The Real Story On Lead In Cosmetics

Don’t Jump On The Lead Hysteria Bandwagon

The Internet is filled with scares about lead in everything from childrens’ toys to cosmetics and candy. A few years ago, an environmental group filed a suit against chocolate manufacturers because their candy contained lead.

Recently, the Campaign For Safe Cosmetics issued a press release saying that it had found lead in several types of brand name red lipstick. MSNBC picked up on the release and unleashed a reporter to cover “killer cosmetics.” This has resulted in some hysteria and conspiracy theories lead has been intentionally added to cosmetics. A scientific look at lead sheds a completely different light on the issue. Lead, PB on the periodic table, is a naturally occurring substance. Lead is made up of four naturally occurring isotopes: 204, 206, 207 and 208. It occurs extensively in the earth’s crust and is the 36th most common chemical element on earth.

Lead Is Everywhere

Lead is not a cosmetic ingredient that is found in the Cosmetic Bench Reference. It is a natural by-product occurring in cosmetics and food because it is absorbed from the earth and pollution into the raw materials used by both industries. The only reference to lead in the Cosmetic Bench Reference is the neutralized version “Lead Acetate” which is used as a hair colorant in hair dyes. Lead Acetate is probably the lesser of all evils in hair dye, which are super loaded with multiple toxins. It isn’t a secret in the beauty industry that hair dye is toxic no matter how you label it.

While lead is a health hazard it is also widespread. It can be found in the air, water, and soil which logically means that it will be found in humans, plants, clay and oxides. Although the EPA, Center for Disease Control and FDA have implemented many regulations in order to reduce lead levels by phasing out the use of leaded gasoline, banning lead based house paints and reducing lead-soldered cans. But not all countries have made equal changes.

We live in a global economy where materials for cosmetics and foods are bought from all over the world. And the environment can only be so forgiving after we have saturated our atmosphere with pollutants.  In the 1970’s we were still fertilizing with lead containing pesticides. Even today pesticides are laden with harmful and dangerous chemicals that are absorbed by the earth, plants, animals and humans.

Even bottled water contains lead. The FDA quality standard for bottled water requires that lead be lower than 5 parts per billion (ppb). Adults absorb about 11% of lead that reaches the digestive tract. The lead found in red lipsticks by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics was at levels between .03 to .65 part per million. Skin absorbs 1% of the lead that it comes in contact with. This means that when we digest a bottle of water that contains safe limits of lead we would absorb .55 ppb.

If a lipstick containing the highest level of lead found in the study (.65 ppb) was applied to the lips we would absorb .0065 part per million through the skin. If we assume that we absorb and digest lipstick the dose would be .078 parts per million. This is well below the amount of lead absorbed through an EPA standard of allowable lead in a product.

It Makes No Sense To List Lead On An Ingredient Label

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics was concerned that lead was not listed on the ingredient lists of the red lipsticks. However, since lead is not a cosmetic ingredient that was added purposefully how could it be listed? The only way to determine all the naturally occurring elements in raw materials would be to conduct extensive studies on every incoming ingredient for every batch of product to determine what each had absorbed from the earth, air and water. If we had to break down all the naturally occurring chemical elements on an ingredient list it would be excessively costly, put companies out of business and bring all cosmetic prices out of reach of the consumer. And that is not even mentioning the length each ingredient list would have to become.

According to the Cosmetic, Toiletry, and Fragrance Association, “Lead is not intentionally added to cosmetics. Lead is a naturally occurring element that is found everywhere in the environment. Consumers are exposed daily to lead when they eat, drink water and breathe the air. The average amount of lead a woman would be exposed to when using cosmetics is 1,000 times less than the amount she would get from eating, breathing, and drinking water that meets Environmental Protection Agency drinking water standards.”

What Else Could We Do With Our Time?

There are far more dangerous and scientifically sound issues in the cosmetic industry than naturally occurring lead showing up in cosmetics. I agree that we should do everything possible to stop the contamination of our water, air and earth and to lower the impact of lead and other chemicals on our industry. The Environmental Protection Agency, FDA and Centers For Disease Control have made giant strides in the lead the area of lead contamination. Now it is time for us to make every effort make a grass root charge towards organic purchasing to lessen the impact of chemicals on our earth; hence in our foods and cosmetics. The wave of organic purchasing will do more to change our environment than testing of raw material for naturally occurring chemical components.

Get Real

I believe the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics has their heart in the right place, but that they need a reality check based on good science. I support their efforts to educate consumers and investigate the safety of cosmetics. I would simply like them to look at the entire picture scientifically before publishing lopsided reports.

What do you think?

  • http://greenskincareblog.com/ Kristin Fraser Cotte

    This is a wonderful scientific based explanation that consumers, beauty and industry professionals alike can understand. Thank you for your informative article Kayla. I too believe CSC has their heart in the right place. I was a part of the organization until I got fed up with the lack of response when industry professionals called them on spreading misinformation *first hand* as I attended the annual meetings. Consumers deserve the truth. We all deserve the truth, that's why Lisa and I started this site. Thanks for helping us spread the message of safety, education and understanding on Personal Care Truth.

  • http://twitter.com/essentialU Kayla Fioravanti

    When Susan Roll, founding member of Campaign for Safe Cosmetics testified before the House Judiciary Committee in Colorado about their science I finally understood what we were up against. She said, “We are not that far with the science….I wish I could say more. I wish I knew more of the science. I wish we had more science…I would just say that I think we have enough of the science that we need to make some steps towards safety. I wish I could say that there was an abundance of science linking this…we have some science…there is a little bit of science…we don't have an abundance of science. I wish we had it.”

    I'm so glad Kristin and Lisa started this site to share the science.

  • Emily

    You seem to mix up your millions and billions. If lipstick has up to .65 parts per MILLION, that’s up to 650 parts per BILLION, or over 100 times the limit in bottled water. The lowest level found in lipstick was 30 parts per billion, still 6 times higher than the upper limit allowed in water.

  • Kinda Skeptical

    That’s all well and good, guys, but why would anyone want to take in any more lead than they have to? Isn’t there a way to ensure that lipstick doesn’t contain lead?

    • Beautyscientist

      Yes it is possible to produce lead free lipstick. If there is a market for lipstick with a lower lead content than food and a much higher price than the standard one, you could launch one.

  • Narender Singh Phartyal

    First of all thanks to Kayla Fioravanti for providing such a great info. On lead.
    You have covered all the aspects to give a clear cut picture.