Cover Girl cover-up: Why the FDA refuses to regulate toxic lipstick

Cover Girl cover-up: Why the FDA refuses to regulate toxic lipstick

I don’t know what’s more shocking: The fact that lipstick is loaded with lead—or the fact that the FDA refuses to do anything about it.

A recent FDA analysis, published in the Journal of Cosmetic Science, shows that the levels of lead in lipstick are four times higher than anyone ever realized.

The FDA’s response? They’re doing absolutely nothing.

On the FDA’s own website under “Frequently Asked Questions,” I read this: “Is there a safety concern about the lead found by FDA in lipsticks?” This was the FDA’s answer: “No.”

FDA spokeswoman Stephanie Kwisnek said, “Lipstick is a product intended for topical use, and is only ingested incidentally and in very small quantities.”

If that’s not a bunch of lip service, I don’t know what is.

I don’t know what kind of scientists the FDA has working for them, but this is something they should have learned in Biology 101: Your skin—and especially your lips—are extremely absorbent. Anything you put on your skin—soap, lotions, or even the chemicals in water—can end up in your body. That goes for lipstick, too.

I can’t tell you exactly how much of the lead from lipstick gets absorbed into your body. None of the industries have evaluated it, and neither has the FDA. But here’s what we do know: There’s no safe amount of lead.

Lead is a neurotoxin—that means it causes brain damage and nerve cell damage. Studies have shown that it can cause neurodevelopmental deficits in children. Pregnant women should be especially careful about their lead exposure, since studies have shown that it can cross the placenta and enter into the fetus, causing any number of developmental problems.

Because your body can’t break it down or get rid of it, lead accumulates in your body over time. So I don’t care how microscopic the amount is, it shouldn’t be allowed in your lipstick.

The FDA found that one lipstick brand had 11 times more lead than those lowest on the list. Want to know which brand it is? So do I! But the FDA has refused to identify which manufacturers were the worst offenders.

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, on the other hand, has no qualms about pointing fingers. When they conducted a lipstick analysis in 2007, they found that the three worst offenders were products from L’Oreal, Dior, and Cover Girl.

The only acceptable solution is for the FDA to limit the amount of lead allowed in lipstick, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon. In the meantime, be a smart consumer. Do the research, and don’t buy any cosmetics—lipstick or otherwise—that have any amount of lead in them.

The Environmental Working Group has put together a website ( where you can review the safety information on over 25,000 personal care products.

If you stop buying products with lead and other harmful ingredients, the manufacturers will catch on soon enough. If the FDA won’t regulate the industry, maybe your consumer dollars will.