the truth about lead in lipstick

Say what?! There’s lead in my lipstick?!

*throws them all away*

Calm down, ladies!

I know, the rumour is scary. Lead is no joke. It can do you some serious harm. But, no one is going around sprinkling your lipsticks with lead.

Yet, somehow that sneaky little thingie manages to bypass security and slather its way into some of your fave (usually red) shades. How does it do it? Is it a magician or something?

Here’s the truth about lead in lipstick:

What Is Lead?

If you wanna fight the enemy, you must first get to know it. So, what is lead?

Lead is a greyish blue heavy metal that occurs naturally in the earth. Here’s the catch: whoever created the earth didn’t tuck away lead in a box under the oceans or in a volcano’s crater. Nope, they sprinkled it all over the earth. It’s in the soil. In the water. In the air, even.

In other words, lead is present almost everywhere. Through the food chain, it finds its way even on your plates. You’re exposed to it every single day and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Scary, huh?

There’s a silver lining: lead is present in water, food and cosmetics only in trace amounts that don’t pose a threat to human health.

Remember: it’s the dose that makes the poison. Your body knows it’s gonna have to deal with lead and, in small doses, it can quickly neutralise it. It’s when you are exposed to more lead than your body can dispose of that you get cancer.

Want to know what ingredients you really need to avoid in your skincare products? Sign up to the newsletter below to receive the “Skincare Ingredients To Avoid” cheatsheet:

Why Is Lead In My Lipsticks?

If lead is in the soil, it makes sense that everything that grows there, such as veggies and cereals, are contaminated with it.

It’s the same with lipsticks. You won’t find “lead” on any label because it’s not a cosmetic ingredient. No one is adding it to your lipsticks. What they are using is dyes derived from the earth. Some of these dyes, like veggies, happen to contain trace amounts of lead.

Now, let’s be clear: beauty companies can’t use any dye for their lipsticks. They can only use dyes that are approved by the FDA (or the equivalent organisation in your part of the world) for use on the lips.

The FDA imposes a strict limit on the amount of lead that can be found in these dyes: 20ppm (20 parts per million). But most lipsticks contain way less than that.

Why don’t they remove it completely? We don’t have the technology yet. The best we can do for now is limit its use or stop using these particular dyes. But then, red (and many other lipstick) hues would disappear from cosmetic counters (there’s a reason why natural beauty brands only have lipsticks in earthy shades).

One more thing. Each batch of colour made with these dyes must then be controlled and approved by the FDA before it can be sold.

lead in lipstick

Should You Worry About Lead In Lipsticks?

Remember that email doing the rounds a while ago claiming there was lead in your lipsticks?

Well, the FDA tested those lipsticks and discovered the level of lead was within the guidelines: “FDA found lead in all of the lipsticks tested, ranging from 0.09 ppm to 3.06 ppm with an average value of 1.07 ppm. FDA concludes that the lead levels found are within the range that would be expected from lipsticks formulated with permitted color additives and other ingredients that had been prepared under good manufacturing practice conditions.”

1.07ppm is way below the 20ppm limit. So, there’s A LOT LESS lead in your lipsticks than you think. Phew!

At this point, someone points out that 1.07ppm is still a lot higher than the 0.1ppm allowed in candy. But lipsticks aren’t candy.

Even if you swallow down a bit of colour when you apply lipstick or lick your lips, you’re going to eat WAY less lipstick than candy. 

Most of us only apply a thin layer of lipstick. Maybe you retouch it once or twice during the day (if you’re like me, you don’t even bother with that). Lead is distributed all over your lipstick so only the tiniest amount ends up on your lips with each application.

But candy? You swallow the whole thing. Same with a glass of water or a plate of pasta. That’s why the law is stricter with food. It’s the dose that makes the poison, remember?

The Precautionary Principle

“But, Gio,” I hear you say, “if lead is everywhere and I can’t avoid it completely, then shouldn’t I at least avoid it when I can? I need to eat but I don’t need lipstick.”

Look, if that makes you sleep better at night, throw away all your red lipsticks and just use boring neutral shades. But if you’re really concerned about lead, you’d do better to test your water supply or vegetable garden to know how much lead is present in the tap water you drink and the veggies you eat.

As for me, I’m gonna keep rocking my red lipsticks. I’m healthy and I trust my body to deal with the infinitesimally small amount of lead in my lippie.

The Bottom Line

Lead is NOT a cosmetic ingredient. It’s only present in trace amounts in some of the dyes used to create certain shades of (mostly red) lipsticks. This amount is so tiny, it won’t kill you. If you’re really worried about lead, stop wasting your time blaming cosmetics and pay closer attention to what you eat.

What’s your take on lipsticks with lead? Share your opinion in the comments below.