Metal in a Tube of Lipstick?

Lipstick metal amounts include chromium and aluminum levels that may pose long term risk

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Concern about the ingredients in lipsticks and other makeup products have been around almost as long as makeup has. Sometimes, though, there is some reason to be concerned.

A recent study found levels of certain metals in common lip products that might pose risks if used in high amounts.

This study did not find dangerous levels of metals in any of the lipstick brands.

However, these researchers expressed concern that unregulated cosmetics may contain enough metals to build up over time to cause health problems.

"Blot your lipstick to remove excess."

The study, led by Sa Liu, MPH, a graduate student in the Environmental Health Sciences Division of the School of Public Health at the University of California at Berkeley, looked at levels of metals in common lipstick brands in the US.

The researchers tested samples of 32 lip products for eight different metals: lead, aluminum, cadmium, cobalt, chromium, copper, manganese, nickel and titanium. The products included eight lipsticks and 24 lip glosses sold by seven different companies.

The lip products were chosen based on a survey of 12 Asian girls, aged 14 to 19, who recorded the brands and names of lipstick and lip glosses used by them or in their homes.

The researchers purchased four of these products at a major department store, four at a chain specialty store and 26 at a chain drug store.

The researchers found that several of the tested metals existed in the lipsticks in varying amounts. Most of these amounts were not considered high enough to cause health problems in individuals who used the lip products.

However, some of the levels did raise the concerns of the researchers if the lip products were used daily over longer periods of time.

For example, 68 percent of the products contained levels of chromium that would exceed the acceptable daily intake of chromium if someone used the product very frequently (in the 95th percentile of usage, compared to other lipstick wearers).

The acceptable daily intake was based on levels published by the California Environmental Protection Agency for drinking water levels.

Similarly, 3 percent of the products contained aluminum that would exceed the acceptable daily intake with high usage, and 22 percent of the products contained manganese at levels over the acceptable daily intake with usage at the 95th percentile.

An average woman applies approximately 10 mg of lipstick an average 2.4 times a day, according to the study's background information.

This rate means an average woman uses about 24 mg of lip products a day, and a woman in the 95th percentile would use about 87 mg per day, which equals lipstick application about 8.7 times a day.

For the purposes of this study, the researchers assumed that women consumed or absorbed all the lipstick they applied to their lips, so the study findings are slightly overestimated since most women probably do not end up licking off, swallowing or absorbing all the lipstick they apply.

The researchers also calculated what metal levels would be ingested at amounts over 20 percent of the acceptable daily intake with high usage of the product.

Overall, 63 percent of the products contained aluminum, 31 percent contained cadmium, 91 percent contained chromium and 66 percent contained manganese that could, with high usage, lead individuals to ingest more than 20 percent of the recommended levels of these metals.

These findings do not mean these lip products contain dangerous levels of metals. Rather, the findings mean that extremely high use of some lip products that end up fully absorbed or consumed by women increase their exposure to metals that, over time, can build up. It is possible that this build-up could pose health risks, but it's not clear.

"Just finding these metals isn't the issue; it's the levels that matter," co-author S. Katharine Hammond, a professor of environmental health sciences, said in a prepared statement about the study. "Some of the toxic metals are occurring at levels that could possibly have an effect in the long term."

While 75 percent of the lipsticks (24 products) had lead, the average concentration was 0.36 parts per million (ppm).

When the researchers estimated how much lead individuals would consume or absorb with average and high use of the lip product, the lead amounts were less than 20 percent of the acceptable daily intake.

This finding means that the lead levels in the lipsticks do not pose a risk to adolescents and adults using those lip products, but it's unknown whether the amounts would pose a risk to children using them.

Overall, the findings of metal levels were not alarming to the researchers, but they did write that the study "suggests potential public health concerns," especially since cosmetic products are not currently regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration.

"Our study was small, using lip products that had been identified by young Asian women in Oakland, Calif.," Liu said in a prepared statement about the study. "But, the lipsticks and lip glosses in our study are common brands available in stores everywhere. Based upon our findings, a larger, more thorough survey of lip products and cosmetics in general is warranted."

The study was published May 2 in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health Education and Research Center. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 1, 2013
Last Updated:
August 14, 2013