You lipstick could be delivering more than just a pretty pout. High-use pucker perfecters could be ingesting unwanted metals, according to a recent study. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley’s School of Public Health have identified concerning levels of potentially cancer-causing metals in lipstick and lip gloss.
While they are not naming names, the team tested 32 different lipsticks and lip glosses commonly found in drugstores and department stores. They found lead, cadmium, chromium, aluminum, and five other metals, some of which were found at levels that could raise potential health concerns. Their findings will be published online in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
Lipstick and lip gloss may pose special risks since they can be ingested or absorbed by the wearer, the study authors note. Average lipstick use was defined as daily ingestion of 24 milligrams of lip makeup per day. Those who slather on their favorite lip color and reapply it before, during, and after every meal or conversation could fall into the high use category of 87 milligrams ingested per day.
According to this calculation, average use of some lipsticks and lip glosses would result in excessive exposure to chromium, which has been linked to stomach cancers. Lipstick lovers who are considered high users could risk 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. Lead was detected in 24 lip products, but at a concentration that was lower than the acceptable daily intake level
Cadmium exists in different forms, some of which are much more toxic than others. The study was unable to differentiate which form of cadmium was present in the lipsticks and glosses, cautions investigator S. Katharine Hammond, PhD, a professor of environmental health science at University of California, Berkeley’s School of Public Health.
So what should lipstick lovers do? “If this were my sister or best friend, I don’t know,” she says. “We did not see any pattern like this color was more likely to have more toxic metals than that color so that makes it more complicated.”
High-end users may apply their lipstick a dozen times a day, and should use lipstick or lip gloss judiciously, she says. Children should not play with lipstick and pregnant women may also want to be careful about how much lipstick or gloss they apply, she says.
The issue is one that should be addressed on a legislative level, she says. At present, there are no U.S. standards for metal content in cosmetics. By contrast, the European Union considers cadmium, chromium, and lead to be unacceptable ingredients—at any level—in cosmetic products.