A soft pink, a glowing red, even a cyanotic purple – millions of women and girls apply lipstick every day. And not just once: some style-conscious users touch up their color more than 20 times a day, according to a recent study. But are they also exposing themselves to toxic metals?
Most lipsticks contain at least a trace of lead, researchers have shown. But a new study finds a wide range of brands contain as many as eight other metals, from cadmium to aluminum. Now experts are raising questions about what happens if these metals are swallowed or otherwise absorbed on a daily basis.
“It matters because this is a chronic long-term issue, not a short-term exposure,” said Katharine Hammond, a professor of environmental health sciences at the University of California at Berkeley and the lead author of the new analysis. “We’re not saying that anyone needs to panic. We’re saying let’s not be complacent, that these are metals known to affect health.”
The issue first came to public attention in 2007 with a report on lead contamination in lipsticks, “A Poison Kiss,” by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. The Food and Drug Administration published an extensive follow-up in 2011, finding traces of lead in 400 lipsticks.
Both the F.D.A. and the cosmetics industry insist that the average lead level found, just above 1 parts per million, or p.p.m., poses no real or unusual health risk. “Metals are ubiquitous,” said Linda Loretz, chief toxicologist for the Personal Care Products Council, an industry association. “And this is a very small amount, too small to be a safety issue.”
But lead tends to accumulate in the body, noted Dr. Sean Palfrey, medical director of the lead poisoning prevention program at Boston University Medical Center. The F.D.A. itself sets a 0.1 p.p.m. safety standard for lead in candy intended for young children. “Not to mention that the C.D.C. acknowledged last year that no level of lead is really safe,” Dr. Palfrey said.