Troubling levels of toxic metals found in cosmetics

A new analysis of the contents of lipstick and lip gloss may cause you to pause before puckering.

Researchers at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health tested 32 different lipsticks and lip glosses commonly found in drugstores and department stores. They detected lead, cadmium, chromium, aluminum and five other metals, some of which were found at levels that could raise potential health concerns. Their findings were published online Thursday, May 2, in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

Prior studies also have found metals in cosmetics, but the UC Berkeley researchers estimated risk by analyzing the concentration of the metals detected and consumers’ potential daily intake of the metals, and then comparing this intake  with existing health guidelines.

“Just finding these metals isn’t the issue; it’s the levels that matter,” said study principal investigator S. Katharine Hammond, professor of environmental health sciences. “Some of the toxic metals are occurring at levels that could possibly have an effect in the long term.”

Lipstick and lip gloss are of special concern because when they are not being blotted on tissue or left as kiss marks, they are ingested or absorbed, bit by bit, by the individual wearing them, the study authors said. Using acceptable daily intakes derived from this study, average use of some lipsticks and lip glosses would result in excessive exposure to chromium, a carcinogen linked to stomach tumors. High use of these makeup products could result in potential overexposure to aluminum, cadmium and manganese as well. Over time, exposure to high concentrations of manganese has been linked to toxicity in the nervous system.

Ann Rojas-Cheatham, director of research and training at the Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice in Oakland, Calif., co-authored the study. The National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health Education Research Center helped support this research.

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By Sarah Yang