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Makeup May Have Heavy Metals

Makeup May Have Heavy Metals

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?


Makeup May Have Heavy Metals

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?


Makeup May Have Heavy MetalsKeep your makeup away from babies and children. Kids are more vulnerable to heavy metal exposure.

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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30 thoughts on “Makeup May Have Heavy Metals”

    1. curious what 100% Pure will say … if they reply at all. I’ve been using their mascara for over a year now.
      Their website is not so great on listing all ingredients.

    1. I am not making accusations against any specific company. The point is that due to the nature of makeup pigments, they all may contain trace amounts of heavy minerals. Random tests by independent labs have proven that. Since there is no requirement to list heavy metals on the label, we have to take precautionary steps with every makeup brand. When a makeup company steps forwards and backs up their claim of testing for heavy metals, I will share this information with you immediately. In the meantime, I do use some makeup but I use it the way I described in the article. Thank you for the question, Jessica!

  1. Loose powder is worse?? This surprises me! Would foundation powder that is not a bright pigment be as bad?
    Thanks 🙂

  2. I agree Irina, the safest makeup is no makeup. I know a few months ago I would have not said this but thanks to your review on Spa Secrets 4 u, I have been using several of Poppy’s all natural products including the Youth Serum, you recommended with amazing results. Thank you for all the work and research you do!

    1. I thought so, too. Unfortunately, when I asked them about specific amounts of heavy metals they find in the pigments they source, they said that this information is proprietary. I do not find this type of answer comforting. Do you? Thank you for your comment, Jennifer!

      1. I’d love to answer this as a partner with them for a couple of years now. I have worked hard for several years to research safer non-toxic products, and have scoured right and left for companies who are transparent and honest about what they use, as well as strict in their screening process. Beautycounter discloses everything- I mean EVERYTHING. You can find every single ingredient as well as why they use it and where it’s sourced from right in their site- transparency is their thing. (They’re very open about answering all questions openly- I’ll happily give you the email or number to call!) They not only batch test products three times for heavy metals alone, but they also third party test to be thorough as sometimes things can sneak in the sourcing process. (All of their products are made in the US except for their color cosmetics, which are made in Italy strictly because the soil there is cleaner/lacks the heavy metals that ours has.) The problem is that the FDA doesn’t regulate what goes into skin care and beauty products- while the EU has now banned about 1400 ingredients, the US just bans 30- up from the measly 11 it did previously. I love Beautycounter because they truly are an education first company. They’re even working in DC advocating for new laws so that all products can one day be made safer… and slowly, we’re making headway! In the meantime, I truly trust their ethics, screening process, and ingredient selection process. Of course using zero products is grand, as are homemade goodies, but for those who want products like the ones you’d get at a high-end department store- but without all the junk and made much safer- I think it’s one of the best options out there. Of course it all comes down to personal preference, and there are some other great mindful companies out there… but I’m currently pregnant and am wearing it head to toe, and I am very choosy about what I expose my lil one to. 😉 Also always happy to answer any questions anyone has! 🙂

        1. Thanks so much for this comment, Natalie! I am glad that you are satisfied with Beautycounter’s level of transparency. I am not as comfortable with it though for the following reasons.

          As you might know, I do not accept anyone’s marketing claims, no matter how impressive they are. Instead, I look at the ingredients and ask hard questions. I only recommend a product or line if I am satisfied with the answers I receive.

          I first contacted Beautycounter in 2015. I asked some questions in an e-mail. On December 4, 2015, I received an answer from their customer service that did not, in my opinion, answer my questions satisfactorily.

          In July 2016, I was contacted by one of my blog readers who, like you apparently, had become a Beautycounter salesperson (you reference a “partnership” with them). Because she was determined to get me answers to my questions, I let her forward my questions to the Beautycounter team. They responded to my blog reader, who forwarded the answers to me. They answered my questions, but I had more questions. My reader was able to put me in touch directly with the Beautycounter team.

          As a result of her efforts, I had a conference call with the Beautycounter team on November 11, 2016. Among other things, I asked them for the heavy metal test results they said they had performed on samples. They said they would get back to me on that.

          On December 6, 2016 they sent me a Non-Disclosure Agreement (“NDA”) to sign. Companies often use non-disclosure agreements in order to protect their trade secrets, and I was fully prepared to sign a non-disclosure agreement that would work for both of us. However, the NDA they provided me was so rigid that it would not have permitted me to say anything about the test results, even that I could not recommend the products.

          Accordingly, it would have been foolish of me to have signed it as it was written. So, on December 8, 2016, I wrote back to them and suggested the following addition to the NDA:

          12. Safe Harbor Language
          Notwithstanding the foregoing, if asked her opinion as to any Counterbrands product, Recipient [i.e. Irina Webb] may state as follows:
          1. “I have looked into their product ingredients and decided not to recommend their products.”
          2. “I have looked into their product ingredients and have decided to recommend only _________ [or: the following products: __________].”
          3. If asked to elaborate, Recipient may state, “I am prevented by the terms of a non-disclosure agreement I signed with Beautycounter from saying anything further.”
          I did not hear back from them.

          On December 19, 2016 I talked to them about the NDA and they said they would look into revising it but that they are busy.

          I recently followed up and received this, “Working on it, thanks for the nudge! As I mentioned via phone, we’re grossly short staffed right now, but I’m in the middle of hiring! 🙂 Thanks for your patience.”

          I have also recently been advised that they have hired a lawyer, and that the lawyer will be in touch with me. I have since heard nothing.

          Maybe they will agree to my reasonable request. If so, I may have the ability soon to say whether or not I approve of their products, but I may not be able to elaborate.

          In short, I do not have enough information to say if they are safe.

          Just so you know, it would be very easy and potentially lucrative for me just to jump on the bandwagon and say how much I love their products. However, I can’t do that in good conscience, because too many people trust my opinions and I never want to do anything to lead anyone astray simply for financial gain. Our health and beauty are my priorities.

          One last thing about Beautycounter gives me pause. In my opinion, plants are best for our skin, not petroleum, but Beautycounter admits that they may be using petroleum-based ingredients. This is a quote from their email to me: “About 25% of our ingredients are synthetic and possibly petroleum-derived. We always prefer to use natural wherever possible and we are very careful to use safe ingredients, whether synthetic or natural. It’s important to note, that this percentage is not reflective of the percentage of synthetic ingredients that make up our formulas as we typically use them at low concentrations.”

          I wish I had more to offer you. Perhaps you and others can work with Beautycounter and encourage them to get back to me. Better yet, encourage them to make their test results public, and to amend their practices so that they can definitively say that they use no petroleum-based products. That statement, if true, would put me in a better position to recommend their products.

          Again, thanks for your comment!


    1. Here is something fascinating. In this article, they said, “For the most dangerous metals (lead, arsenic, mercury, and cadmium), these levels are usually undetectable, but we ensure that they are always under 2 ppm. This is unprecedented in the cosmetics industry.” When I emailed them, they said, “Each heavy metal has a different limit, so we cannot say that the metals are below 2ppm.” Am I missing something?

    2. Oh wow, thanks for doing that homework for us! And yes, I agree with you … those are not the answers I’m looking for. I just found your site today & will be going through it. I’m especially interesting in which make up you find most promising … especially mascara. Most days I wear no make up and use the oil cleansing method from skin care … love the organic oil options out there. (gotta read those labels too) When I am going out of the house … I feel best when wearing makeup, so you can probable see why the research is important to me. I have spent the last 2 years detoxing from heavy metals, so the last thing I want to do is smear more on my body on a daily basis. Thanks for you thoughts on this!

      1. Wow, detoxing from heavy metals… I am so curious as to how one does that? Can someone please shed some light on this subject or Irina, could you maybe do a blog post on it for us? Pretty please…. 🙂 Also, might be a silly question, but if I want the doctors to test me for heavy metals, which types of tests should I ask for and for what metals should they test?

  3. Hi Irina –

    Have you reached out to Beautycounter recently? Or did they ever follow up to your initial questions concerning heavy metals?


    1. Hi, Windy: Yes, it has been a LONG process. Even my husband is helping out. He is a lawyer. Anyway, I think we are close to signing an NDA so they can show me heavy metal test reports. ~Irina

  4. Hi Irina, any update on Beautycounter’s response? I have recently been told I have extremely high level of metal in my body. I am shortly due to have all my mercury fillings replaced and am currently detoxing. I am using a metal free sunscreen, and not looking for metal free and vegan cosmetics. Thank you for your blog I found it very interesting. Xx

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