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Last updated on September 26th, 2017
All types of makeup, whether it is petroleum- or mineral-based, may contain heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, arsenic, mercury, aluminum, beryllium, thallium, and antimony to name a few. Heavy metals are not listed on the product label because they are not ingredients. They are contaminants. As a consumer, we can’t know how much heavy metals a makeup product has so we have to take precautions. There are actions we can take to reduce our exposure to toxic heavy metals in makeup.
Tests found heavy metals in the makeup products
In 2007, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics released the report A Poison Kiss that tested 33 popular brands of lipsticks for lead content. 61% of lipsticks contained lead, with levels ranging up to 0.65 ppm
In 2007, the FDA found lead in all of the 20 lipsticks tested, ranging from 0.09 ppm to 3.06 ppm with the average of 1.07 ppm.
In 2010, the FDA found lead in all of the 400 lipsticks tested, ranging from 0.026 ppm to 7.19 ppm with the average of 1.11 ppm.
In 2011, the Canadian Environmental Defense tested makeup bags of six Canadian women (49 face makeup products) for the presence of arsenic, cadmium, lead, nickel, beryllium, thallium, mercury, selenium and found that only one product had only two metals, which are nickel and beryllium.
In 2013, the University of California researchers found at least one of the nine toxic heavy metals, including chromium, cadmium, aluminum, manganese, and lead in all 24 lip glosses and eight lipsticks it tested. Most of the tested lip products contained high concentrations of titanium and aluminum. All examined products had detectable manganese. Lead was detected in 24 products (75%), with an average concentration of 0.36 ± 0.39 ppm.
So how do heavy metals end up in our makeup?
Most of the time heavy metals are not intentionally added to the makeup products. Makeup dyes are derived from either petroleum or minerals; raw material of both come from the Earth’s crust. Heavy metals are a natural part of the Earth’s crust as well as they are present in water, soil and air as a result of industrial pollution. Thus, heavy metals are found in dyes and pigments used by the makeup industry.
Is mineral-based makeup safer than petroleum?
I’d like to say “yes.” However, I have not seen any comparative studies to this effect. So I tried to come to my own conclusions based on the products tested by the Canadian Environmental Defense. Only one product — Annabelle Mineral Dust (eye shadow) — had only two toxic metals out of eight; other mineral-based products that were tested showed positive for more heavy metals, including lead. In fact, two mineral-based products, Clinique Stay True Makeup (foundation) and Physician’s Formula Summer Eclipse Bronzing (blush/bronzer), had the most metals of concern in their categories. However, it is hard to draw any certain conclusions about the test results as the report does not disclose the amounts of metals found in the products. And lastly, it would be great to know the limits of detection. In the end, the short answer is that we do not really know if mineral-based makeup is safer. More testing is needed.
What do makeup manufacturers say about heavy metals?
When I ask about heavy metals, at best I receive vague answers that give me an uneasy feeling. I have not been able to find a makeup manufacturer who would provide me with satisfying answers as to whether there is any testing in place for heavy metals. And I would love to know whether it is actually possible to purify dyes of heavy metals. My understanding is that testing for heavy metals is expensive and therefore very limited. I would love to be proven wrong!
Are heavy metals in makeup a health concern?
Yes! While generally dermal penetration of heavy metal is considered lower risk than oral absorption, the penetration of an individual heavy metal may be influenced by a number of factors including physical-chemical properties of the mixtures and the quality of the skin. Skin with lesions will absorb more. The specific danger of heavy metals is such that they bioaccumulate, meaning that every trace exposure adds up. Heavy metals get stored in the bones and stay in our bodies for decades. There are no perfectly safe and effective detox methods for heavy metals. Sadly, one of the most effective methods of getting rid of heavy metals is breastfeeding. (Experts say that breastfeeding is still much better for babies than formula!)
Are heavy metals regulated in makeup?
Most dyes and pigments approved by the FDA for the use in cosmetics have heavy metal limits assigned to them by the FDA, mainly for lead, mercury, and arsenic. Depending on the type of dye or pigment, lead’s limit is generally 10 or 20 ppm. However, it is not clear how these limits are translated to the amounts of lead and other heavy metals in a makeup product as a whole. Let’s say a product has a few different pigments. You can do the math. The FDA has not set limits for lead and other metals in makeup. Thus, it is up to a makeup manufacturer to assure the safety of their products. And based on the questions I’ve asked, and the responses I’ve had, I’m not confident that manufacturers are testing to any significant extent.
What can we do to reduce exposure to heavy metals in makeup?
Consider not wearing makeup when nursing and cuddling with a baby.
Less is more. Use makeup sparingly and maybe not every day.
The more vibrant the color, the more pigment it contains, which means the higher the content of contaminants it will have.
Always remove makeup before heading to bed.
Avoid eating with lipstick on.
Avoid using loose bare mineral type of makeup, as it usually (depending on the brand) doesn’t have any fillers so it’s the pure pigment straight into your skin.
Avoid breathing in powder.
Ask questions of makeup manufacturers. And buy from those who are aware of the issue and do something about it.
Please share this post with your friends. They need to know, too!
Conclusion about heavy metals in makeup
Again, this is an example of the fact that it is up to us consumers to protect our health. Let’s ask manufacturers about heavy metals in makeup and demand safer products.
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