A recent study by researchers at the University of California Berkeley’s School of Public Health found that 32 lipsticks sold in drugstores and department stores contain small amounts of lead, chromium, cadmium, aluminum and five other metals. The study, published in the Journal of Environmental Health Perspectives, found that people who use an average amount of lipstick, reapplying it twice a day and ingesting up to 24mg, could be exposed to hexavalent chromium, a carcinogen that’s been linked to stomach tumors.
But not everyone agreed with the Cal-Berkeley findings.
Dr. Michael Gochfeld, an occupational medicine specialist from Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in Piscataway, NJ, refuted the report:
“The authors make the worst case assumption that all chromium in lipstick is the carcinogenic form, but that is not the case. In any case, the chromium levels were generally low. There were very few really high levels and the lead levels seem lower than years ago.”
Industry groups, too, had harsh words for the study. Linda Loretz, chief toxicologist, Personal Care Products Council, said the Cal-Berkeley report does not provide any new meaningful information. She said the finding of trace levels of metals in lip products is not unexpected, given their natural presence in the air, soil and water.
The Industry Response
“The presence of two of the metals (titanium and aluminum) in cosmetics were found at higher levels because they are used as actual ingredients, approved by the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA),” said Loretz. “While levels of titanium and aluminum were low, they were higher than any of the other analyzed metals. Titanium dioxide is an FDA-approved colorant and widely used in cosmetics, including lipstick and is also a food ingredient. Aluminum is a common color component used to make the color more stable. The use of aluminum is also approved by FDA for colorant use in cosmetics and in food.”
According to the Independent Cosmetic Manufacturers and Distributors (ICMAD), the issue of lead in lipstick has long been studied and thoroughly addressed by FDA, first in 2009 and then more recently in 2011, when expanded findings were published.
ICMAD noted that FDA assessed the potential for harm to consumers from use of lipstick containing lead at the levels found in both rounds of testing. Lipstick, as a product intended for topical use with limited absorption, is ingested only in very small quantities.
“We do not consider the lead levels we found in the lipsticks to be a safety concern,” said FDA. “The lead levels we found are within the limits recommended by other public health authorities for lead in cosmetics, including lipstick.”
Putting It in Context
Loretz went on to note that a few of the metals studied in the report are essential nutrients. For example, cobalt is essential as a component of vitamin B12, required for the production of red blood cells. Copper is an essential component of several enzymes. Manganese is required for the growth, development, and maintenance of health, and is present in most tissues of all living organisms, she said.
“Trace amounts of metals in lip products need to be put into context,” insisted Loretz. “Food is a primary source for many of these naturally present metals, and exposure from lip products is minimal in comparison.”
According to Loretz, daily trace amounts of chromium or cadmium from lip products based on the results in this report are less than 1% of daily exposures one would get from their diet. In the case of manganese, typical daily intake from food is more than 1000-fold greater than the amount from lip products. Metals that are prohibited in the EU are not used as cosmetic ingredients in either the EU or the US.
“Cosmetic companies are required by law to substantiate the safety of their products before they are marketed,” Loretz concluded. “Nothing matters more to cosmetic companies than the safety and the well-being of the people who use and enjoy them.”
Harvey M. Fishman
Harvey Fishman has a consulting firm in Wanaque, NJ, specializing in cosmetic formulations and new product ideas, offering tested finished products. He has more than 30 years of experience and has been director of research at Bonat, Nestlé LeMur and Turner Hall. He welcomes descriptive literature from suppliers and bench chemists and others in the field.