It took nearly two years, but FDA has finally published its study on lead in lipstick, and the findings are not reassuring. FDA found up to four times more lead in lipstick than previous reports.
Even less reassuring is the fact that FDA spent two years studying the problem, only to discover that, yup, there really is lead in lipstick – and then decide that, no, they’re not going to do anything about it.
Wasn’t FDA once the world’s gold standard agency for consumer protection? Don’t they exist for the purpose of ensuring that America has the safest possible food, drugs and cosmetics?
If so, one might expect FDA to work with companies to ensure they are making the safest possible lipstick with the lowest levels of lead.
Instead, FDA put up a web page dismissing health concerns about leaded lipstick because “lipstick is a product intended for topical use, is only ingested incidentally and in very small quantities.” This statement is not based on science. There are no studies we can find that look at how much lipstick gets into the body. Such studies are not required of industry, and have not been conducted by FDA.
The statement also defies common sense: if lipstick doesn’t end up in the body, where does it go? And why does it need to be reapplied so frequently?
The lips are one of the most sensitive and absorbent parts of the body; plus, as anyone who has used lipstick knows, the product gets onto our tongues, our teeth, our food and into our mouths.
Lead also builds up in the body, so small amounts add up to significant exposures over time, and even the smallest amounts of lead can harm developing brains. In a review of recent science, Harvard Medical School researcher David C. Bellinger, PhD, concluded: “No level of lead exposure appears to be 'safe' and even the current 'low' levels of exposure in children are associated with neurodevelopmental deficits.”
So, if we want to protect developing children from lead exposure, we need to protect women who are pregnant – as well as women who may be pregnant or who may someday want to become pregnant -- from unnecessary lead exposures. In other words, we need to protect all women from unnecessary lead exposures by getting the lead out of lipstick.
An interesting finding of the FDA study is that lipsticks made by three manufacturers had consistently higher lead levels. The most lead-contaminated brand, made by Manufacturer A, had 11 times more lead than the average level found in the bottom 10 brands. Who is Manufacturer A? FDA won’t name the brands.
We did name brands in the 2007 study conducted by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics , which also found that a few brands had consistently higher lead levels. Those were L’Oreal, Maybelline NY (made by L’Oreal) and Cover Girl.
These companies can do better, and they must be held accountable to make the safest products possible. The appropriate action for FDA is to do what a group of U.S. Senators asked them to do two years ago: set a maximum level of lead in lipstick that corresponds with the lowest lead levels found in laboratory tests.
FDA took a similar step to protect children from lead in candy, by setting a maximum lead level of .1 ppm. This level was not chosen because .1 ppm of lead is safe in candy, it was based on the reasoning that .1 ppm is the lowest lead level candy manufacturers can achieve. Using its own logic, FDA should set a similar standard for lead in lipstick.
Stacy Malkan is a co-founder of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and author of the award-winning book, “Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry.”