you know, when it hasn’t already been absorbed into our bodies on its own. Lipstick. Not a great place for lead.

But new research being reported in this New York Times article has found that lipsticks host a whole bunch of other metals—from cadmium to aluminum. The study, published in the May issue of the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, found traces of cadmium, cobalt, aluminum, titanium, manganese, chromium, copper and nickel in 24 lip glosses and eight lipstick brands. They chose these specific lipsticks because they were the most popular among a set of teenage girls at a community health center in Oakland, Calif.

What’s more: The teenagers in the study reported reapplying lipstick and glosses as often as 24 times a day!

Aluminum, chromium and manganese registered the highest concentrations over all. Because metals tend to accumulate in the body, even trace amounts can still be a problem.

Then there’s this: While definitely much safer, it might be hard to know if some of the clean brands are totally free of metals. According to the article, mica—which is found in many of our favorite natural lipsticks—can sometimes be contaminated with metals. So just how crazy careful do we need to be?

I wear natural lipstick pretty regularly, though I don’t reapply it nearly as often as the young women in the study. If I’m being honest, a little mica is probably not going to keep me away from my favorite clean brands—but maybe I would feel differently if I was pregnant or had a small child getting into my stuff? TBD on that… What about you?

What lipsticks do you wear? How often do you reapply?

19 Responses to “Lead, Not The Only Metal Lurking In Lipstick”
  1. sos says:

    I never wear lipstick

  2. Rebecca Bailey says:

    When the pigment is natural mineral pigment, there will be metals at some level. I don’t think you can avoid it entirely. I wonder what the possibilities are for better processing methods that lower the concentration of the most dangerous ones. I tend to use brands that use mineral pigment vs. synthetic pigment (except Ilia, I was willing to give those a try and they worked out well). I apply lip balm like a thousand times a day, but if I’m using color it’s more like a max of three times.

    I’m thinking (hoping?) that the companies I buy mineral pigments from are aware of potential issues and consider this when sourcing raw materials. I’m sure I looked at this a bit when first researching cleaner companies, but I’m not recalling details.

    Pregnancy (or the associated planning stages, breastfeeding, etc.) are a different story. From the time I planned to try, through the pregnancy and to some degree the two years of breastfeeding, I cut out everything I could think of that would be remotely toxic. Hair dye and medicines were virtually eliminated, and cosmetics were changed/reduced. But I didn’t know as much about toxics then as I do now. If I were to go through that again it would mean a few more changes, if I were starting from the same place as back then. Now, I think all I’d have to stop is nail polish, and I’d look more closely at the lipstick situation.

  3. Carol says:

    Wow,Alexandra, this is such an important thing to think about – thank you for this great info. It makes me sad to think of the teen girls unintentionally exposing themselves to those toxins just while having fun using lipstick & gloss. I shudder to think what was in the lip glosses I used to use in my teens, 20’s & 30’s. We can only hope that by helping to educate everyone it will put pressure on the manufacturers to clean up the ingredients like the big changes we are finally seeing in household cleaners.

    @Rebecca – I also put on lip balm like 100x a day, thank heavens so many clean options to choose from in that area. Thanks to the great NMDL post on lip balms a few weeks ago, my daughter & I are enjoying the chocolate ones recommended :) as well as my continued favorite obsession with Tata Harper Be Fierce!

  4. Beth says:

    What are the safest lipsticks to wear then? :(

  5. Rebecca Bailey says:

    @Carol, so glad you are enjoying the Ganache! I’ve got my eye on Be Fierce to try one day.

  6. Carol says:

    @Rebecca – warning! Once you try Be Fierce you’ll fall in love with the quality & texture & very faint natural floral scent (I remember from another post you prefer lightly scented and this is) and become addicted like me and then be frustrated (like me) because its $24/tube!!! LOL :)

  7. Alexandra says:

    @Beth I still believe that the natural brands we use are far safer—just based on their ingredients. But metal contamination would be a really hard thing to to determine without going to the lab.

    Does anyone know of lipsticks that don’t contain mica?

  8. Sydney says:

    @Alexandra I don’t think they could really be considered lipstick but 100% Pure has these creamsticks that are completely fruit pigmented and have no mica. I’ve never tried them but I feel like they would have a similar effect to lipstick. The Naked Pink one looks especially pretty to me and I’m thinking about trying it out :)

  9. Rebecca Bailey says:

    @Sydney, the creamsticks are great. I reviewed one waaaaay back. I have the Berry.

  10. Colin says:

    I don’t think this story is ever going to go away. But just for the record, the level of lead and other metals in lipstick are nowhere near the levels of those metals in foods you eat without a second thought. If low levels of naturally occurring elements were indeed a problem the contribution from your makeup would be way down the list.

    But as it is we have evolved on a planet that has metallic elements and we are quite capable of handling them. There is no need to worry.

  11. Rebecca Bailey says:

    @Colin, I’m interested to know what foods in particular tend to have high levels, and why (like, is it purely a natural phenomenon, or is it because of human mining practices contaminating soil, etc.). Can you share links/sources?

    In any case, I’m not sure your statement, however true, means there’s no need to worry about cosmetics. Maybe we should just expand the realm of our concern. That said, as a happy user of mineral makeup, I know there will be metals in it at some level. I just go with companies I trust to take care in their formulations and sourcing.

  12. Colin says:

    If you are interested in researching this the information isn’t too hard to find Rebecca online – here is a good starting point. http://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=47cd6097-1589-4ace-b864-f5be64d20940 . One can prove whatever one likes by cherry picking scientific papers so do cast your net wide. Wikipedia is not a bad place for information on lead.

    Good luck. I think you’ll find it interesting.

  13. Rebecca Bailey says:

    @Colin, thanks for that link. From that and a few others I found on a google search, it seems that one can be safer if you avoid canned food, don’t prepare food where dust from construction may settle, and wash dirt off your fresh fruit and vegetables. This was interesting: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1475014/?page=5. I would imagine that based on my diet of (mostly) unprocessed food and basic good kitchen habits, there’s a reasonable possibility that for me the main source of metals I’m exposed to could be cosmetics. Something for me to think about it, and try to be cautious and informed. I’d love to see research that actually compares what people are exposed to in foods vs. cosmetics, on average and also someone like me who probably is not making average choices in either food or cosmetics.

  14. Maria says:

    I need bronzer recommendations for fair skin. Please tell me your favourites:)

  15. Jan says:

    I love the lipsticks and glosses of Mineral Fusion and Hemp Organics – have found some lovely colors by these brands (both sold at Whole Foods, other local health food stores). I also like what I have tried from 100% Pure (by online shopping) and I wear Tarte lipgloss (semi natural – available locally at Sephora). I reapply my lipgloss or lipstick approximately 10 times a day while I’m at work.

  16. Julia says:

    @Alexandra can you or anyone on the lovely NMDL staff do a post on lip scrubs with good ingredients and good results? I was tempted to buy Brown Sugar Lip Scrub by Sara Happ until I saw that one of the ingredients was “petrolatum”.

  17. Alyssa says:

    @Julia there are sooo many easy DIY lip scrubs that are super similar to the ones you buy. I know I like to buy things rather than DIY them (no trust in my DIY abilities), but these are really easy and you can make them super luxurious with different essential oils, etc.

  18. Kaitie says:

    Thank you for such a great post! I am a lip product junkie…its a problem! And I too and pretty young and am always so conscious of reapplying my lip products to make the look perfect! I only use cruelty free brands, but I am slowly moving toward natural and clean products too. It is really scary thinking that what I am putting on my mouth is dangerous, definitely going to reconsider my lip color choices!
    Thank you!!
    Stay sweet and stylish!

  19. Colin says:

    @Rebecca – I think you are being way more worried about lead than you need to be, but yes processed foods are inevitably going to be the biggest source in your diet. There are good reasons for steering clear of those kind of things anyway. The tiny traces of lead and other metals in lipstick are at the other end of the scale hazard wise. Not only is there not much in total, you don’t use very much of them either. On top of that most of them are incorporated into insoluble minerals that makes it almost impossible for your body to absorb them.

    The lead in lipstick story crops up with great regularity. It was an old story when I joined the cosmetic industry in the early eighties. I am sure it will carry on being spread for decades if not centuries to come. In the meantime billions of lipsticks have been sold and nobody has come to the least harm from using them.

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