Is There Lead in Your Lipstick?

Photo (cc) by Photography-S!

If you’re buying or renting a home built before 1978 – the year lead-based paint was banned – the seller or landlord has to disclose whether the home contains lead. Federal laws require it.

But if you’re applying lipstick containing lead to your lips, there’s no law to protect you. In fact, chances are good that your favorite lipstick contains lead. A recent study by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration found that 400 lipsticks – both drugstore and department store brands – contain more lead than ever before.

Here’s the history in brief…

  • 2007: The nonprofit Campaign for Safe Cosmetics tests 33 brand-name lipsticks for lead. Although none of the lipsticks listed lead as an ingredient, 0.3 to 0.65 ppm (parts per million) of lead was detected in more than half of the lipsticks. (For more details, check out the CSC’s report A Poision Kiss: The Problem of Lead in Lipstick.)
  • 2009: After receiving letters from the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics as well as U.S. senators, the FDA releases the results of its own study. When the agency tested 20 of the same lipsticks tested by the CSC, 0.9 to 3.06 ppm of lead was detected in all 20 lipsticks.
  • 2011: The FDA conducts a follow-up study – whose results show that 0.026 to 7.19 ppm of lead was detected in 400 different lipsticks. L’Oreal was the biggest offender.

What’s it all mean?

The FDA says you shouldn’t be alarmed by their results.”We do not consider the lead levels we found in the lipsticks to be a safety concern,” reads their Lipstick and Lead FAQ page. “The lead levels we found are within the limits recommended by other public health authorities for lead in cosmetics, including lipstick.”

But consider this…

  • Two footnotes at the end of the FAQ say that those “other public health authorities” the FDA mentioned are actually a 2008 letter from the California attorney general (who’s not a public health authority) and the Canadian health department’s Draft Guidelines on Heavy Metal Impurities in Cosmetics (which actually state that lead is “prohibited in cosmetics sold in Canada”).
  • The U.S. Centers for Disease Control – an actual public health authority – says in its lead fact sheet that “no safe blood lead level has been identified.”
  • The FDA’s FAQ page also says they are “evaluating whether there may be a need to recommend an upper limit for lead in lipstick in order to further protect the health and welfare of consumers.” But if they really believe lead in lipstick isn’t a safety concern, why create a rule that caps the amount of lead in lipstick?
  • Remember that the FDA initially withheld the results of their first test from the public. They published them in the July/August 2009 issue of the Journal of Cosmetic Science, then available for a fee, but did not share the brands of lipstick tested or post the results to their website until November 2009, according to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. But if the results don’t reveal a safety concern, why deny them to the tax-paying public that funds the FDA?

You can read more of the FDA’s stance on lead in lipstick on their FAQ page.

What can you do?

“We can’t shop our way out of this problem,” says the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. Lead tests “can’t be used as a guide for what to buy.”

In other words, buying a lipstick that didn’t test positive for lead in the CSC’s or FDA’s tests is no guarantee that it doesn’t contain lead either. Unless laws change, there’s no way to know if a given lipstick is safe to use. So in the meantime, there are really only two things you can do…

  • Cut back on lipstick use or give it up entirely. CSC suggests limiting it to special occasions, but if you’re pregnant, consider giving it up. Dr. Sean Palfrey is a professor of pediatrics and public health at Boston University and the medical director of Boston’s Lead Poisoning Prevention Program, and he told the CSC, “Lead is a proven neurotoxin that can cause learning, language and behavioral problems such as lowered IQ, reduced school performance and increased aggression. Pregnant women and young children are particularly vulnerable to lead exposure, because lead easily crosses the placenta and enters the fetal brain, where it can interfere with normal development.”
  • Join the fight. Just last week, the CSC wrote a second letter to the director of the FDA’s Office of Cosmetics and Colors. The Environmental Working Group, another nonprofit advocate group, signed it too. To make your own voice heard, consider writing to the manufacturer of your lipstick or to your senators. CSC has a form letter you can send to L’Oreal, and you can look up your senators’ names and contact info at Senate.gov.

To learn more about what’s in the cosmetics you use every day, check out How to Read Beauty Product Labels.

Karla Bowsher runs our Deals page and covers consumer, retail, and health issues. If you have a comment, suggestion, or question, leave a comment or contact her at [email protected].

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Read Next
Retiree Households Lose $111,000 to This Social Security Misstep
Retiree Households Lose $111,000 to This Social Security Misstep

A study finds 96% of retirees make this mistake when claiming Social Security benefits.

7 Kitchen Gadgets That Make Healthy Cooking a Breeze
7 Kitchen Gadgets That Make Healthy Cooking a Breeze

These small appliances and cooking aids make healthy eating easy — and they’re all available on Amazon.

8 Key Steps to Planning for Retirement as a Couple
8 Key Steps to Planning for Retirement as a Couple

Ready for retirement? Not so fast. You might be surprised at some of the issues that come up for couples when they plan.

10 Colleges That Offer Free Tuition for Seniors
10 Colleges That Offer Free Tuition for Seniors

These schools let retirement-age students study, tuition-free, while earning college credit.

Cut These 11 Expenses Now If You Hope to Retire Early
Cut These 11 Expenses Now If You Hope to Retire Early

Like the idea of financial independence? Part of the FIRE equation is cutting costs.

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Most Popular
11 Things Retirees Should Always Buy at Costco
11 Things Retirees Should Always Buy at Costco

This leader in bulk shopping is a great place to find discounts in the fixed-income years.

Over 50? The CDC Says You Need These 4 Vaccines
Over 50? The CDC Says You Need These 4 Vaccines

Fall is the time to schedule vaccines that can keep you healthy — and even save your life.

11 Senior Discounts for Anyone Age 55 or Older
11 Senior Discounts for Anyone Age 55 or Older

There is no need to wait until you’re 65 to take advantage of so-called “senior” discounts.

9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again
9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again

The warehouse store offers an enormous selection, but these products aren’t coming back.

8 Things You Can Get for Free at Pharmacies
8 Things You Can Get for Free at Pharmacies

In this age of higher-priced drugs and complex health care systems, a trip to the pharmacy can spark worry. Freebies sure do help.

These Are the 4 Best Medicare Advantage Plans for 2020
These Are the 4 Best Medicare Advantage Plans for 2020

Medicare Advantage customers themselves rate these plans highest.

The 10 Most Commonly Stolen Vehicles in America
The 10 Most Commonly Stolen Vehicles in America

A new model parks atop the list of vehicles that thieves love to pilfer.

9 Deep Discounts Available on Amazon This Friday
9 Deep Discounts Available on Amazon This Friday

These items are all steeply discounted — but the deals won’t last long.

7 Ways to Boost Your Credit Score Fast
7 Ways to Boost Your Credit Score Fast

Your financial security might soon depend upon the strength of your credit score.

19 High-Paying Jobs You Can Get With a 2-Year Degree
19 High-Paying Jobs You Can Get With a 2-Year Degree

These jobs pay more than the typical job in the U.S. — and no bachelor’s degree is required.

10 Reasons Why You Should Actually Retire at 62
10 Reasons Why You Should Actually Retire at 62

If you can, here are several good reasons to retire earlier than we’re told to.

5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free
5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free

Hesitant to drop $119 a year on an Amazon Prime membership? Here’s how to get it for free.

Do This in the Car If You Want to Avoid COVID-19
Do This in the Car If You Want to Avoid COVID-19

It takes just seconds to take this simple preventive measure.

3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free
3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free

With a little ingenuity, you can cut Office costs to zero.

15 Products You Need — Even If You Didn’t Know It
15 Products You Need — Even If You Didn’t Know It

Discover some must-have products on Amazon that you didn’t even know you were missing.

20 Things That Are Actually Worth Stockpiling
20 Things That Are Actually Worth Stockpiling

You don’t need a year’s supply of toilet paper to survive an outbreak, but consider stocking up on these items.

5 Keys to Making Your Car Last for 200,000 Miles
5 Keys to Making Your Car Last for 200,000 Miles

Pushing your car to 200,000 miles — and beyond — can save you piles of cash. Here’s how to get there.

26 States That Do Not Tax Social Security Income
26 States That Do Not Tax Social Security Income

These states won’t tax any of your Social Security income — and in some cases, other types of retirement income.

14 Things That Are ‘Free’ With Medicare
14 Things That Are ‘Free’ With Medicare

These services could save you money and help prevent costly health problems.

View More Articles

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Add a Comment

Our Policy: We welcome relevant and respectful comments in order to foster healthy and informative discussions. All other comments may be removed. Comments with links are automatically held for moderation.