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Lead: the sneaky ingredient in your lipstick and lotion

By Anna Low-Beer
Digital Campaigner

Late last year, the Food and Drug Administration announced new guidelines for the level of lead allowed in lipstick and other cosmetics. I know what you’re thinking: isn’t there already a rule that says that lead -- a toxic heavy metal -- is not permitted in the products we apply to our bodies?

Sadly, because of weak and outdated federal regulations, the FDA does not currently limit lead levels in cosmetics. And it’s not a small problem -- the FDA tested hundreds of lipsticks from popular brands in 2012, and found lead in every single one.

There is some good news. The FDA’s proposed guidelines for lead in cosmetics are a step in the right direction. But the draft guidance doesn’t go far enough. It proposes a maximum limit of 10 parts per million (ppm) for lead in cosmetics. The problem is, that limit wouldn’t affect the majority of lead-laden cosmetics, which for the most part already fall below that threshold. A study measuring lead levels in lipstick found that Maybelline Color Sensational Lipstick contained just over 7 ppm of lead. L’Oreal, NARS, Covergirl and Revlon also make lipsticks with lead levels ranging from 4-7 ppm.  

The FDA’s recommended lead limit simply disregards widely accepted science: no amount of exposure to lead is safe. That’s why we, along with dozens of other groups, are recommending that the FDA lower its maximum limit of lead in cosmetics to one ppm or lower. This guidance is an opportunity to shift the cosmetic industry in a way that finally reflects the scientific consensus on lead’s health risks.

The impact of this guidance could be colossal. On average, men in the U.S. use five to seven personal care products, women use 12 every day, and young children and teenagers are using cosmetics more and more as well.

When we apply a swipe of lipstick or a drop of lotion, we may be putting our health at risk. Lead is especially harmful to children, who are still developing. It causes decreased IQ, hyperactivity, nervous system problems and slowed growth in children, and  kidney, cardiovascular and reproductive problems in adults.

If cosmetics can be made without a known neurotoxin, they should be. The FDA’s guidelines, once finalized, could either lead us to a new era of essentially lead-free cosmetics, or they could reinforce the weak standard that currently puts our health at risk.

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