The Lead Debate Made Simple

The cosmetic industry has been under fire regarding lead in lipstick and cosmetics for years now.  The debate continues, but it is much to do about nothing.

Lead (Pb) is on the periodic table, is a naturally occurring substance. It occurs extensively in the earth’s crust and is the 36th most common chemical element on earth, so of course it is going to show up in natural ingredients.

FDA limits lead in color additives to maximum specified levels, typically no more than 20 parts per million (ppm) for color additives approved for use in cosmetics. (Source FDA)  Those colors are then diluted into the finished products which explains why levels of lead found in lipstick ranged from .09 ppm to 3.06 ppm and not 20 ppm.

The EPA allows up to 15 ppb of lead in tap water
The FDA allows 5 ppb in bottled water.
The FDA allows .1 ppm of lead in candy.

Lead Levels Assuming Daily Intake

  • Lead from bottled water, assuming 64 ounces of water intake per day = daily lead level intake 0.00000032 ounces.
  • Lead from tap water, assuming 64 ounces of water intake per day = daily lead level intake 0.00000096
  • Lead from candy, assuming 8 ounces of candy per day = daily lead level intake 0.0000008 ounces.
  • Lead from lipstick, 24 to 80 milligrams (.00084 to .00282 ounces) per day applied lipstick = daily lead exposure 0.00000000086 ounces at the highest exposure

Actual Lead Exposure

  • Tap water exposes you to 1116 times more lead than lipstick per day.
  • Bottle water exposes you to 372 times more lead than lipstick per day.
  • Candy exposes you to 930 times more lead than lipstick per day

In addition, studies have shown that skin only absorbs 1% of lead that it comes in contact with.  That means that the actual exposure rate is even lower, but if you argued that 100% of the lipstick applied to the lips is consumed the exposure rates above work.

Just to clarify, lead isn’t sold as a separate ingredient for cosmetic scientists to add to lipstick. It is not being added to lipstick, chocolate, your fruits and vegetables or even the water.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for this clear explanation. I thought Lee Doren’s point in his critique video of The Story Of Cosmetics was excellent, but this really helps me understand it in depth. I did, after watching Doren’s critique, seek out some counterpoints in order to be fair and hear both sides fully. But I was put off by those concerned about lead levels concluding that any discussion of the level of lead distracts from the point there should be no lead at all. I don’t like using some emotional tactic to silence debate. One article at Treehugger at least tried to explain in more detail why they thought it’s fair for the lipstick levels to be compared to candy, but ultimately it just didn’t make enough sense. This piece blows their points out of the water. :)

    • Lisa M. Rodgers

      I couldn’t agree more christine_e! There is no way to completely remove lead because, as Kayla states, it is a naturally occurring substance.

      Dr. Richard Adamson testified in front of Colorado legislators back in March that an individual would have to consume 3-4 tubes of lipstick per day for 70 years to reach toxic lead exposure.

      I say to the alarmists, “Show me your proof. Don’t try to change my mind using fear. I’m not buying what you’re selling”.

  • Todd Weiss CFA

    As always, alarmist warnings making much ado about nothing. Thanks for the heads up. TW

    • Lisa M. Rodgers

      Well said Todd! Kayla has such a knack for explaining things in ways we all can understand. The alarmists only know fear because, in my opinion, is the strongest emotion. Fear is a powerful thing. All we can do is to continue to educate consumers on the facts.

  • Pure Anada

    THANK-YOU Kayla!
    Can’t count the number of times I’ve been asked…”Do you add lead to your lipsticks?”

  • Melody Lea Lamb

    Awe, great stuff Kayla! It always makes things clear and understandable when you present them so well for us, thank you.

  • Zach E

    Never knew there was so much Lead in all this stuff. I’ll have to be more careful!

  • Francis

    YIKES!! I love learning from your site always!! Thank you for the great content and it stinks to see nothing being done about it!! Always informative and educational! Thanks Lisa!