Is Lead in Your Lipstick Making You Sick?

A recent study found that 400 shades of lipstick -- including popular reds from Maybelline, L'Oreal and Cover Girl -- had traces of lead. Is your lipstick on the list?

We pursed our pouters when, in 2007, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics discovered that two-thirds of 33 red lipstick shades contained lead -- with one-third surpassing the FDA’s limit for lead in candy. Four years later, the controversial ingredient still isn’t off the shelves.

A recent study by the FDA found 400 shades that had trace amounts of lead. Even worse: The offenders (see list below) can be found both in luxury brands like Nars and drugstores chains like L’Oreal, Cover Girl and Maybelline.

So why is this still happening? The FDA doesn’t feel that lipstick should be held to the same lead standards as candy, because it’s not meant to be consumed. But the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics isn’t having it. And as any devout lipstick wearer knows, the perfect pout requires multiple applications throughout the day and if you're eating, drinking (or breathing), you're probably accidentally swallowing the pigment somehow.

“Lead builds in the body over time, and lead-containing lipstick applied several times a day, every day, can add up to significant exposure levels,” Mark Mitchell, co-chairman of the Environmental Health Task Force for the National Medical Association, said in the group’s statement.

But why lead in the first place? As the Wall Street Journal explains, “many color additives approved by the FDA are mineral-based and therefore contain trace levels of lead that is naturally found in soil, water and air.”

The studies are troubling, especially since the FDA doesn’t seem too concerned about protecting our lips – they are still torn as to whether or not they should place a limit on lead in lipstick (tick tock, guys). Until they say something, companies are not doing much to change their course. Ladies, it might be time to stick to unpigmented lip gloss. Remember, if the FDA isn't going to do anything about it, public action can. And if you’re going out, there’s always the smokey eye.

10 Worst Offenders (FDA limit for lead in candy is 0.1 parts per million, or ppm):

1. Maybelline’s Color Sensation in Pink Petal (Lead content: 7.19 ppm)

2. L’Oreal Colour Riche in Volcanic (Lead content: 7.00 ppm)

3. NARS Semi-Matte in Red Lizard (Lead content: 4.93 ppm)

4. Cover Girl Queen Collection Vibrant Hues Color in Ruby Remix (Lead content: 4.92 ppm)

5. NARS Semi-Matte in Funny Face (Lead content: 4.89)

6. L’Oreal Colour Rich in Tickled Pink (Lead content: 4.45)

7. L’Oreal Intensely Moisturizing Lipcolor in Heroic (Lead content: 4.41)

8. Cover Girl Continuous Color in Warm Brick (Lead content: 4.28)

9. Maybelline Color Sensational in Mauve Me (Lead content: 4.23)

10. Stargazer lipstick in shade “c” (Lead content: 4.12)

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