Yesterday, I mistakenly told you that Burt’s Bees made lead-free lipstick. Um, psych? Some of its lip shimmers were among the highest in lead of the 400 lipsticks tested by the FDA, but assuming the brand is safe is an easy mistake: It’s known for being all-natural and associated with an eco-friendly, organic lifestyle. Why would we worry? But it’s not the only natural or organic brand on the FDA’s lead list.
I fell for the natural = nontoxic fallacy. But being labeled natural doesn’t necessarily make makeup free of lead or carcinogens. Naturally occurring chemical compounds can still produce potentially-toxic nanoparticles, like iron and zinc oxides. Lead may be a neurotoxin, but it’s also a naturally occurring metal—and one that’s surprisingly common in cosmetics.
In the FDA’s study, it wasn’t just your common drugstore lipsticks like Cover Girl and L’Oreal that contained lead. Natural or organic brands like Burts Bees, PeaceKeeper CauseMetics and Colorganics also tested lead-positive. So did higher-end brands, like Clinique, Estee Lauder, Dior, M.A.C., Avon, BeneFit, NARS, Lancome, Mary Kay, Victoria’s Secret, Chanel and Dior.
The three Burt’s Bees lip shimmers tested contained between .43 and 2.24 parts per million lead. The average of the 400 lipsticks the FDA tested was 1.11 ppm.
So how much lead in lipstick is acceptable? No one’s sure. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics says no amount of lead exposure is safe. The FDA concluded from its study that “the lead levels found are within the range that would be expected.” Because lipstick is only used in small quantities, the agency doesn’t consider these lead levels a safety concern. For more on metals in makeup, check out this report from Canadian organization Environmental Defense.