Lipstick may brighten your face but may not be good for the rest of you, a study today suggests.
Testing of 32 commonly sold lipsticks and lip glosses found they contain lead, cadmium, chromium, aluminum and five other metals - some at potentially toxic levels, according to researchers at the University of California-Berkeley's School of Public Health.
Prior research has also found lead in lipstick, including a December 2011 survey of 400 varieties by the Food and Drug Administration that found low levels the agency said pose no safety concerns. This UC study looked at more metals and estimated health risks based on their concentrations and typical lipstick use.
"Just finding these metals isn't the issue.It's the levels that matter," says co-author S. Katharine Hammond, professor of environmental health. She says some of the toxic metals are occurring at levels that could pose health problems in the long run.
"This study is saying, 'FDA, wake up and pay attention,' " she says.
When not blotted on tissue or left as kiss marks, lipstick and lip gloss are ingested or absorbed by the user. The health effect depends partly on how often and how heavily the product is applied. The average user applies lipstick 2.3 times daily and ingests 24 milligrams each day, while a heavy user applies it as many as 14 times and ingests an average of 83 milligrams, the UC study says..
For even the average user, the study found that some of the lipsticks could result in excessive exposure to chromium, a carcinogen linked to stomach tumors. High use could potentially cause overexposure to aluminum, cadmium and manganese.
"Lead is not the metal of most concern," Hammond says, noting it was found in 24 of the products but at levels generally lower than the acceptable daily intake. Still, since no level of lead exposure is considered safe for children, she discourages kids from playing with lipstick or using it for beauty contests.
"I don't think people should panic," she hastens, saying that not all lipstick needs to be tossed in the trash. "But if you use it several times every day, you may want to think about it." Her basic advice: "Use it less."
In a statement from the Personal Care Products Council, chief toxicologist Linda Loretz cautions that the finding of trace amounts of metals needs to be put in context, given their natural presence in air, soil and water. "Food is a primary source for many of these naturally present metals, and exposure from lip products is minimal in comparison," Loretz says. An example: Trace amounts of chromium or cadmium from lip products, as measured in the UC report, are less than 1% of the exposure that people could get from their diet, she says.
Hammond says the results are preliminary and more research needs to be done, because there's no U.S. standards for metal content in cosmetics. The European Union views cadmium, chromium and lead as unacceptable ingredients, at any level, in cosmetic products
Although the study is small, Hammond says, the 32 tested products are common brands sold in stores nationwide. The study was partly funded by the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Education Research Center. Its findings appear in the the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health Perspectives.