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?
Excuse the small digression, but I thought this was a topic worth tabling. New research done by the Center for Environmental Health has found significant levels of lead in many mainstream handbags, most certainly available at a store near you.
The Center for Environmental Health pulled purses from 100 top retailers to test—everyone from Target to Neiman Marcus and H&M—and found that out of 300 tested, 43 bags contained significant levels of lead.
Some purses, like one from Tory Burch, contained as much as 580 times the amount of lead allowed in children’s toys, which we can only hope is basically none.
According to California law—prop. 65, the same law that busted the Brazilian Blowout—these purses should come with a big fat warning sign.
Burch, who at least had the decency to comment, unlike Guess and others in the hot seat, said that she’s “appalled” and launching a full investigation. Given how disconnected companies are from the far-away factories that make their products, it’s not surprising that brands don’t always know what they’re putting out on the retail floor. But that’s no excuse, since according to this ABC report “hundreds of manufacturers” had already signed an agreement saying they’d limit lead in their products. In other words: They know it’s a problem.
Needless to say, lead is extremely toxic. It shouldn’t be in lipstick (but it is) and it shouldn’t be in the bags we carry all day, everyday—bags that hold all of our goodies, including snacks, and that rub against our skin and possibly our kids. There’s no question this stuff can get into our bodies, and being that lead’s a powerful neurotoxin connected to all kinds of awful, that’s the last thing we want.
In the ABC piece, Michael Green from CEH said that this is one of the highest levels of lead ever found in a consumer product. The worse culprits seem to be brightly colored bags—apparently lead helps them retain color—in plastics and vinyls. They recommend choosing leather instead. So vegans, in this case, be warned.
Of course, this opens up a whole can of worms that we try not to think too much about, regarding the chemicals present in all of our wearables. Is this a rabbit hole you’ve already gone down? And did you have any idea that these plastic purses—and presumably other accessories, like wallets, made from the same materials—were so incredibly toxic?
Well whad’ya know, even though they say it’s not a concern on their website, the FDA has done another study on lead in lipstick. You may recall that back in 2007 they found lead in 23 of the 23 lipsticks they tested—this time they found it in 400.
The worst offenders on the list were Maybelline’s Color Sensation in Pink Petal, which had 7.19 parts per million of lead, and L’Oreal Colour Riche in Volcanic, which had 7 parts per million. Several other brands, including Cover Girl and Nars had products hovering in the 4-to-5-parts-per-million range. (The average lead concentration found across the 400 lipsticks was 1.11 parts per million; click here to see the products ranked.)
The big news is that levels are now higher than the last time they tested. In the 2007 study, none of the lipsticks exceeded 3 parts per million. Never mind that the acceptable level for lead in water is ZERO, that lead accumulates in the body, that women and their boyfriends and their kids end up eating it off their lips, that lead is absorbed through the skin, and last but not least, that any toxicologist worth their salt will tell you that no level of lead is acceptable, because it’s a neurotoxin and proven to wreak havoc even in small amounts.
We’d be lying if this study doesn’t make us want to throw our hands in the air, flip a few birds, and then maybe throw something at a wall. Really, it’s gotten worse? Oh, and hey Maybelline: we meet again! Who wants to guess how many PPMs are in the new 14 hour? Who else is pissed?
The night before I left my parents’ house over the holidays, I came across my old stack of British Vogues from the 90s. Delighted, I flopped on the bed, chatted with my sister, and flipped absentmindedly, narrating as I went (“oh my g-d look at that jumper!”). And then there it was: an article about natural ingredients in beauty products, and how to source them sustainably (and locally).
Huh. So natural beauty was this on the radar in 1997? And so was the local movement? The article even mentions Jurlique, a brand that we covered often in the book (not knowing they’d been around so long).
My brain went from 0 to 100, from wow-that’s-so-cool-what-a-coincidence to why-the-hell-was-this-in-Vogue-back-then-and-not-now? Finally, if this was part of the dialogue in 97′ why isn’t fully mainstream today? Waaaaa.
We know, we know, stuff takes a long time. But natural beauty is just so awesome! While we can’t single-handedly take down the industry (and all of its propaganda) with one book and a blog, we can—each and everyone of us—help spread the word, one person at a time. Which a lot of you do (and we’re grateful). So I thought, let’s post a little primer on how to deal with naysayers, why not. Because if this isn’t as big as organic food by, oh let’s say 2027, we’re going to be seriously bummed.
What rebuttals do you hear most often from people? How do you respond? Here are some of our most common gentle confrontations…
- I don’t have time/it’s too overwhelming to figure out.
Most people assume that they have to go through all of their products and check which ones are OK, and which ones aren’t. But chances are none of them are. It’s so much less intimidating to seek out a few good lines, and a few trusted retailers, and stick with those instead of engaging in a drawn-out process of elimination.
To these people we say: “Just start by finding a few things you like to replace the products you care the least about and go from there.”
- Oh, but I use Khiel’s [or insert other greenwashed brand].
Honestly, if we had a dollar for every time we heard this… But it’s a great opportunity to explain to someone just how insidious greenwashing/false branding can be.
To these people we say: “Yeah it’s crazy, because language on products isn’t even regulated companies can get away with making all kinds of false claims, including ones about the product’s effectiveness.”
- There are more pressing issues, like what’s in food, water, and the environment.
It’s true, we live in a really polluted world and are exposed to all kinds of chemicals through other routes everyday. But that’s kind of the point.
To these people we say: “Exactly, and this is one of the few routes of exposure that we actually have control over. Why should we knowingly add to our chemical body burden when we don’t have to, and especially with products that are often ineffective?’”
- Is my lipstick really going to hurt me? It’s such tiny amounts.
This argument is a favorite of the pro-chem science community, often referred to as “the dose makes the poison.” It can be very convincing, especially when you’re talking to a toxicologist from inside the industry who has access to information that you don’t (picture us being patronized by these folks when writing the book). And yet, it doesn’t hold water, and there’s a whole other community of scientists that will tell you this: Neurotoxins like lead (which is actually in most lipsticks), and hormone disruptors like phthalates are shown to cause serious detriment even in the tiniest amounts. Ken Cook of the EWG does this great thing when he lectures on the subject, where he compares the often minuscule doses found in some of our most common medications, including the pill and anti-depressants. It’s very effective.
To these people we say: Well, what we just said. It’s kind of a longer discussion.
- Naturals don’t work.
This statement couldn’t be further from the truth, as many a clean beauty convert knows.
To these people we say: “Natural products are often more effective because they use higher levels of active ingredients. Mainstream companies load their products with ineffective fillers in order to cut costs.”
OK, your turn. What do you say to natural beauty naysayers?
Image of the Vogue taken on my iPhone
After all that lead talk, it’s no wonder that our friends at Well+Good went on a natural lipstick hunt. We’ve had lipstick on the brain too. Below is their post “7 natural red lipsticks that perform”—got any to add to the list? (Note: Not all of these are truly clean—we’re looking at you Korres—but the author says as much.)
There’s nothing more classic than a strong, crimson pout. (At least in my beauty world.) But many vibrant-hued lipsticks are packed with lip-drying chemicals, “accidental ingredients” like lead, and mineral-oil bases meant to lubricate bike chains not your lips. I get that pigments are still primarily chemical- and insect-derived, but what about the other 98 percent of my lipstick?
Is it possible to find a red lipstick that’s both highly natural and high-performance? We put seven reds to the test:
Vapour Organic Beauty Lipstick, $22, www.vapourbeauty.com
Shade we tried: Siren Tryst 412
Best for: Creating a matte, bee-stung look.
This red weighs in somewhere between a lip balm and a stain, but the color lasts for hours and fades naturally and evenly. Even better, it comes in sixteen shades.
What’s in it: 70 percent certified organic ingredients, wildcrafted botanicals, no chemicals, and beeswax and jojoba for base ingredients. Made with wind power, and sold in sleek yet biodegradable packaging.
Christopher Drummond Beauty Creamy Lip Stain, $22.50, www.christopherdrummond.com
Shade we tried: Arouse
Best for: Those who want a true, bold red with wet-look color. The first application goes on sheer, but it layers to desired (smoking hot) intensity, and is surprisingly long wearing. It comes in a small compact with mirror and mini brush.
What’s in it: For a killer color, it’s a pretty simple ingredient list of mostly organic jojoba seed oil, aloe leaf gel, beeswax, pomegranate, and grape seed extracts, and vitamin E.
Korres Raspberry Liquid Lipstick, $22, www.korresusa.com
Shade we tried: 56 Red
Best for: Liquid-gloss lovers.
It slicks on like a liquid gloss with a wand and quickly dries to a lush lipstick finish, making it a good day or night lip product. Though its prone to feathering at the lip line, it keeps lips soft for hours.
What’s in it: Korres’ marquee ingredients are antioxidant raspberry and pomegranate extracts and certified organic acai oil. The product is also free of parabens, mineral oil, and propylene glycol. But if you consult the list of ingredients, you’ll see it’s not a chemical-free or a truly all-natural choice.