Pucker Up: Deadly Kisses from Lipstick Containing Metal

by Zoe Hurley on March 27, 2014

Ever since I was in the third grade, I have been obsessed with trying new makeup and was always wanting to spend my allowance on the newest lip gloss, the only makeup I was allowed to wear at the time. To my mother, and many others, lip gloss is the mildest and most innocent form of makeup and is considered harmless. However, this may not be the case. After testing, pigmented lipstick and lipgloss were found to contain metals from aluminum to cadmium, and most dangerously, lead, and the most hazardous: lead.


Some metals in lip colors such as aluminum and titanium are intentionally added to cosmetics. Aluminum is added as a stabilizer to stop makeup from bleeding so that it will stay in one place. Another metal, titanium oxide is added for whitening and to soften colors such as pink and red.  While these metals are intentionally added, many other metals found are not. These metals, such as  lead and chromium, are contaminants which are included with other ingredients that are often advertised as ‘natural’. One example is mica, which is a mineral added to increase shine in lip gloss. Because this is naturally found it contains contaminants from soil and water. The most notable of these contaminants are lead, manganese, and chromium. 

As previously stated, the most alarming contaminants are lead and chromium. Even though the other contaminants are not wanted and should also keep a consumer on guard, they are naturally occurring and are even essential in trace amounts. Chromium, however, has been found to cause stomach tumors when ingested. Lead is also toxic at any level no matter how small. In some lipsticks tested, the levels of lead were higher than levels that are acceptable in candy. High exposure to lipstick through frequent reapplication can also lead to increased and harmful absorption of otherwise safe metals such as aluminum and manganese.


When the FDA was approached about the levels found, their initial response was that there is no cause for concern. They felt that the comparison to the lead levels acceptable in candy was an unfair comparison. The FDA argued that lipstick is not intentionally ingested while candy is. However, they failed to take into account the reality that lipstick and lipgloss are in fact ingested. It may be in small levels, but whenever a lipstick wearer rubs their lips together some of the lipstick is being removed from their lips and put into their mouths, so they will ingest it. After this happens the wearer reapplies their lipstick, sometimes in extreme cases up to 24 times a day, leading to ingestion levels rising to those of concern. Lead accumulates in the body and builds, with continued application and ingestion, leading to significant exposure.

In adults, metallic exposure is not as common and does not cause significant harm to the body. However, children exposed to metal have much worse reactions and significant problems, including brain damage and even death. Whenever a mother allows their daughter to play with their makeup, they are putting their child at risk of ingesting metal. Additionally, the younger the child, the more likely they are to put things in their mouth or try to eat anything that has a consistency of something that can be eaten. If a lipgloss they are handling is scented to taste like candy, that child will most likely put it in their mouth. If that lipgloss or lipstick has metal contaminants that child is immediately put at a higher risk. In order to prevent this, the FDA must admit that there is a cause for concern and metal levels in cosmetics need to be regulated. Until they do this, parents must treat their cosmetics as hazards and kept out of reach of children.












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