The issue first came to media and public attention a few years ago when health and environmental organization Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (CSC) published a report claiming that there were unsafe levels of the heavy metal in lipsticks.
Now back in the headlines due to a recent study from FDA scientists, the PCPC is refuting any health concerns.
The FDA’s recent study, published in the Journal of Cosmetic Science, aimed to validate an accurate method for correctly identifying the levels of the substance, as well as compare lead levels across a number of products and brands, and with past data.
Validating the test method
According to the study, the accuracy of a testing method depends on how well the lipstick is digested and broken down.
In this case, the FDA scientists found that microwave assisted digestion using nitric acid and hydrofluoric acid, achieved the most accurate results, freeing up the constituent parts of the product for better testing with inductively couple plasma-mass spectomtry (ICP-MS).
However, this testing method resulted in higher levels of lead than those recorded by CSC back in 2007.
The authors explain that this is probably because CSC used sulfuric acid to digest the lipsticks, which would not have dissolved mica, a pigment that may contain very small amounts of lead.
“The use of sulfuric acid in the CSC extraction method may have reduced the soluble lead available for ICP-MS analysis, thus resulting in the lower values reported by the CSC,” wrote the authors.
Lead levels for the 20 products, from ten brands, tested by the FDA scientists ranged from 0.09 to 3.06 micrograms per gram.
CSC claims that any level of lead is dangerous, whereas PCPC argues that these levels are below those recommended as safe by regulatory authorities.
Lead is not an ingredient in lipsticks; rather it can be found as a contaminant in low levels in raw ingredients and could enter the product during the manufacturing process via lead-containing solder or paint on the formulation machinery.
There is no limit for lead in lipsticks but FDA places a limit (20 micrograms per gram) on the amount of lead that can be present in the colors and pigments used in the formulation.
The study concludes that lead levels found by FDA are within the range that might be expected form lipsticks formulated with permitted ingredients using good manufacturing practice.
Source: Journal of Cosmetic Science
Volume 60, Pages 405-414, July-August 2009
Determination of total lead in lipstick: development and validation of a microwave-assisted digestion, inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometric method
Nancy M Hepp, William R Mindak, John Cheng