Is There Lead in Your Lipstick?

Lead paint exposure can cause brain damage, anemia, and other health issues, so public health agencies constantly warn us about its dangers. But lead can be present in a different kind of paint entirely—lipstick—and we rarely hear about it. Is the quantity of lead in lipstick too small to pose a health risk? Scientists don't necessarily agree on the subject.

According to the FDA, lipstick is not designed to be ingested, so as long as the lead levels remain within the standard limits for cosmetics, they do not think there is any cause for concern. The FDA recently conducted an expanded test of 400 lipsticks. The lead ranges averaged 1.11 ppm, well below the standards applied to lead ingestion from other compounds. You can check the FDA website to see how your brand ranked in their analysis.

However, advocacy group The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics argues that there is no safe level of lead in lipstick, especially because lipstick can be transmitted to children and is used by women who are breastfeeding or pregnant. They also argue that because no scientific measure of lipstick ingestion during routine use exists, there's no way to tell how much lead may be consumed. In a letter sent to the FDA, The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics requests that the FDA establishes a firm limit for lead in lipstick. They also want to encourage manufacturers to reduce unnecessary exposure and clarify misleading information.

A scientific conclusion may still be years away, but it makes sense to keep the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics' concerns in mind. Choose your lipstick carefully, checking it against the lead level findings on Exercise caution around transmitting lipstick to children or allowing them to play with it. If you're pregnant or breastfeeding, you may want to avoid lipstick entirely, or simply use it less frequently.




"Lipsticks and Lead: Questions and Answers." Food and Drug Administration. Web. December 5, 2011.

Letter to Dr. Linda Katz. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. Web. February 7, 2012.