Lead lurks in some lipsticks and lip glosses, but little is known about whether these products pose a health threat when wearers inadvertently swallow some of the product. A new study in mice by Hong-Bo Li and Lena Q. Ma of Nanjing University and their colleagues suggests that for the average lipstick user, even lip products with relatively high levels of lead may pose low risk (Environ. Sci. Technol. 2016, DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.6b01425).
The researchers tested 75 lipsticks and 18 lip glosses available in China and found lead concentrations ranging from 0.2 to 10,185 mg/kg, with an average concentration of 497 mg/kg. In comparison, previous studies have found that lipsticks in the U.S. market contain only 1 mg/kg lead on average. Further tests in mice of 15 of the products with relatively high lead concentrations revealed that some 23 to 95% of lead was absorbed in the bloodstream after ingestion. The researchers predict that an average daily use of 2.4 applications per day would lead to a daily lead intake below the maximum limit recommended by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the World Health Organization. However, for heavy use, more than 8 applications per day, the estimated lead intake exceeds this limit. And even with average lipstick use, the researchers point out, women may accumulate lead over time that could pose risks to a developing fetus during pregnancy.
Cheaper lip products, costing under $5, tended to have higher lead concentrations. “For those heavy users of lipsticks, it may be wise to invest in quality lip products,” says Ma.