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The FDA makes moves to reduce lead levels in beauty products


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Photo: Stocksy/Juri Pozzi

People have been warning for years about lead lurking in lipsticks. Yes, lead—that natural element from the earth’s crust that happens to be toxic.

Thankfully, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is proposing new limits on the amount of lead in lipstick and other beauty products.

The federal agency just announced that it classifies lead as “an impurity in cosmetic lip products and externally applied cosmetics,” but that it doesn’t pose a health risk as long as the level is below 10 parts per million (ppm)—and it’s up to cosmetics manufacturers to avoid potentially harmful levels of lead in their products.

Yes, this is good news—but raises the question why any lead is necessary in beauty products at all.

“Lead has no place in personal care products, especially products marketed to children, who are especially vulnerable to the toxic effects of it,” says Scott Faber, senior vice president for government affairs for Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit dedicated to protecting consumer health. “While we welcome renewed attention from FDA, we urge the agency to prohibit the presence of lead in lip products marketed to children and require a warning on all personal care products that contain lead.”

Though the FDA has found that lipstick contains an average of 1 ppm of lead and it doesn’t pose any health risk, the EWG and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) beg to differ—especially because of the issue of repeated exposure.

“It is important to reiterate that there is no safe level of lead exposure from water, cosmetics, or from any other source.”

“It is important to reiterate that there is no safe level of lead exposure from water, cosmetics, or from any other source,” says David Andrews, PhD, EWG senior scientist. “Exposures are cumulative, and low-level exposures from numerous sources may have an impact.” This rings true considering women use an average of 12 products every day.

The CDC reflects the same idea—its guidelines say that “lead exposure can affect nearly every system in the body.”

Hopefully this will ultimately result in a ban, a la microbeads, which became illegal in personal care products a year ago. To help get the regulation pushed through, head to regulation.gov to post your comment—where you can definitely let the FDA know that while this is a step in the right direction, to truly protect consumers they should ban it as a beauty ingredient entirely. (It looks like the comments page isn’t up yet, but the FDA is required to get it up soon, so check back.) Until the proposed rule is enacted, stick with the clean stuff—there are plenty of bold natural (unleaded) lipsticks to choose from, after all.

To further prove that lead (and other toxic substances) aren’t necessary for bright lips, these are the five lipsticks that look good on everyone. Don’t have a clean routine yet? Here are three makeup swaps to make when you’re first going natural.