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FAQ: Lead in Lipstick


Does lipstick really contain lead?

What did the FDA study of lead in lipstick find?

The FDA Web site states that the lead found in lipstick samples by the agency is not a safety concern. What is this assessment based on?

The FDA Web site states that the lead found in lipstick samples by the agency is not a safety concern. What is this assessment based on?

Are the FDA findings consistent with the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics’ 2007 study of lead in lipstick?

How can I find the FDA study?

What are the health concerns of lead in lipstick? Is just a little bit of lead really harmful?

If lead is dangerous primarily for children, why do we have to worry if it’s in products marketed to women?

Why does lipstick contain lead?

What can people do to avoid lead in lipstick?

Are there government standards regulating lead in lipstick?

What should I buy?

What advice would you give to those women who want to wear lipstick despite these dangers?

Do other makeup products contain lead (e.g. foundation or eye shadow)?

What’s next?


Q: Does lipstick really contain lead?

A: Yes. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics first broke the story about lead in lipstick with our 2007 report: "A Poison Kiss, The Problem of Lead in Lipstick." We found lead in more than half the 33 brands we tested, at levels up to 0.65 parts per million (ppm). Since then, tests conducted by the US Food and Drug Administration have found lead in hundreds of brands of lipstick, at levels far higher than previously reported. The most recent FDA analysis found the highest levels of lead – 7.19 ppm -- in Maybelline Color Sensation by L’Oreal USA. Five of the 10 most lead-contaminated brands in the FDA study were made by L’Oreal. (link to new press release)

Q: What did the FDA study of lead in lipstick find?

A: FDA used a new analytical method to look for lead in lipstick, and found that the lead levels in lipstick are much higher than initially reported by Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.  FDA’s first study, released in 2009, found lead in 20 samples of red lipstick at levels up to 3.06 ppm. An expanded analysis of 400 lipsticks by FDA found lead levels up to 7.19 ppm – more than 70 times higher than the FDA’s limit for lead in candy of 0.1 ppm, a limit set by FDA to protect children from lead exposure. The candy limit is based on the reasoning that 0.1 ppm is the lowest lead level that can be achieved in candy. Using the same logic, FDA should immediately set standards to require manufacturers to minimize lead in lipstick to the lowest possible levels.


Q: The FDA Web site states that the lead found in lipstick samples by the agency is not a safety concern. What is this assessment based on?

A: FDA tested lipstick for the presence of lead only. The agency has not conducted a safety assessment about the health effects of lead exposure from lipstick, nor have they done any studies to determine the amount of lipstick that is ingested by consumers. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics has written to FDA about these concerns and asked them to correct misleading information on their website. Link to our letter to FDA

Q: Are the FDA findings consistent with the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics’ 2007 study of lead in lipstick?

A: Yes, all the studies found lead in lipstick at widely varying levels – indicating that some manufacturers are doing a much job than others of keeping lead to the lowest levels. 


Q: How can I find the FDA study?

A: Here is the link to the most recent analysis by FDA of 400 brands of lipstick. http://www.fda.gov/Cosmetics/ProductandIngredientSafety/ProductInformation/ucm137224.htm#expanalyses


Q: What are the health concerns of lead in lipstick? Is just a little bit of lead really harmful?

A: Health experts argue that there is no safe level of lead exposure for children or pregnant women.

“Since recent science suggests that there is truly no safe lead exposure for children and pregnant women, it is disturbing that manufacturers are allowed to continue to sell lead-containing lipsticks," according to Dr. Sean Palfrey, a professor of pediatrics and public health at Boston University and the medical director of Boston's Lead Poisoning Prevention Program. “Lead is a proven neurotoxin that can cause learning, language and behavioral problems such as lowered IQ, reduced school performance and increased aggression. Pregnant women and young children are particularly vulnerable to lead exposure, because lead easily crosses the placenta and enters the fetal brain where it can interfere with normal development.”

In a review of recent science published in the April 2008 Current Opinion in Pediatrics, David C. Bellinger, Ph.D., of Harvard Medical School concluded: “No level of lead exposure appears to be 'safe' and even the current 'low' levels of exposure in children are associated with neurodevelopmental deficits.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states: “No safe blood lead level has been identified.” The agency suggests avoiding cosmetics that contain lead.


Q: If lead is dangerous primarily for children, why do we have to worry if it’s in products marketed to women?

A: In order to protect children from unnecessary lead exposures, it is necessary to protect pregnant women, and all women of childbearing age. Teenagers and young girls using lipstick are exposing themselves to lead, which builds up in the body and stays in their bodies for years.

“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,” according to Mark Mitchell, M.D., MPH, president of the Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice.

Lead is also linked to infertility and miscarriage.


Q: Why does lipstick contain lead?

A: Lead is a considered to be a contaminant in lipstick, and therefore it is not listed on labels. Lipstick can become contaminated with lead in two ways: raw materials used in the lipstick may be contaminated with lead, or the pigments (paints) used in the lipstick contain lead.

FDA noted that the lipsticks containing the most lead came from three manufacturers. The CSC study also found that a few manufacturers consistently had the highest lead levels. This indicates that some companies are using better manufacturing practices than others.


Q: What can people do to avoid lead in lipstick?

A: Unfortunately, there is no way to know how much lead is in your favorite lipstick. We must call on FDA to immediately set standards to require manufacturers to reduce lead to the lowest achievable levels, and call on FDA to make public the full results of its study, including the brands tested and how much lead they contained. 


Q: Are there government standards regulating lead in lipstick?


A: There are no standards in the United States limiting lead in lipstick. It is legal for lipsticks sold in the U.S. to contain any amount of lead, without any notice to consumers.

Lead is banned from all cosmetics sold in the European Union.

Lead is listed under California’s Proposition 65 list of chemicals known to cause cancer or birth defects, meaning that manufacturers of products containing certain levels of lead must notify consumers of risk. The state has said 5 ppm is the actionable lead level in lipstick. However, the Prop 65 calculations do not include the latest science on neurotoxicity, which shows that lead can cause brain damage in children and fetuses at extremely low levels.

Canada has a draft recommendation to allow up to 10 ppm lead in lipstick. This level, which is only a draft and has not been finalized, is much too high. Obviously, manufacturers can do much better than that, and government standards should require manufacturers to make lipstick with the lowest achievable levels of lead.


Q: What should I buy?

A: We can’t say. Our product tests covered just a tiny percentage of lipsticks on the market, so they can’t be used as a guide for what to buy. We don’t want anyone to think the testing of these products is the last word on which lipsticks contain lead. This is just a starting point. The FDA tests confirmed that lead is commonly found in lipstick, at even higher levels than our tests found.

Consumers without access to laboratory testing cannot determine how much lead is in their lipstick – and you definitely won't find lead listed among the ingredients.

The bottom line is that we can’t shop our way out of this problem. We need to change the laws so that consumers are protected from toxic ingredients in cosmetics.


Q: What advice would you give to those women who want to wear lipstick?

A: Women should be able to wear lipstick and be safe from heavy metals and other toxic ingredients. Because of the current lack of government testing or regulation, we can't say which brands are safe. Limiting one's use of lipstick to special occasions might be a good way to go while we work on to empower the FDA to regulate cosmetics and push the industry to manufacture safer products.


Q: Do other makeup products contain lead (e.g. foundation or eye shadow)?

A: Yes. A study of Halloween face paint conducted by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics found lead in all products tested. A recent study by Environmental Defense Canada found lead and other hazardous heavy metals in a wide range of cosmetic products. (link to Hween report and EDC study)


Q: What’s next?

A: The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, with your help, will continue to pressure FDA to require best practices of manufacturers and require them to make the safest lipstick with the lowest possible levels of lead. We must also pressure FDA to fully disclose the results of their lead in lipstick study, including the names of the brands tested matched with lead levels found in each product. Get involved by writing to L’Oreal to demand cleaner products, and joining our action network.