When it comes to lipstick, red is good – but lead is bad.

And lead, according to a recent report, is found in small amounts as an ingredient in the pigment that provides the color in some lipstick brands. That’s why deep-red lipsticks in particular have been singled out for testing.

So is this something we need to add to our list of things to worry about?

Lead is known to cause damage to the central nervous system, especially in children.

But, experts say, let’s keep it all in perspective.

In a report released this month, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a coalition of consumer advocacy groups, said it tested 33 lipsticks from a variety of brands and that one-third of those contained lead levels higher than 0.01 parts per million.

That is the federal limit for lead in candy. The group used the comparison with candy for two reasons: Because when you wear lipstick, a tiny portion may be ingested, and there isn’t a federal standard for lead in cosmetics, but there is for candy.

Some of the highest lead levels, the report said, were in L’Oreal’s Colour Riche True Red and Classic Wine, Cover Girl’s Maximum Red and Christian Dior’s Positive Red.

L’Oreal challenges the claim, saying its products have been tested by toxicologists and doctors and are in compliance with federal regulations.

Bryn Kenny, spokeswoman for Christian Dior’s beauty division, said in a statement that the company is dedicated to ensuring product safety. “To this end, we conduct comprehensive tests of all of our products for compliance with all regulations in the U.S., Europe and Japan and all other markets where they are sold as well as even more rigorous criteria that we set internally,” she said. “Based on this, we are confident that our products meet the highest standards and are entirely safe to be used by consumers every day.”

But what about the Food and Drug Administration? Doesn’t it test cosmetics for safe ingredients?

Stephanie Kwisnek, a spokeswoman for the administration, said it has been aware of past concerns raised periodically by reports in the media and on the Internet about lead in lipstick.

“These concerns have not generally been supported by the FDA’s own analysis of products on the market,” she said in an e-mail. “In this case, we are looking into the specific details of the issues raised.”

Kwisnek said the FDA will do its own tests to confirm “the factual basis” of the recent reports to determine what, if anything, should be done to protect the public’s health.

‘Fully approved by FDA’

Anitra Marsh, spokeswoman for Cover Girl through Procter & Gamble’s North America/global cosmetics, said, “We stand by the safety of our products; all the colorants we use have been fully approved by the FDA for use in cosmetics.”

The report by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics should not be confused with a chain letter that made the e-mail rounds last spring.

It warned that lipstick causes cancer because it contains a dangerously high level of lead and claimed that “if your lipstick stays on longer, it’s because of the higher content of lead.”

The e-mail advised people to put lipstick on the back of their hands, then use a gold ring to scratch the lipstick. If the lipstick color changed to black, the lipstick contained lead, the e-mail said.

According to several industry experts, the e-mail is not true, including the statement that lead causes cancer.

Lead is most toxic to fetuses, babies and children, whose nervous systems are still developing.

Dr. Lawrence Quang knows quite a bit about the dangers of lead. He is a pediatric emergency physician at Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital and medical director of the Greater Cleveland Poison Control Center.

“When you consider that you should have no lead at all in your body, it is a source of concern if lipstick contains some lead,” he said. “We see new data every day that says lead is toxic, even at low concentrations.”

Lead is most toxic to fetuses, babies and children, whose nervous systems are still developing. As Quang pointed out, the United States banned lead in paint since 1978 and phased lead out of gasoline in the mid-1990s. “So we’ve eliminated significant sources in the environment, but now we may have introduced another source. No exposure is good.”

Quang said the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics study has brought the issue to the attention of the FDA, “who will need to validate it.”

Paula Begoun, known as the “Cosmetics Cop” for her books and Web site (www.cosmeticscop.com) examining claims by cosmetics company, wrote a special bulletin on the issue.

She noted that the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics report “incorrectly states that lipstick is ingested like candy. It mentions the FDA’s 0.01 parts per million limit for lead in candy, and that no such safety limits exist for lipstick. … What’s missing is that women aren’t eating lipsticks in the same manner they do candy or food.”

“In fact, the amount of lipstick that’s actually ingested is minuscule compared to what comes off on coffee cups and other objects.”

She added that “without question, lead is a harmful substance; however, there is simply no proof that the tiny amount that may be in some lipsticks is causing harm.”

Free-lance makeup artist Lisa Adams, who works with John Roberts Spa & Salon in Solon, Ohio, said none of her clients has mentioned the issue of lead in lipstick. She herself had heard of it, though.

“There seems to be enough interest in the topic that there will be more testing done,” she said. “Yes, you do ingest a certain amount of lipstick, and for myself, I try to use natural products – then again, I don’t eat processed food either.”

If women are concerned, she says, they can opt for natural lines of cosmetics. Companies such as Burt’s Bees and Aveda use pigments from natural sources, such as beet juice.


These are the lipsticks the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics reported as having lead levels higher than 0.1 parts per million, listed from lowest to highest. Two lipsticks are listed twice, demonstrating, the report said, that levels were not consistent by brand, shade or the state in which they were purchased. The complete report can be downloaded at www.safecosmetics.org.

Maybelline NY Moisture Extreme Scarlet Simmer: 0.11 ppm.

Cover Girl Incredifull Lipcolor Maximum Red: 0.12 ppm.

Peacekeeper Paint Me Compassionate: 0.12 ppm.

Maybelline NY Moisture Extreme Midnight Red: 0.18 ppm.

Maybelline NY Moisture Extreme Cocoa Plum: 0.19 ppm.

Dior Addict Positive Red: 0.21 ppm.

Cover Girl Continuous Color Cherry Brandy: 0.28 ppm.

L’Oreal Colour Riche True Red: 0.50 ppm.

Cover Girl Incredifull Lipcolor Maximum Red: 0.56 ppm.

L’Oreal Colour Riche Classic Wine: 0.58 ppm.

L’Oreal Colour Riche True Red: 0.65 ppm.

Note: Procter & Gamble is the parent company of the Cover Girl brand; LVMH of the Dior brand; Peacekeeper of the Peacekeeper brand; and L’Oreal of the Maybelline and L’Oreal brands.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.