Aug 19, 2013

    Your lippy could be toxic

    The New York Times

    A SOFT pink, a glowing red, even a cyanotic purple - millions of women apply lipstick every day.

    And not just once: Some style-conscious users touch up their colour more than 20 times a day, according to a recent study. But are they exposing themselves to toxic metals?

    Most lipsticks contain at least a trace of lead, researchers have found.

    But a new study found that a wide range of brands contain as many as eight other metals, from cadmium to aluminium.

    Now, experts are raising questions about what happens if these metals are swallowed, or otherwise absorbed, on a daily basis.

    "It matters because this is a chronic long-term issue, not a short-term exposure," said Dr Katharine Hammond, a professor of environmental health sciences at the University of California at Berkeley and the lead author of the analysis.

    "We're not saying that anyone needs to panic. We're saying: Let's not be complacent, that these are metals known to affect health."

    The issue first received public attention in 2007, due to a report on lead contamination in lipsticks titled A Poison Kiss, by United States non-profit coalition effort Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.

    The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published an extensive follow-up in 2011, finding traces of lead in 400 lipsticks.

    Both the FDA and the cosmetics industry insist that the average lead level found - just above one part per million, or p.p.m. - poses no real or unusual health risk.

    Dr Linda Loretz - chief toxicologist for the Personal Care Products Council, an industry association - said: "Metals are ubiquitous. And this is a very small amount, too small to be a safety issue."

    But lead tends to accumulate in the body, said Dr Sean Palfrey, medical director of the lead-poisoning prevention programme at Boston University Medical Center.

    The FDA has set a 0.1 p.p.m. safety standard for lead in candy intended for children.

    Dr Palfrey added: "Not to mention that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention acknowledged last year that no level of lead is really safe."

    And lead may not be the only concern.

    Dr Hammond's study, published in May in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, found traces of cadmium, cobalt, aluminium, titanium, manganese, chromium, copper and nickel in 24 lip-gloss products from eight lipstick brands.

    The researchers picked the products because they were favoured by teenagers at a community health centre in Oakland, California.

    The girls reported reapplying lipsticks or glosses as often as 24 times a day.

    Aluminium, chromium and manganese registered the highest concentrations overall, Dr Hammond and her colleagues found.

    The average concentration of aluminium in the lip products, for instance, topped 5,000 p.p.m. and concentrations of lead averaged 0.359 p.p.m.

    There remains a wide range of metal concentrations across colours and brands.

    To Dr Palfrey, this suggests that cosmetics companies are able to control metal content in their products.

    He said: "It shouldn't be a huge step for manufacturers to take out trace amounts of metals in a situation where they don't know and we don't know what's safe for people who use them."

    Some metals are undoubtedly absorbed through mucosal tissues in the mouth, he added. And people do swallow lipstick - one reason is that it's so often reapplied.

    Given the continuing debate about how much is absorbed, everyone - including the cosmetics industry - is pushing the FDA to study the issue further.

    In the meantime, Dr Hammond recommended that consumers take a common-sense approach to cosmetics.

    For starters, do not let children play with lipstick.

    She said: "Treat it like something dangerous, because if they eat it, we are talking about a comparatively large amount of metals going into a small body."

    And be cautious about how often you reapply that shimmering colour, Dr Hammond added. Given the uncertainties, two or three times a day is all that beauty can reasonably demand.