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Lead in lipstick - just another health scare?

A friend sent me an email recently about lead in lipstick causing health problems

Apparently, this information was all over the web in late 2007. I must say I hadn't seen it - the idea of lead in lipstick was new to me. So I checked it out. Fortunately, it turned out to be another health scare. This time, it's been put about by a pressure group run by roughly half the cosmetics industry, who are campaigning against the other half. Lead suspects in the lead scandal are named as companies like Chanel, Shiseido and Lancome - all at the high end of the market.

Yes, lead is a neurotoxin, yes there is lead in lipstick, and no, the FDA does not set a safe level. That's very true. It does, however, set a safe level for lead in sweets, which is 0.1 part per million. Why? Because that's how good its measuring equipment is - lead in smaller concentrations can't currently be measured easily and cheaply. The guidelines on lead in drinking water are more stringent - 15 parts per billion. Why? Because it's generally assumed that you imbibe more water than you do sweeties, therefore the concentration needs to be lower.

The truth is, there's a trace amount of lead in virtually everything, and lead is a cumulative poison but the amount of lipstick you eat in a year is miniscule - only microns. Over a lifetime of constant lipstick wearing, you eat about five pounds of it. It would be extremely difficult to poison yourself with lipstick except by chomping it down in vast quantities - something the cosmetics companies don't generally recommend.

Obviously, if you're concerned about lead, then by all means seek out lead-free lipsticks. But be sure of what you're looking for. Water pipes containing less than 0.2 per cent lead are 'lead-free', and the source of the lead in lipsticks is generally the beeswax. Damn those toxic bees, huh? Apparently the little buggers are so polluted these days that almost no beeswax remains uncontaminated other than that from some African countries such as Zambia. Long way to go for your lipsalve...

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