Remember when the Campaign for Cosmetics made headlines in 2007 by finding lead in lipstick? Well, the issue has not gone away, and a new Food and Drug Administration study has identified lead in all 20 red lipsticks it tested (from 10 different brands), and at concentrations up to four-times higher than those found in independent testing. While the FDA has not regulated lead in lipstick, the levels detected were up to 10-times higher than the safe limit set for lead in candy.
The FDA did not make the list of tested lipsticks public.
Related: The Secret Ingredients in Lipstick
Since recent science suggests that there is truly no safe lead exposure for children and pregnant women, it is disturbing that manufacturers are allowed to continue to sell lead-containing lipsticks," said Dr. Sean Palfrey, a professor of pediatrics and public health at Boston University and the medical director of Boston's Lead Poisoning Prevention Program.
Lead exposure can lead to permanent brain damage, lowered IQ, behavioral problems and other serious and irreversible health problems. The most dangerous time to be exposed is in utero and during the first six or so years of life, while the brain is rapidly developing.
The most common sources of lead exposure come from lead-contaminated dust in the home, most often from old peeling and cracking paint that was applied before lead paint was banned in the 1970s. Leaded gasoline, before it was banned, also contaminated roadside dust. Other sources of lead exposure can include many consumer products, including toys.
The FDA and the advocacy group differ on the danger posed by lead in lipstick. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, quoting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, notes that "No safe blood lead level has been identified."
The FDA study was designed to test analytic methods, however, not to determine comprehensively which lipsticks contain lead, nor to identify unsafe levels of lead in lipstick. The only statement the study makes about lead levels in lipstick is this: "All of the Pb (lead) levels found by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) were within the range the agency would expect co find in lipsticks formulated with permitted color additives and other ingredients prepared under good manufacturing practice (GMP) conditions."
(The study did note that unsafe levels of lead have been found in certain cosmetics, including a traditional South/ Central American and Caribbean yellow or peach-colored powder called litargirio, which can contain nearly 80% lead; and a traditional Middle Eastern, African and South Asian eyeliner called kohl, which can contain more than 50% lead.)
The study also noted the regulatory loopholes that can allow lead at various levels to remain in cosmetics like lipstick:
"(Lead) contamination of lipsticks may originate from dyes and pigments used as ingredients in lipsticks that are regulated as color additives by the FDA and must undergo premarket approval by the agency before they may be used in any cosmetics. The FDA controls potential (lead) exposure from color additives by setting limiting specifications for (lead). ...
Other than color additives, the FDA does not have the statutory authority under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) to require pre-market approval of cosmetic products such as lipsticks or their ingredients. It is the responsibility of the manufacturer or distributor to ensure that cosmetic products and their ingredients are in compliance with requirements of the FD&C Act and other applicable laws and regulations. With the exception of color additives, a manufacturer may use any ingredient in the formulation of a cosmetic that does not cause the cosmetic to be adulterated or misbranded under the FD&C Act."
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