So many of us smear our mouths in lipstick multiple times a day, but how often do you stop to think about what exactly is in it? Well, here's one terrifying ingredient it might have: lead. Lead? Yes, and lead is some serious shit. So just how much danger are we all in if we want to keep our lips looking sumptuously kissable? It depends on whom you ask, but the FDA is looking into it..
Fears about lead in lipstick actually date back to ye olde 1990s, but in 2007 the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics found that two-thirds of the 33 red lipsticks they tested contained lead, and that one third had levels above what the FDA allows in candy. In 2008, the FDA did its own tests on 20 lipsticks and then expanded their testing to include 400 lipstick shades in their most recent study, which was released recently. They found that many of them were indeed contaminated, but it's not at all clear that the lead levels in any of them are dangerous.
The FDA says you can't equate the risk of lead in lipstick to the risk of lead in candy, which is obviously intended to be consumed. They maintain that since lipstick is for topical use, you only end up ingesting only a small amount. That's probably true, considering how much of it ends up on forks and glasses and smeared all over your face. In the end, the FDA says that they, "do not consider the lead levels we found in the lipsticks to be a safety concern." For reference, Halyna Breslawec, a scientist for the Personal Care Products Council, which is a trade group that represents the cosmetics industry, says the council has petitioned the FDA to set the limit of allowable lead to 10 parts per million. Even the most lead-y lipstick on the list only has 7.19 ppm. And the average amount in the 400 lipsticks tested by the FDA was 1.11 parts per million.
So why does your lipstick have any lead at all? Don't worry, it's not intentionally added in by secret communist agents or anything; rather, Breslawec says that many of the color additives used to make it so pretty are mineral-based and contain trace levels of lead, which is naturally found in places like soil, water and air.
When you put it like that, it doesn't sound too harmful, but the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics disagrees. They refer us to other federal research that found there's no safe level of lead exposure for kids, who of course don't usually wear lipstick. But, as the campaign said in a statement, "Lead builds in the body over time, and lead-containing lipstick applied several times a day, every day, can add up to significant exposure levels." So presumably the real danger would be to protect pregnant women from accidentally giving their unborn children lead poisoning. OK, fine, that does sound potentially dangerous.
But what are we to do about this conundrum? Maybe try to avoid the most lead-laden lipsticks. To assist you in that worthy endeavor, here are the top 10 offenders:
1. Maybelline Color Sensational in Pink Petal
2. L'Oréal Colour Riche in Volcanic
3. NARS Semi-Matte in Red Lizard
4. Cover Girl Queen Collection Vibrant Hues Color in Ruby Remix
5. NARS Semi-Matte in Funny Face
6. L'Oréal Colour Riche in Tickled Pink
7. L'Oréal Intensely Moisturizing Lipcolor in Heroic
8. Cover Girl Continuous Color in Warm Brick
9. Maybelline Color Sensational in Mauve Me
10. Stargazer Lipstick in Shade 103
The complete list is here, if you really want to dive deep. The good news is that there's no relationship between leadiness and price. In fact, the least-contaminated of the lot was Wet 'n' Wild Mega Mixers Lip Balm, which was also the cheapest. Other than buying relatively uncontaminated products, try not to eat any lipstick you do put on, and don't blot your lips on a lead paint chip you find lying around, and you should be good to go.
400 shades of lipstick found to contain lead, FDA says [Washington Post]
Lipstick and Lead: Questions and Answers [FDA}
Images via Michael Selivanov and Aksenova Natalya/Shutterstock.