We received a question about lead in lipstick. You won't see lead listed on the label but doesn’t mean that there is no lead in the product. Certainly there is no lead added on purpose, but the presence of trace amounts is very difficult to avoid. That’s because lead compounds are widely present in minerals and ores from which a number of chemicals used as ingredients in cosmetics are produced. Certain colorants used in lipstick do contain tiny amounts of lead because it is virtually impossible to eliminate all contaminants. Amounts, however, are carefully regulated. In the U.S., all colorants used in cosmetics, unlike other ingredients, require FDA approval and cannot contain lead over a certain amount. For example, in the case of FD&C Red #6, commonly used in cosmetics, lead content cannot exceed 20 parts per million. The final cosmetic product of course will have a much lower level. In Canada, we follow the FDA’s lead.
The fact that some lead can be detected in certain lipsticks does not warrant headlines such as: “Lipstick Found to Contain Hazardous Amounts of Lead.” In science, numbers matter. The amounts of lead detected that have prompted such headlines have been in the range of 0.1 to 0.6 ppm. This would be a concern if we were talking about a food. Indeed the FDA limit for lead in candy is 0.1 ppm, which of course takes into account that candy can be eaten by young children in copious amounts. And lead of course is of greatest concern during the developmental period. But lipstick is not a food and furthermore is not used by children, so the comparison of the lead content of lipstick to that allowed in food is totally inappropriate.
If lead were present in significant amounts, it would indeed be worrisome, because it is a highly toxic metal. At one time lead compounds were found in some face powders because of their whitening effect; noble women who wanted to underline the fact that they never had to work out in the sun like peasants, paid the toxicological price for their vanity. But even then there was no need for white lips, so there never was any lead in lipstick.