Women might do well to think for a moment before painting their lips red. According to consumer group 'Campaign for Safe Cosmetics' (CSC), one-thirds of lipsticks manufactured in the United States and used by millions of American women contain lead at a level that exceeds the limit allowed in food.
The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics describes itself as a coalition of women's, public-health, labor, environmental-health and consumer-rights groups whose goal is to pressure companies to remove toxic chemicals from their products and replace them with safer alternatives.
The lead tests found half of 33 brand-name red lipsticks bought in Boston, Hartford, Conn., San Francisco and Minneapolis contained detectable levels of lead, ranging between 0.03 and 0.65 parts per million (ppm).
High levels of lead were detected in expensive brands like Dior Addict, which is sold for $24.50 each, while some cheap brands like Revlon, which is sold for $7.49 each, did not contain a detectable level of lead.
Some top brands that contain high levels of lead include L'Oreal Colour Riche 'True Red' (0.65 ppm), L'Oreal Colour Riche 'Classic Wine' (0.58 ppm), Cover Girl Incredifull Lipcolor 'Maximum Red' (0.56 ppm) and Dior Addict 'Positive Red' (0.21 ppm).
Meanwhile L'Oréal has challenged that its products contain harmful ingredients. It replied to the allegation via email saying that its products have been thoroughly reviewed and tested by the company's toxicologists, clinicians, pharmacists and physicians and is in compliance with federal regulations.
Lead is known to cause irreversible damage to neurons and one's capability of learning and language skills. It can lower one's IQ and cause behavioral problems. Pregnant women and young children are particularly vulnerable to lead poisoning, which can also cause infertility and miscarriage.
'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,' warns Mark Mitchell, M.D., MPH, president, Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice.
'The cosmetics industry needs to clean up its act and remove lead and other toxic ingredients from their products,' points out Stacy Malkan, author of the just-released book, 'Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry.'
The CSC is calling on the manufacturers to reformulate their products to make them lead-free and also asking the FDA to regulate the personal care products.
The trade association representing the cosmetic industry has acknowledged 'negligible' levels of lead in some lipsticks but says it is not intentionally added. 'Consumers are exposed daily to lead when they eat, drink water and breathe,' says John Bailey, an executive vice president at the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association. 'The average amount of lead a woman would be exposed to when using cosmetics is 1,000 times less than the amount she would get from eating, breathing and drinking water that meets Environmental Protection Agency drinking-water standards', he informs.