Toxin Alert! Lead in Lipstick: Think Twice Before Applying!

+ CV Skinlabs Team

Lead: a highly toxic metal found in small amounts in the earth’s crust…and in many common brands of lipstick.


Chronic exposure to this metal can result in increased blood pressure, decreased fertility, cataracts, nerve disorders, muscle and joint pain, and memory or concentration problems. Lead is used in a variety of products, including paint, ceramics, pipes, gasoline, batteries…and cosmetics.

But never fear: According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, “Since 1980, federal and state regulatory standards have helped to minimize or eliminate the amount of lead in consumer products and occupational settings.”

Thank heavens. But wait. According to recent tests conducted by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a whopping 61% of brand-name lipsticks contain detectable levels of lead, which can be toxic if ingested.

“If” ingested? Hello? The product is on our mouths. How can we avoid ingesting it?

Guilty brands included well-knowns in department stores and drug stores. One-third exceeded the FDA lead limit for candy-and many of these were the more expensive, supposedly “higher-quality” products. And you thought lipstick was the last thing you needed to worry about!

But surely these small, trace amounts aren’t going to hurt us? Mark Mitchell, M.D. and president of the Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice, says, “Lead builds up in the body over time and lead-containing lipstick applied several times a day, every day, can add up to significant exposure levels. The latest studies show there is no safe level of lead exposure.” Pregnant women, particularly, need to be careful to protect developing infants. And if you’re going through chemotherapy or radiation, lead is the last thing you want to apply on your possibly chapped lips. (Click hereto read our post on lip-care during treatment.)

The FDA is supposed to be following up on the Safe Cosmetics report, but so far no action has been taken. The old rules-which are no rules-still apply. The FDA doesn’t limit lead in lipstick, or any other cosmetic, for that matter. (Click here to read the “Toxic Truth” about our beauty industry.)

Why do manufacturers put lead in lipstick anyway? Apparently colorants used in lipsticks can contain lead, or lead may be introduced as a by-product from other ingredients, like mineral wax or paraffin, even mineral oil. (Read about the dangers of petroleum-derived ingredients). So companies don’t purposely put the lead in there, but it can form as a result of how they process and combine other ingredients.

Where does that leave you and your favorite shade? Since the Safe Cosmetics study didn’t cover all brands or all varieties, it’s a little tough to weed out the leaded from the lead-free, as lead certainly isn’t listed on the ingredient deck. The best option is for the laws to change, and the FDA to crack down on the amount of lead in cosmetics. “It’s unconscionable that women should have to worry about lead in lipsticks,” said Stacy Malkan of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.

In the meantime, the study did find that 39% of the products tested had no detectable levels of lead. (You can find those listed here.) Other companies are joining the bandwagon. Check out Gabriel Cosmetics (lead-free and formulated with chemical-free sunscreen), Zuzu Luxe (infused with herbs and essential oils), David Scott Cosmetics (includes lead-free glosses), and Aromaleigh (lead-free colors with botanicals). With a little research you can find more options, and enjoy luscious lips without the tasteless taint!

Have any great recommendations for lead-free lipsticks? Let us know!