What the Yuck: Is there lead in my lipstick?
February 4th, 2011
03:10 PM ET

What the Yuck: Is there lead in my lipstick?

Too embarrassed to ask your doctor about sex, body quirks, or the latest celeb health fad? In a regular feature and a new book, "What the Yuck?!," Health magazine medical editor Dr. Roshini Raj tackles your most personal and provocative questions. Send 'em to Dr. Raj at whattheyuck@health.com.

Q: Is it true there's lead in my red lipstick?

This is one internet rumor that's true. Some red lipsticks do contain lead. In fact, a few independent studies by the Food and Drug Administration and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics have found low levels of lead in many red tubes, and not just the cheap ones. Some really expensive brands pack more lead than drugstore lipsticks.

What's the harm in lead? While this toxic metal is far more dangerous to children (another reason you may not want a lead-loaded tube in your handbag), it can harm adults, too, building up in our bodies over time and causing high blood pressure and anemia, as well as reproductive and neurological problems.

But don't panic - there hasn't been a single reported case of lead poisoning from lip color.

Still, why chance it? Although the levels are low (less than you get from drinking tap water in many areas of the country), if you reapply your "poppy red" several times a day, it could build up in your body. So it makes sense to check Safecosmetics.org and see if your favorite brand is safe.

Copyright Health Magazine 2011

soundoff (41 Responses)
  1. Cindy

    Agreed! Lead is such a clear hazard...I certainly don't want it on my lips!

    February 4, 2011 at 18:31 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jesus

      Besides it looks terrible!

      February 6, 2011 at 10:21 | Report abuse |
  2. gallatindhs

    Check out the work of Teens Turning Green– http://www.teensturninggreen.org. These teenagers from across the country are trying to educate consumers about the health implications of the products we use everyday. They even impacted the passage of a bill, SB484, into law! They are the ones responsible for the Abercrombie protests: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GwEf6ICfLMk

    February 4, 2011 at 19:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Jeff

    "there hasn't been a single reported case of lead poisoning from lip color." "Although the levels are low (less than you get from drinking tap water in many areas of the country)"

    So we should REALLY stop drinking tap water?


    February 4, 2011 at 20:12 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jennifer

      It may not be possible to stop using tap water, but it is possible to find alternatives to lipstick with lead. One should take steps, where feasible, to eliminate unnecessary risks.

      February 6, 2011 at 15:44 | Report abuse |
  4. Frank

    I distill my water (the coffee pot size machine costs $500) plus about $35 of electricity per month for 3 liters a day. No worries about lead, chemicals, radioactivity... Lipstick has lead and petroleum in it. Water has lead too, and fish... So, a little bit here, a little bit there. What stupid animal species knowingly poisons itself, lol.

    February 4, 2011 at 20:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. jazmine

    if there is lead in our tap water why isnt the fda doing anything about it???????

    February 4, 2011 at 20:37 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Frank

      It's the same thing here in Canada, Jasmine. Everyone wonders what Health Canada is about as they only react after the fact, after deaths, etc.

      February 4, 2011 at 20:41 | Report abuse |
  6. Frank

    For the love of money.

    February 4, 2011 at 20:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Maria

    I guess Gwen Stefani is doomed.

    February 4, 2011 at 21:33 | Report abuse | Reply
    • jillybean

      lol yea it looks like she goes through a tube a day.

      February 5, 2011 at 09:40 | Report abuse |
  8. Anongirl30

    It's probably never been reported simply because most of never get tested for heavy metals and therefore never know if our lead levels are high. And we don't usually get tested, even if we become ill, and if someone is diagnosed with lead poisoning, they assume it was from something besides their cosmetics.

    The cosmetics companies should be held responsible, if their lipsticks are found to contain measurable levels of lead, but in this world, Corporations get away with most of their nonsense.

    February 5, 2011 at 05:45 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Rhonda

      If you want to find cosmetics and personal care products that are safe and transparent when it comes to the ingredients used in their products, find a company that has signed the Compact for Safe Cosmetics. http://www.safecosmetics.org/article.php?list=type&type=32

      You can use this quick guide for what NOT to have in your products:http://safeskincareshoppingguide.blogspot.com/

      February 6, 2011 at 18:55 | Report abuse |
    • Danika

      @Rhonda, just looked at the products you represent. At least 1 of them contains many of the ingredients Stacy's book warns about. You might want to investigate the ingredients.

      February 7, 2011 at 12:37 | Report abuse |
  9. jillybean

    Not just lead but other metals that are bad. Bottom line is the fda doesn't care what is in your makeup. I have been waiting for this to get coverage as the science magazines have been talking about this for some time.

    February 5, 2011 at 09:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. becky

    id# 18804537
    Mineral and petroleum oil are the 2nd most aging thing for your skin! I know this: arbonne a skincare line from Switzerland has 500 extra chemicals banned that are still allowed in formulating products in the US! The avg woman ingests 5lbs of animal product and animal by-products and mineral and petroleum oil! Arbonne has NONE of this in their products. Or dyes, bleach or added fragrances! I know I don't want that on my face or around my lips! Try Arbonne, its amazing!

    February 5, 2011 at 09:46 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Danika

      Becky, Arbonne DOES have dangerous ingredients in them. Research the ingredients yourself. Don't just go by what the company says.

      February 7, 2011 at 12:33 | Report abuse |
  11. Becky

    Okay, I just checked our ingredients in arbonne ~ NO LEAD either! And the lipsticks are beautiful along with every other skincare and cosmetic product Arbonne has!

    February 5, 2011 at 10:44 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Terri

      Companies don't list lead on the ingredients list. And Arbonne contains plenty of petroleum-based ingredients. Again, you just won't see them listed as "petroleum."

      February 6, 2011 at 17:58 | Report abuse |
  12. jillmarie

    I wear ed all the time- Revlon, L'oreal, maybelline and cover girl are faves. Are they on the list? My work computer has limited access.

    February 5, 2011 at 12:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Stacy Malkan

    FDA's study found the highest levels of lead in lipsticks made by three manufacturers: Procter & Gamble (Cover Girl brand), L'Oreal (L'Oreal, Body Shop and Maybelline brands) and Revlon. The lead levels found were overall still low - however, any level of lead exposure is a concern, and it is clear that these companies could be doing a better job. To find out more about the studies of lead in lipstick, please see: http://www.safecosmetics.org/article.php?id=223.

    I'm glad to see this post today. I just blogged about this yesterday in response to a comment from a cosmetics industry lobbyist who tweeted that my concerns about lead in lipstick are "crap" - here's what I had to say about that: http://notjustaprettyface.org/

    Stacy Malkan
    Campaign for Safe Cosmetics
    Author, "Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry."

    February 5, 2011 at 15:35 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Rhonda

      Thanks for all of your work. If you really want to learn more and you are serious about understanding how the cosmetic industry works, (or doesn't) you must read Stacy Malkan's book. We must take responsibility for our own health.

      February 6, 2011 at 19:03 | Report abuse |
  14. r

    Make sure you wash off all that anti-perspirant you put on your underarms at the end of the day.

    February 5, 2011 at 19:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. shayshay

    Is more concerned about the cows blood that is used for dye.

    February 5, 2011 at 23:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. poison

    Busted. The Xenophobic crowd can't blame it on the Chinese this time around.

    February 6, 2011 at 11:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. elizabeth

    As the owner of a small, natural bath & beauty company, I'm very aware of these dangers and have been trying to educate my customers. I've been using beet root powder to bring some color to one of my lip balms, versus mineral pigments. It's tricky because mineral pigments are from the earth and therefore considered natural, but unfortunately, they aren't all lead-free. I emailed Burt's Bees, since I use their lip shimmers, and they have had traces lead in their merlot lip shimmer. Fortunately, the others are lead-free. As with our food, we need to educate ourselves about the dangers of chemicals and toxins in our personal care products, since the FDA isn't sufficiently doing its job to protect consumers.

    If you're concerned about your drinking water, read my most recent blog post: http://sagepath.blogspot.com/

    February 6, 2011 at 15:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Jennifer

    There are plenty of wonderful cosmetics available that don't use lead as an ingredient. Why would anyone continue to use a product that contains dangerous chemicals when there are natural alternatives available?

    February 6, 2011 at 15:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. facefacts

    FACEFACTS is 100% natural and lead free. Visit the web site and enter the code RPJTO730- you will get 10% off your purchase! http://www.facefactsbylori.com

    February 6, 2011 at 17:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Jim X

    Businesses have no conscience. You can get sick or die using their products and they don't care. Profit is the only reason for their existence. Given the opportunity, they lie and cut corners in order to maximize their profit which is why there must be regulations with serious teeth in a civilized country that exists of, for and by the people.

    February 6, 2011 at 19:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Jennifer Taggart, TheSmartMama

    I test products for lead content using a Niton XRF analyzer and advise clients on compliance with various consumer product llabeling laws. I have found lead in some lipsticks at very low levels using the XRF analyzer. For the most part, lead is not added as an ingredient to lipsticks so it doesn't appear on the ingredient list – it is a contaminant in another ingredient (just like 1,4 dioxane is a contaminant of ethoxylated ingredients like sodium laureth sylfate). Lead exposure is additive. The recommended daily exposure level for lead is based upon an assumption of a certain amount in your drinking water (primarily from transmission lines, faucets, and fittings, not from source water). Then, you add the lead dust in your home, airborne lead, lead in PVC plastic, lead in soils from its historic use as a gasoline additive, etc., and you don't need the little bit in your lipstick.

    Jennifer Taggart
    Author, Smart Mama's Green Guide: Simple Steps to Reduce Your Child's Toxic Chemical Exposure

    February 7, 2011 at 13:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Lisa

    Thank you Dr. Gupta for highlighting this symptom of a much larger problem: our cosmetics and personal care products, and the chemicals that go into many of our everyday products, aren't regulated adequately to ensure we aren't uncessarily exposed on a daily basis to toxics that build up on our bodies and in those of our kids. Learn more, find safer products and take action for change at http://www.safecosmetics.org.

    February 7, 2011 at 14:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Paula

    Cosmetics are full of carcinogens


    February 7, 2011 at 15:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Jacqui

    Look for a company that has had their lipsticks/lipgloss 3rd party tested for LEAD by a reputable company!

    September 29, 2011 at 08:28 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.