Kiss of Lead

By Melaina Juntti

You’ve likely heard lipstick can contain lead, a neurotoxin linked to learning problems, miscarriages, and kidney damage, among other health issues. Now a recent FDA study of 20 lipsticks (brands not released) detected lead levels up to four times higher than those found by a 2007 Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (CSC) review of 33 tubes. What’s more, the new average of 1.07 parts per million is 10 times higher than the FDA–recommended limit for candy. True, we don’t snack on lipstick, but we ingest small amounts when we eat, sip, and smooch with painted puckers.

Even so, the FDA deems these lead levels—and the amount of lipstick women unintentionally eat—too low to cause problems. Immediate problems, perhaps not, but “it’s cumulative exposure we need to be concerned about,” says David Bellinger, PhD, a Harvard Medical School neurology and environmental-health professor who has researched lead for 30 years. “If the only exposure someone had were from lipstick, I’d agree with the FDA that it’s not a problem—but that’s not the case.”

Because lead makes its way into lipstick via manufacturing processes, color additives, and other mined ingredients, you can’t know for certain your favorite tube won’t contain lead. Therefore, the CSC suggests limiting lipstick to special occasions, or always choose brands that use only clean ingredients and are transparent about sourcing and production practices. We love Afterglow Cosmetics Organic Lip Love Lipstick ($24; and Cargo PlantLove 100% Natural Origin Lipstick ($20;