Lipstick use started more than 5000 years ago, with several cultures using different dyes, gemstones, substances from fish scales, etc. to paint their lips (Schaffer, 2006). Lipstick use is now part of most women’s cosmetic arsenal with lipstick having a social, cultural and psychological impact on its wearers and viewers. As much as women enjoy putting on lipstick, the question becomes how healthy is that lipstick?
Liu et al. investigated this question and conducted a study on this issue. In the report titled ‘Concentrations and potential health risks of metals in lip products’, they measured lead and other metals in lipsticks in 32 lip products used by Asian women in Oakland, California (Liu, 2013). This metals ingested regularly when reapplied several times a day, have potential health risks. Some of these metals were lead, aluminum, chromium, and manganese. In addition, many lipsticks also contain chemicals like phthalates, formaldehyde, methylene chloride, acetone, acetonitrile, methacrylate, toluene, xylene, ethyl ether, and lead.
Metals such as aluminum, chromium, lead can have carcinogenic and neurological effects on the human body. For example, chromium is known for its carcinogenic effect and its link to lung cancer and stomach tumors; manganese is known for its neurological effects; lead causes learning, language and behavioral problems. Lead builds up in the body over time. There is no safe level for lead and yet, many of the lipsticks that are purchased have this metal. Pregnant women are most vulnerable because it affects them and their unborn child/children.
Notably, the campaign for safe cosmetics is addressing this issue by creating awareness about unsafe cosmetics, lobbying and trying to influence policy makers to set up some standards in terms of trials, regulation and information with the end goal of protecting consumers (Lead in Lipstick, n.d.) For example, although the FDA admits there are metals in lipsticks, they refuse to acknowledge the dangers and potential health risks of these metals. The FDA states that the amount of lead in lipstick is so little that it should have no adverse effect but yet, ensures that lead is removed completely from water (Lipstick and Lead: Questions and Answers, 2011).
On the other hand, the CDC advices that all sources of lead be eradicated because of the dangers that it presents. Consequently, these are the problems that will need to be overcome to have safer lipsticks: a) safety trials need to be required before it is sold to consumers b) there has to be regulations on the cosmetic industry with penalties c) More visible labels listing all ingredients, metals and chemicals.
Furthermore, the call for safety has to start on the policy level and then implementation. Unfortunately, many are unaware of how much power they have to create change via policy. Policy makers want to be in the know; they want to be seen as people protecting citizens and they want to remain in the good graces of voters. Change on this issue, can occur when people start speaking up, sending emails, and creating awareness which puts pressure on policy makers. Additionally, as consumers, one can choose to create ones products, purchase cosmetics from industries that have concerns about public health and investigate the product company before purchasing.
In conclusion, the following three-pronged recommendation will be the best approach: a) setting up a standard of what should be in lipsticks and setting a deadline for the complete removal of dangerous chemicals from lipsticks (this will include safety trials before marketing and selling to consumers); b) Requiring cosmetics to be subjected to premarket approval by the FDA; and, c) ensuring all ingredients are listed on the labels.
Lead in Lipstick. (n.d.). Retrieved from Campaign for safe cosmetics: http://www.safecosmetics.org/
Lipstick and Lead: Questions and Answers. (2011, Dec 5). Retrieved from U.S. Food and Drug Administration: http://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/productsingredients/products/ucm137224.htm
Liu, S. S.-C. (2013). “Concentrations and potential health risks of metals in lip products.” Environmental Health Perspectives 121.6, 705.
Schaffer, S. (2006). Reading Our Lips: The History of Lipstick Regulation in Western Seats of Power. Retrieved from http://dash.harvard.edu/handle/1/10018966.