There are only two pieces of legislation out there that dictate the United States Food and Drug Administration’s control over the cosmetic industry, which is why organizations like the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics coalition, a project launched by the Breast Cancer Fund in 2004, take it upon themselves to do their own digging into whether the cosmetic industry deserves consumers’ blind trust.
The first piece of legislation, the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, defines a variety of terms, including “cosmetics” itself. According to Section 201(i), cosmetics are any “articles intended to be rubbed, poured, sprinkled, or sprayed on, introduced to, or otherwise applied to the human body…for cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness, or altering the appearance.”
The second, the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act, enshrines consumers’ right to know what ingredients are present in the products they purchase.
However, there are technically no laws that require cosmetic companies to get FDA product approval before going to market. Only color additives need approval prior to sale.
So in 2007, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics conducted a study on the presence of lead in lipsticks, and the results were published in “A Poison Kiss: The Problem of Lead in Lipsticks.” At that point, the FDA had made no formal recommendation of how much lead—which the Disease Control and Prevention reports can cause kidney damage and blood and nervous system complications, some of which can eventually result in death—in lipstick is too much.
Researchers purchased 33 random drugstore lipsticks from Boston; Hartford, Connecticut; San Francisco; and Minneapolis and sent the unopened products to Bodycote Testing Group’s lab in California.
The study found a wide range of lead concentrations in the lipsticks tested, but the highest concentrations were found in L’Oreal Colour Riche “True Red” (0.65 parts per million) followed by L’Oreal Colour Riche “Classic Wine” (0.58 ppm), Cover Girl Incredifull Lipcolor “Maximum Red” (0.56 ppm) and Christian Dior Addict “Positive Red” (0.21 ppm).
The campaign’s study prompted the FDA to conduct its own investigation into more than 400 lipsticks in 2010, which found some lead concentrations as high as 7.19 ppm in Maybelline’s Color Sensational “125 Pink Petal” and 7.00 ppm in L’Oreal’s Colour Riche “410 Volcanic” lipstick.
This past December, the FDA created an official guidance document for the cosmetic industry, which states lead concentrations below 10 ppm don’t pose any serious health threat. The recommendation aligns with limits set in place in Canada, the European Union and the International Cooperation on Cosmetics Regulation.
While the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics argues that no amount of lead exposure should be considered safe, the FDA has calculated that exposure to 10 ppm of lead via lip products results in 0.24 micrograms of lead per day for adults over 13 and even less (0.024 micrograms per day) for children 12 and under (assuming that children at this age use 10 percent less lip product than adults do), and consumers can now make informed purchase decisions based on those new guidelines.