I received a newsletter from Gwyneth Paltrow's mailing list recently:
It’s a well-known fact that lead is toxic, especially to children. But did you know it could be lurking in your lipstick, eye shadow or shampoo?!
Most people mistakenly believe that the personal care industry is highly regulated. It’s not. At all. Companies are not even required to say on the label whether a product contains lead – no matter how much is in it!
As a result, millions of women get a little bit of toxic lead on their lips every day, with each swipe of their lipstick.
The Food and Drug Administration is proposing to allow lead in lipstick and other beauty products at levels that may be unsafe for pregnant women, children and teens. Now is the time for your voice to be heard.
Scientists agree that there is no safe level of lead exposure for developing children. Even trace exposures can cause irreversible changes, including diminished IQ and behavioral problems. A known neurotoxin, it accumulates in the body over time, so even small amounts can be dangerous.
Here’s the bottom line: At the very least, Americans deserve to know when products contain even low doses of lead, so they can choose whether or not to take that risk. This is especially vital for young children and pregnant women who are most vulnerable to lead’s effects.
Thanks for standing with me, Friend.
I have written before about sensational emails like this. I want to break this apart, just a little bit, because this email is so full of half truths and psuedoscience it leads people to think their lipsticks are actually incredibly unsafe to use. The truth is that is not the case at all.
Let's begin with the obvious false statements:
Claim 1. "Most people mistakenly believe that the personal care industry is highly regulated. It’s not. At all. Companies are not even required to say on the label whether a product contains lead – no matter how much is in it!"
Most people are not mistaken at all - the cosmetics industry is one of the most highly regulated manufacturing sectors in the market. From OTC certification laws, to packaging and labeling laws, to ingredient allowances and even down to registration: cosmetics are highly regulated by several federal ministries. Additionally, every single ingredient must be registered with Health Canada including its concentration ranges. A company found not to have registered and disclosed its entire ingredient list will have its products pulled from store shelves. Lead is a banned ingredient for use in cosmetics - as it is an many consumer goods. It is listed on the Cosmetics Ingredient Hot List which is part of the legislation of Prohibited and Banned Ingredients issued by Health Canada.
Trace levels of lead do appear in cosmetics, however, naturally - because trace levels of lead exist in all raw ingredients - including water. No one is adding lead to cosmetics formulas.
Claim 2. "The Food and Drug Administration is proposing to allow lead in lipstick and other beauty products at levels that may be unsafe for pregnant women, children and teens."
The FDA is considering limiting (not increasing) trace lead in cosmetics to 10 ppm. The current maximum found in cosmetics in 7 ppm. In context, drinking water has an allowance of 15 ppm. So the FDA is planning to ensure cosmetics are actually safer than drinking water in regards to trace levels of lead.
Claim 3. A known neurotoxin, it accumulates in the body over time, so even small amounts can be dangerous.
Technically this is true, but without the definition of "small," this is very very misleading. Yes, it only takes a very small amount of lead to contaminate any material, and yes, an accumulation of that small amount can be deadly. However, for a material to be considered contaminated the lead must be present at 2500 ppm. Or more specifically, 35,000 times more than the current trace levels found in cosmetics and 17, 000 times more than found in drinking water.
Now let's look at the reality of lead in cosmetics:
1. It is a banned ingredient - it cannot be added to any cosmetic formula.
2. From the Canadian Cancer Society: "In 2007, the US based Campaign for Safe Cosmetics analyzed 33 lipsticks and found more than trace amounts of lead in many of them. Following this report, the FDA developed a highly sensitive test to measure total lead content in lipstick and re-tested the lipsticks. The FDA did find traces of lead in the lipsticks but did not consider the levels a health concern. In 2008, Health Canada tested for lead in a wide range of lipsticks. No detectable levels of lead were found in most products, and those with detectable levels were considered to be below the safe level."
3. A detailed, scientific test of the same samples used in the 2007 Campaign for Safe Cosmetics "test" showed that lead, as a trace element in cosmetics, did not pose any health risk.
Gwyneth Paltrow is not an expert on lead contamination.