Alarming Levels of Toxic Metals Found in Lip Cosmetics

Some women may choose to think twice before applying lip cosmetics.  According to a new UC Berkeley study, using such products may result in adding more than color to their lips.

Researchers at the college's School of Public Health tested more than 3-0 different lip glosses and lipsticks commonly found in department stores and drugstores.  The study found aluminum, chromium, cadmium, lead and five other toxic metals, some of which were detected in levels that could raise concerns about health.

The findings were published only Thursday, May 2, 2013 in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

Although other studies had also found metals in such cosmetics, the UC Berkeley researchers also estimated the amount of risk involved with use of the products through analysis of the various metals detected and consumers potential daily intake of the substances.  They then compared this intake to existing health guidelines.

"Just finding these metals isn't the issue: it's the levels that matter," said study principal investigator S. Katharine Hammond, professor of environmental health sciences.  "Some of the toxic metals are occurring at levels that could possibly have an effect in the long term."

The study notes lip gloss and lipstick are of special concern because when they are not being blotted on tissues or left as kiss marks the residue ends up being ingested by the wearer.  The researchers developed ways of defining average and high use of makeup for lips based on data from a previous study. 

Average use was stated as daily ingestion of 24 milligrams of lip gloss or lipstick per day.  However, women who repeatedly re-apply lip makeup typically fall into the high-use category and may be ingesting as much as 87 milligrams of toxic metals per day.

The study found that even average use of some lip makeup would result in excessive exposure to chromium, a carcinogen which has been linked to stomach cancers.  Above-average use of these products could also result in high levels of aluminum, cadmium and manganese.  High concentrations of manganese are known to lead to toxicity in the nervous system.

While lead was found in more than 20 of the products, it was generally lower than the acceptable daily intake.  This still raised concern for the possibility of young children playing with makeup as no level of lead ingestion is considered safe for youngsters.

The researchers concluded that for most adults there is no need to avoid using such lip makeup products.  The study noted that the presence of these metals should signal a need for more and better oversight by health regulators.

While the European Union considers these metals to be unacceptable ingredients in cosmetic products (at any levels), no such standards are present in the United States.

"I believe the FDA (Food and Drug Administration_) should pay attention to this," said the study's lead author.  "Based upon our findings, a larger, more thorough survey of lip products -- and cosmetics in general -- is warranted."

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