Week One: Lead in Lipstick

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 Home Eco-Momics 101 Week Kicks Off Early

Due to Breaking News about Lead in Lipstick

“The dozen lipsticks next to the box however, well, those were different. Lipstick was my daily-coveted habit; I was not the same without it. If I skipped applying some shade of raspberry on my pallid lips, I risked concerned comments from family. “Are you feeling well? You look kinda pale.” A quick waxy smear in the morning and I was magically transformed into robust health. Lipstick was my one must-have, go-to beauty product. For years, I collected them like shells on the beach, enamored by their many colors and finishes—matte, glossy, indelible. I rolled my lipstick friends around and chuckled at shades I purchased knowing they’d never look good on me. Well, when a product bears an orange clearance sticker, what’s a girl to do? Even ugly colors deserve at least a shot.”     

               —Excerpt from Little Changes: Tales of a Reluctant Home Eco-Momics Pioneer, by Kristi Marsh

I woke this morning to Groundhog Day-like headlines decreeing, “Lead in Lipstick- Get the Lead Out!” Selfishly, I muttered, “Still? Do I have to dump my purse and run for the crunchy hills?” Pushing my reactionary thoughts aside, I moved to my Choose-Wiser-power questions:

Just what does a girl need to know?

And, what does she need to do?

Lead in lipstick is an unfolding-right-now-current event. A story that horrifyingly-fascinates me. I’ve been silently watching the storyline unfold since I (reluctantly) started on this path five years ago. I could write an entire beauty-school thesis on the subject, but for today, let me break it down into a Kristi-style timeline. (For the curious I will footnote the data for further learning.)

  • 2007: Campaign for Safe Cosmetics started the swivel in motion when they tested 33 lipsticks and found 61% contained lead, [1] which began our awareness of what we applied to our lips.
  • 2009: Two years later, the FDA quietly announced a follow-up study. Their findings? Lead in all their samples of lipstick – some at levels four times higher than the levels found in the Campaign’s study. No change or action was taken by government regulation or publicly by manufacturers to protect you and me.
  • 2012: Campaign for Safe Cosmetics reveals yet another test by the FDA. The Campaign describes “the problem of lead in lipstick is worse and more widespread than previously reported” as this new study revealed lead in all 400 lipsticks tested by the FDA. Scanning the list, I automatically searched for familiar colors, but when it came down to it, I knew this was a sample. There is no way for me to know if my current color or brand has a higher level of lead or no lead at all.

What do we need to know?

Shall we roll our tubes over to check the ingredients? Unfortunately, lead enters the lipstick as a contaminant within the ingredients used. It is not a separate ingredient. That means if you check the ingredients listed on your favorite product, lead won’t be listed one way or the other.

I have seen statements from the beauty industry ensuring us that there isn’t anything to be worried about, that the growing amounts of lead are “safe enough.” As self-appointed advocate of my own beautiful body, I disagree.* The issue is a bit more open response essay question than a multiple-choice worksheet. I don’t think that what is safe and what is not safe has been determined. In fact, at this point the FDA doesn’t have a maximum level on how much of the contaminate is allowed. The question comes down to this:

Are we worth it?

There is no safe level of lead exposure. Period. We take great lengths to reduce our exposure to it in our household paint.[2] The EPA shares ways to reduce lead in drinking water.[3] Even the Center for Disease Control and Prevention advises to avoid using cosmetics that may contain lead.[4]  Our society found it important enough to reduce lead in gasoline. We already know it’s dangerous for our bodies. Why then, is the beauty industry telling us it’s okay to smear on the outside of our mouths? It’s curious, isn’t it?

What to do:


  • Tell L’Oreal to get the lead out. Samples of lipstick from L’Oreal USA were the most contaminated in the study, with more than ten times the highest amount of lead found five years ago. (Shaking my head here.) The Campaign made it super-easy for you to click and send an email letter sharing with the multi-time offending company that we have had enough. Send an easy email to L’Oreal!
  • Before you put another notch in your lipstick case…share this information. Don’t know where to start? I don’t blame you, so I whipped up this incredibly inviting, heart-catching-upbeat montage just for you. (If my family comes looking for me wondering what I have been up to, I’ll just tell them I was busy protecting my peeps.)


Honestly, this is a tough subject to kick off my Home Eco-Momics 101 Course and I hope I don’t lose a few of you due to this. I pinky swear that I have many topics that will deliver the instant gratification of do-this-not-that. However, this lead in lipstick issue is the topic of the moment. We are in an imperfect world and some of the time, the perfect option isn’t available. Your options? You can skip the lipsticks. Or, you can choose to use less. You can choose to align your purchases with Champion businesses as a place to start, demonstrating that you are one more pocketbook owner who cares and is aware. And awareness is what today is about.

Here is what I do know. When I was playing with my mom’s Avon Rep lipstick samples as a young girl, people were “posting” the old fashion way (petitions and phone calls? yard signs?) talking about getting lead out of gasoline. Once accomplished, the efforts resulted in a 90 percent drop in blood lead levels worldwide, as well as 1.2 million lives saved each year. [5]

I am not equating lipstick to gasoline. It may or may not be the same, but I am not in the position to make that statement. I am demonstrating that change has to start somewhere. But you get that, right? Just in November, Johnson and Johnson stated they would no longer introduce new products with formaldehyde-releasing preservatives after consumer pressure led by the Campaign. Supporting the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics with an email campaign can be very effective place to start – it’s a way to let our voices be heard in numbers – the trick is, we just have to do it.

What will you do today and how will you take your lipstick? For me, I’d like the product I smear on my lips unleaded please. Join me for more lip-smacking conversation over on Facebook!

Enjoy the journey,


* The Campaign shares lead is a proven neurotoxin that can cause learning, language and behavioral problems such as lowered IQ, reduced school performance and increased aggression. Pregnant women and young children are particularly vulnerable to lead exposure because lead easily crosses the placenta and may enter the fetal brain, where it interferes with normal development. Lead has also been linked to miscarriage, reduced fertility in bothmen and women, hormonal changes, menstrual irregularities, and delays in the onset of puberty. Lead builds up in the body over time and lead?containing lipstick applied several times a day, every day, combined with lead in water and other sources, could add up to significant exposure levels.




[1] http://safecosmetics.org/article.php?id=223

[2] http://www.epa.gov/lead/pubs/titleten.html

[3] http://water.epa.gov/drink/info/lead/lead1.cfm

[4] http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/tips.htm

[5] http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/plehner/global_phase-out_of_lead_in_ga.html