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Could your lipstick be bad for your health?
First Published May 03 2013 02:07 pm • Last Updated May 03 2013 02:07 pm

Lipsticks and lip glosses purchased in Northern California stores contained lead, chromium and other metals that could raise health concerns, a new study reveals.

Researchers at UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health tested 32 products commonly found in drugstores and department stores. In addition to lead and chromium, they detected cadmium, aluminum and five other metals.

At a glance

Study details

People who use an average amount of lipstick, perhaps applying it twice a day and ingesting 24 milligrams of the cosmetic, could be exposed to hexavalent chromium at levels that exceed safety guidelines. Hexavalent chromium is a carcinogen linked to stomach tumors. The amount in lip products is unknown because the tests could not distinguish between it and less toxic forms of the metal.

Those who use large amounts of lipstick, maybe reapplying 14 times a day and ingesting 87 milligrams, could have excessive exposure to aluminum, cadmium and manganese. Exposure to high concentrations of manganese over time has been linked to toxicity in the nervous system, researchers noted.

Lead was detected in 24 lip products, but at levels that were generally within safety guidelines.

Most of the lipsticks and lip glosses contained high concentrations of titanium and aluminum.

Metal concentrations varied significantly among the different lip products.

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The study highlights a need to have more oversight from the Food and Drug Administration, especially since the United States has no standards for metal content in cosmetics, said S. Katharine Hammond, the study’s principal investigator and a UC Berkeley professor of environmental health sciences.

She noted that consumers have no way of knowing what the products contain because lipstick manufacturers are not required to list ingredients.

"I do not feel people should panic and throw all their lipsticks out, but I don’t think that people should be cavalier about this (either)," Hammond said.

Environmental health advocates have long pushed manufacturers to eliminate lead in lipstick.

But this latest study also identifies other metals in the products, said Sharima Rasanayagam, director of science for the Breast Cancer Fund and a member of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.

"We definitely need more research to see what’s in these lipsticks and at what levels," said Rasanayagam, who was not involved with the study. "Manufacturers should be looking at their supply chain and figuring out where the contamination is happening and then try to eliminate it."

The study will be published online Thursday in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

An industry representative said lipsticks are safe and noted that the detected metals occur naturally in air, soil and water.


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"These are very low levels," said Linda Loretz, chief toxicologist for the Personal Care Products Council. "There is nothing in there that would raise a potential concern."

The researchers concluded that people who use an average amount of lipstick, perhaps applying it twice a day and ingesting up to 24 milligrams, could be exposed to hexavalent chromium at levels that exceed safety guidelines. It is a carcinogen linked to stomach tumors, but researchers said their tests could not distinguish between it and the metal’s less toxic forms.

Those who use large amounts of lipstick — maybe reapplying 14 times a day and ingesting 87 milligrams of the cosmetic — could have excessive exposure to aluminum, cadmium and manganese, the study found. Exposure to high concentrations of manganese over time has been linked to toxicity in the nervous system, the researchers noted.

Industry representative Loretz said the manganese people often ingest from food is 1,000 times greater than the amount in lipsticks. Trace amounts of chromium and cadmium in lipsticks, she said, are less than 1 percent of what people would get from their diet.

The study detected lead in 24 lip products, but concluded the levels were within safety guidelines.

Because children are more susceptible to metals, Hammond recommended that parents not let them play with lipsticks. Adults and teenagers can protect themselves by limiting how often they reapply lipstick, she said.

A consumer who wears lipstick occasionally said manufacturers should have to disclose ingredients.

"If you’re making a product and you’re not telling people what’s in the product and it can be unhealthy, there should be a law against that," said Mary Lunning of Hayward.

Another Hayward resident, 39-year-old Hazellani Davis, predicted that women will continue to wear lipstick, although she believes the FDA should have greater oversight.

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