Your favorite lipstick could contain more than a splash of fun color. University of California–Berkeley researchers just uncovered new evidence your favorite brand could also be hiding a heavy metal secret. In a new study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, scientists detected "concerning" levels of chromium, cadmium, and manganese in popular lipsticks and glosses, raising the alarm that your go-to shade could be heightening your risk of dangerous diseases and organ damage.
The story of contaminated lipstick is not a new one, but these new findings from research focused on lipstick are important because people ingest makeup when it's applied to the lips.
After determining the heavy metal content of 32 popular lipsticks and glosses, researchers estimated risk based on those concentrations and consumers' likely daily exposure to the metals, then compared it to existing health guidelines. Lead turned up in 75 percent of products; about 30 percent of products contained levels of chromium higher than what's considered safe when people applied them at the average daily rate, something millions of people do.
Study author Katharine Hammond, PhD, professor of environmental health science at UC Berkeley says levels of cadmium, chromium, manganese, and aluminum were of particular concern. For instance, at high levels, cadmium can be stored in the kidneys and could lead to renal failure. That's not nearly the dose found in lipstick, but when you add the levels of cadmium found in the diet, you could be creeping into the danger zone. Hammond says the findings could be of particular concern to people with compromised renal systems, such as people living with diabetes or undergoing kidney dialysis.
And people who apply and reapply lipstick and/or gloss several times a day could ingest excessive levels of chromium, a heavy metal linked to stomach tumors.
Researchers didn't release the brands tested for two reasons: They didn't see a significant different between the 32 products tested and didn't want to give the impression that products not tested were safer. Beyond that, formulations change with time as companies develop and release new products.
"I believe that the Food and Drug should pay attention to this," says lead study author Sa Liu, PhD, a UC–Berekely environmental health sciences researcher. "Our study was small, using lip products that had been identified by young Asian women in Oakland, California. But the lipsticks and lip glosses in our study are common brands available in stores everywhere."
This isn't the first time heavy metals have turned up in lipstick. In recent years, the Food and Drug Administration found lead in hundreds of lipstick samples tested. "This study shows lipstick is still dangerous," says Margie Kelly, spokesperson for the Campaign for Safer Cosmetics, an organization that raised a warning flag in 2007 when it detected lead in all lipstick samples tested. "There's a big loophole. Because lead and other heavy metals are considered a contaminant and not an ingredient, it doesn't have to be listed on the label."
It's not clear where these contaminants are coming from. Certain metals are known to intensify hues and make really great colors; the contaminants could also be hitchhiking on the pigment compounds used to create colors. The only way to know is to contact manufacturers because current laws don't adequately address the problem.
"No one wants to give up lipstick—that's what's so tragic and unnecessary about this," Kelly adds. "But even your most supereducated consumer has a hard time dealing with this because there's no contaminate labeling on lipsticks."
Here's how blot out excess exposure to harmful heavy metals in lipstick:
• Use it sparingly. Save lipstick and gloss for special events, or just apply once a day. In this case, the dose does make the poison, so cutting back can make a big difference, Hammond says.
• Dial in your disapproval. Call, write, or email the manufacturers of your favorite lipstick shades and tell them having products free of heavy metals is important for you. "We are eating it, and we're reapplying it every day," Kelly says. "This is a real urgent call to action."
• Source safer shades. While heavy metals are considered contaminants and don't have to be tested for and added to the label, there are many other harmful cosmetic ingredients that are labeled. Peruse Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Cosmetics Database to find how your favorite products rate and find safer alternatives.
For more info, read 5 Things That Should Never Be in Your Makeup.
Published on: May 1, 2013
Updated on: August 29, 2013