Long-term exposure to the heavy metals found in commonly used cosmetics can cause adverse health effects, according to a new study by UC Berkeley researchers.
The study, published on May 2 in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, found that levels of certain metals in lipsticks and lip glosses may raise long-term health concerns in users. The paper was authored by S. Katharine Hammond, a UC Berkeley professor of environmental health sciences, Sa Liu, a campus researcher of environmental health sciences, and Ann Rojas-Cheatham, director of research and training at Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice, a nonprofit organization in Oakland.
Researchers estimated the average consumer’s daily intake of lead, cadmium, chromium, aluminum and five other metals for 32 types of lipsticks and lip glosses commonly found in stores. To assess the health risks of using these products, the researchers compared these estimates with “acceptable daily intakes” they derived from information used by the California Environmental Protection Agency.
In 2007 and 2010, the Food and Drug Administration conducted studies analyzing the lead content of lipsticks and found it to be safe for consumers. According to the FDA’s website, the agency currently regulates the lead in color additives for cosmetics but not the level of lead in the products themselves.
Hammond explained that there are problems when determining an acceptable standard for lead exposure in cosmetic products.
“Lead was not present (in the lipsticks) at the high levels that would lead to a concern,” Hammond said. “However, we also know that lead has a history that the more we study it, the more we see health effects happening at lower and lower levels. So there is no completely safe level of lead.”
While the FDA is aware of the presence of lead in lipsticks, metals like cadmium, chromium, manganese and aluminum — also found in the lipsticks studied — have received less attention, Liu said.
According to Hammond, younger children, whose developing bodies absorb more of the metals, and people with compromised kidney functions or diabetes are the most susceptible to these potential health problems. High levels of cadmium can damage the kidneys and, along with some forms of chromium, can cause cancer. Overexposure to manganese can damage the nervous system over time.
Liu, however, emphasized that the danger of these metals lies in long-term use.
“We don’t want to cause any panic in the users or consumers,” Liu said. “We don’t think it will cause any harm in the short term, but the more you use and the longer you use it, the more likely a person may get overexposed (to the metals) and potentially be taking higher risk for adverse effects.”
According to the study, the researchers did not observe clear patterns indicating that metal concentrations were related to specific brands, product type, color or cost.
Linda Loretz, a chief toxicologist for the Personal Care Products Council — a trade association for the cosmetics industry — reaffirmed the safety of lip products, noting that traces of these metals are also found in food.
“The report does not provide any new meaningful information,” Loretz said in a press release. “The finding of trace levels of metals in lip products is not unexpected given their natural presence in air, soil and water.”
Courtney Mullen, a UC Berkeley junior, also said she did not feel too concerned about the findings.
“I’m in theater, and I use cosmetics for shows,” Mullen said. “I’m not seeing that many health concerns at the present time, and there are many other things that can hurt you that are not cosmetics. So I would probably continue using them.”