When cosmetic companies promoted “metallic sheen,” surely they didn’t mean this.
According to research conducted by the University of California, Berkley’s School of Public Health, a number of popular lipsticks and glosses lining drugstore shelves the nation over are packing hardware of the alloy variety — from lead, cadmium and chromium to aluminum and five other metals. But it’s not so much the mere presence of the metals that has researchers concerned, it’s the health-threatening amounts.
"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, in a news release. "Some of the toxic metals are occurring at levels that could possibly have an effect in the long term."
Due to the inherently ingestible nature of lip products, Hammond and the study team first gauged what would be considered high volume intake for a typical user as well as normal intake. Previous investigations pegged average use at 24 milligrams of lip make-up ingested daily, while excessive use was marked at 87 milligrams ingested or higher. With the 24 milligram figure in mind, researchers discovered that the levels of chromium ingested were disconcertingly high, even for users in the average range. And for people characterized as excessive users, overexposure to aluminum, cadmium and manganese was also expected.
Of the 32 products tested (neither product name nor maker were revealed, although the report stated the products hailed from seven distinct companies), lead was found in 24, albeit in levels lower than the acceptable daily intake. Still, researchers identified the risks posed to children — who tend to play with make-up — by even a slight lead presence.
Overall, the authors resisted urging adults to throw out their lip products just yet — rather, they spoke of a need to curb use and for health regulators to tend to the matter promptly.
"I believe that the [Food and Drug Administration] should pay attention to this," said study lead author Sa Liu, a UC Berkeley researcher in environmental health sciences. "Our study was small, using lip products that had been identified by young Asian women in Oakland, Calif. But, the lipsticks and lip glosses in our study are common brands available in stores everywhere. Based upon our findings, a larger, more thorough survey of lip products and cosmetics in general is warranted."
Currently, the United States does not have standards for metal content in cosmetics. As a point of reference, the authors noted that the European Union considers cadmium, chromium and lead to be unacceptable ingredients at any concentration in cosmetic products.
The study was published in the May 2 issue of the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.