Though no one really wants to hear they are putting lead into or on their bodies, the fact is that many cosmetics contain low levels of lead. While the amount of lead in your lipstick might be too low to do any harm, the Food and Drug Administration is still taking steps to further limit the amount of the chemical found in such products.
The FDA released draft guidelines [PDF] that would limit cosmetic products to using no more than 10 parts per million (ppm) lead in products including lipstick, eye shadow, lotions, and other cosmetic items.
The guidance does not apply to topically applied products that are classified as drugs or to hair dyes that contain lead acetate as an ingredient.
“We consider the recommended maximum lead level to be achievable with the use of good manufacturing practices,” the agency said in the notice, noting that any other countries adhere to the same limit. Additionally, most products already have a lead level of 10 ppm or lower, meaning the recommendation wouldn’t likely pose an issue for manufacturers.
The FDA says that it came to the conclusion that 10 ppm was acceptable after determining it would not pose a health risk after conducting surveys of several lipsticks.
In Oct. 2007, the FDA began collecting commercial samples of lipsticks available in the U.S. market — 20 shades from 12 brands — to analyze how much lead was present.
FDA scientists detected lead in all of the lipstick samples analyzed, ranging from 0.09 ppm to 3.06 ppm.
Three years later, the agency expanded the tests to 400 cosmetic lip products, finding lead levels ranging from 0.026 ppm to 7.19 ppm.
Separate surveys for 204 externally applied cosmetics — such as eye shadows — found lead levels ranging from 6.7 to 9.4 ppm.
Despite the findings, the FDA notes that consumers’ actual exposure to lead is probably limited further as the cosmetics are only applied to a small portion of the skin.
“Based in part on the data from our surveys, we are recommending a maximum level of 10 ppm for lead as an impurity in cosmetic lip products,” the agency said. “The low levels of lead we found in most of the surveyed products indicate that the manufacturers of those products were likely to have sourced their ingredients appropriately and to have used good manufacturing practices during the production of their products.”
While the FDA maintains that the levels of lead in cosmetics are generally safe, others have argued that the chemical should be banned altogether for this sort of use. Last month, the Natural Resources Defense Council listed eliminating lead in cosmetics as a must-do to combat concerns about lead toxicity in the U.S.