People may be adding a bit more than a touch of color to their lips, according to a new UC Berkeley study. (iStock)

by Sarah Yang, UC Berkeley

May 3, 2013 (TSR) – A new analysis of the contents of lipstick and lip gloss may cause you to pause before puckering.

Scientists found lead and eight other metals in lipsticks commonly sold in the US, in some cases at levels that could raise potential health concerns.

The researchers tested 32 different lipsticks and lip glosses sold in drugstores and department stores and detected lead, cadmium, chromium, aluminum, and five other metals.

Prior studies also have found metals in cosmetics, but the new study, published online in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, estimated risk by analyzing the concentration of the metals detected and consumers’ potential daily intake of the metals, and then comparing this intake  with existing health guidelines.

“Just finding these metals isn’t the issue; it’s the levels that matter,” says principal investigator S. Katharine Hammond, professor of environmental health sciences at the University of California, Berkeley. “Some of the toxic metals are occurring at levels that could possibly have an effect in the long term.”

Lipstick and lip gloss are of special concern because when they are not being blotted on tissue or left as kiss marks, they’re ingested or absorbed, bit by bit, by the individual wearing them.

The researchers developed definitions for average and high use of lip makeup based on usage data reported in a previous study. Average use was defined as daily ingestion of 24 milligrams of lip makeup per day. Those who slather on lip color and reapply it repeatedly could fall into the high use category of 87 milligrams ingested per day.

Using acceptable daily intakes derived from this study, average use of some lipsticks and lip glosses would result in excessive exposure to chromium, a carcinogen linked to stomach tumors.

High use of these makeup products could result in potential 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 products, but at a concentration that was generally lower than the acceptable daily intake level. However, the lead levels still raised concerns for young children, who sometimes play with makeup, since no level of lead exposure is considered safe for them, the researchers say.

For most adults, there is no reason to toss the lip gloss in the trash, but the amount of metals found do signal the need for more oversight by health regulators.

At present, there are no US standards for metal content in cosmetics. The European Union considers cadmium, chromium and lead to be unacceptable ingredients—at any level—in cosmetic products.

“I believe that the FDA should pay attention to this,” says study lead author Sa Liu, a researcher in environmental health sciences. “Our study was small, using lip products that had been identified by young Asian women in Oakland, California.

“But, the lipsticks and lip glosses in our study are common brands available in stores everywhere. Based upon our findings, a larger, more thorough survey of lip products—and cosmetics in general—is warranted.”

The National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health Education Research Center helped support this research.

Read the original study here.

DOI: 10.1289/ehp.1205518


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