UC Berkeley Researchers Find Toxic Metals in Lipstick

Scientists hope their study will prompt more oversight by health regulators

By Lisa Fernandez
|  Friday, May 3, 2013  |  Updated 9:15 AM CDT
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Watch out ladies, before you pucker up, make sure your lips aren't covered in poison. A new analysis at the University of California, Berkeley’s School of Public Health tested 32 different lipsticks and lip glosses commonly found in drugstores and department stores. Marla Tellez reports.

Watch out ladies, before you pucker up, make sure your lips aren't covered in poison. A new analysis at the University of California, Berkeley’s School of Public Health tested 32 different lipsticks and lip glosses commonly found in drugstores and department stores. Marla Tellez reports.

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Watch out, ladies — before you pucker up, make sure your lips aren't covered in poison.

A new analysis at the University of California, Berkeley’s School of Public Health tested 32 different lipsticks and lip glosses used by young Asian women commonly found in drugstores and department stores.

The results were troubling: They detected lead, cadmium, chromium, aluminum and five other metals, some of which were found at levels that could raise potential health concerns. Their findings were published online Thursday in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

Earlier studies also have found metals in cosmetics.

But the Cal researchers estimated risk by analyzing the concentration of the metals detected and consumers’ potential daily intake of the metals, and then comparing this intake  with existing health guidelines, according to UC Berkeley's News Center.

"Just finding these metals isn’t the issue; it’s the levels that matter," said study principal investigator S. Katharine Hammond, professor of environmental health sciences. "Some of the toxic metals are occurring at levels that could possibly have an effect in the long term."

Lipstick and lip gloss are of special concern because when they are not being blotted on tissue or left as kiss marks, they are ingested or absorbed, bit by bit, by the individual wearing them, the study authors said.

For most women, there is no reason to toss the lip gloss in the trash, the study authors said.

But they hoped their study – and discovery of metals in the makeup – would prompt more oversight by health regulators. There are currently no U.S. standards for metal content in cosmetics. The authors note that the European Union considers cadmium, chromium and lead to be unacceptable ingredients – at any level – in cosmetic products.

"I believe that the FDA should pay attention to this," said study lead author Sa Liu, a UC Berkeley researcher in environmental health sciences. "Our study was small, using lip products that had been identified by young Asian women in Oakland. But the lipsticks and lip glosses in our study are common brands available in stores everywhere. Based upon our findings, a larger, more thorough survey of lip products – and cosmetics in general – is warranted."

Using acceptable daily intakes derived from this study, average use of some lipsticks and lip glosses would result in excessive exposure to chromium, a carcinogen linked to stomach tumors. High use of these makeup products could result in potential overexposure to aluminum, cadmium and manganese as well. Over time, exposure to high concentrations of manganese has been linked to toxicity in the nervous system.

Average use was defined as a daily ingestion of 24 milligrams of lipstick a day. Those who slather on the lip color and reapply it repeatedly could fall into the high use category of 87 milligrams ingested per day.

Lead was detected in 24 products, but at a concentration that was generally lower than the acceptable daily intake level. However, the lead levels still raised concerns for young children, who sometimes play with makeup, since no level of lead exposure is considered safe for them, the researchers said.

Ann Rojas-Cheatham, director of research and training at the Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice in Oakland, co-authored the study. The National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health Education Research Center helped support this research.

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