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A swipe of a red lipstick may have a transformative effect like no other, but could your signature crimson pucker be responsible for less-than-desirable changes, as well? A recent investigation by Good Morning America revealed that 12 of 22 of lipstick samples—or 55 percent—contained trace amounts of lead, some as high as 3.22 part per million. Lead is a potent neurotoxin that can cause learning, behavioral, and other problems, but even the worst offenders aren’t guilty of anything illegal. Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration suggests a lead limit of 0.1 parts per million for candy, the cosmetics industry isn’t beholden to any such threshold outside of California. (The Golden State recommends a maximum of 5 parts per million.) And because lead is considered an “unintended” byproduct of the manufacturing process, cosmetics manufacturers aren’t required to declare it on their ingredient labels.

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None of this is news to regulators, of course. A 2011 investigation by the FDA uncovered varying amounts of lead in 400 shades of popular lipstick, among them L’Oreal, Maybelline, Cover Girl, and NARS. The lipstick with the highest lead concentration? Maybelline’s Color Sensational Pink Petal lipstick, which topped out at 7.19 parts per million.

The upside is the fact that 10 of the lipsticks didn’t contain lead, which proves it’s possible to manufacture a lipstick without it.

The lead-in-lipstick debate is one that resurfaces once every few years. The FDA and certain experts claim that lipstick, unlike candy, is ingested only in very small quantities, so any traces of lead that do exist are too minute to pose a threat. Anti-lead consumer advocates, including the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, however, insist that there is no such thing as a “safe” level of lead exposure.

Concerns abound, for instance, that a pregnant woman wearing lipstick can pass lead to her baby internally. “What we know now is that even the lowest levels of lead can harm your IQ, your behavior, your ability to learn, so we want to make sure that it is out of everything that is in the environment of children,” Sean Palfrey, medical director for the Boston Lead Poisoning Prevention Program, a joint initiative by the Boston Public Health Commission, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, and the Department of Pediatrics at Boston Medical Center, told GMA.

Then there is the fact that 10 of the lipsticks the news program tested didn’t contain lead. “That’s the upside of your survey results,” says Janet Nudelman of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. “Clearly the concerning part is that more than half of the lipsticks do contain lead, but half of them don’t, proving that it’s possible to manufacture a lipstick without lead.”

[Via Good Morning America]