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Published February 22, 2012, 11:30 PM

Mathison: Toxic kisses? Lead in lipstick

Maybe you read the recent Food and Drug Administration report about lipstick. But you need to know about it whether you wear it, or kiss someone who does.

By: Dr. Susan Mathison, Areavoices.com blogger, INFORUM

Maybe you read the recent Food and Drug Administration report about lipstick.

But you need to know about it whether you wear it, or kiss someone who does.

As a daily lipstick user, I was really appalled to learn that the majority of lipsticks contain lead.

The worst offender: Maybelline’s Color Sensational in Pink Petal, coming in at 7.19 parts per million in lead content according the FDA report. To put this in perspective, candy sold in the U.S. cannot exceed 0.1 parts per million. Not so pretty in pink.

The FDA counters that this is not a fair comparison, suggesting “It is not scientifically valid to equate the risk to consumers presented by lead levels in candy, a product intended for ingestion, with that associated with lead levels in lipstick, a product intended for topical use and ingested in much smaller quantities than candy.

“Although we do not believe that the lead content found in our recent lipstick analyses poses a safety concern, we are evaluating whether there may be a need to recommend an upper limit for lead in lipstick in order to further protect the health and welfare of consumers.”

The widely circulated statement that women eat about 5 pounds of lipstick in their lifetime has been calculated to be false, but even if I’m not eating it, I’d rather not have lead in my lipstick.

Lead is a proven neurotoxin that can cause learning problems and is also linked to infertility and miscarriage.

The FDA does control the dyes and colorants used in products, and lipsticks are required to be processed using a more limited list considered safe for mucous membranes.

The cosmetics industry and the FDA take the position that tiny amounts of hazardous chemicals found in personal care products pose no threat to human health. Safety data is able to show that there are no short-term health consequences such as rashes, swelling or eye irritation.

But what about daily exposure over months and years? Most chemicals in cosmetics have not been tested for their potential to cause long-term health problems such as cancer, neurologic conditions or reproductive harm.

The ban of BPA is a prime example. It was found to be harmful and eventually was taken out of circulation in many products. But it took time and effort on the part of concerned consumers to convince companies to do so.

Cosmetic companies promote health and beauty and have large research and development budgets. I think it would be in their best interests, as well as ours, to reduce potential toxicities in their products, from a marketing perspective and an ethical standpoint. Though the medical literature has never reported a case of lead poisoning from lipstick, and likely never will, it makes sense to minimize its use.

Reading labels is a great idea, but lead is not on the disclosed ingredient list on my lipstick tube. Most exposures to lead are related to lead-based paints and plumbing solder, used until 1978.

Primary prevention is necessary because the effects of lead appear to be irreversible and build up over time. The goal of primary prevention is to ensure that all homes become lead-safe and that we reduce environmental exposures from soil, dust, paint and water.

In the April 2008 issue of Current Opinion in Pediatrics, Dr. David Bellinger suggested that no level of lead exposure appears to be ‘safe.’ Even blood test readings under the current guideline of 10 micrograms per deciliter are associated with neurodevelopmental deficits. Primary prevention of exposure provides the best hope of stamping out this preventable disease.

We live in a safer environment than our parents and grandparents. And while we don’t want to live afraid of our own shadow, it seems reasonable that products should be made with the lowest levels of lead and other toxins possible.

We keep questioning and learning and encouraging our families to lead healthier lives, and our companies to make safer products based on ever evolving data on what truly is safe.

If you want to find out where your favorite brand and color of lipstick ranked in testing go to http://www.fda.gov/Cosmetics/ProductandIngredientSafety/ProductInformation/ucm137224.htm#expanalyses

Dr. Susan Mathison founded Catalyst Medical Center in Fargo and created PositivelyBeautiful.com.