Photo by Shutterstock

The quest for the perfect red pucker may not be all that cracked up to be. In a recent investigation of lip products commonly found in drug and department stores across the United States, UC Berkeley researchers found levels of highly toxic metals with significant potential health impacts. Although none of the samples exceeded current public health exposure standards, women who apply such products to their lips more than twice per day could be getting as much as a fifth of their daily recommended doses, according to the study, which was published Thursday in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. In fact, average use of certain lipsticks and lip glosses can result in excessive exposure to chromium, a carcinogen linked to stomach tumors. Women who slather on their lipsticks, or frequently reapply them throughout the day, also risk overexposure to aluminum, cadmium, and manganese. Lead, which children, who sometimes play with makeup, should avoid at any level, reared its head in at least 24 products.

PREVIOUSLY ON ECOUTERRE: “Good Morning America” Finds Traces of Lead in 55 Percent of Lipsticks

U.S. Food and Drug Administration, toxic pollution, toxic chemicals, lead, eco-friendly lipsticks, sustainable lipsticks, toxic lipsticks, eco-friendly cosmetics, sustainable cosmetics, eco-friendly beauty, sustainable beauty, green beauty, heavy metals

Burt’s Bees’ “Toffee” lip shimmer rated among the top 20 worst offenders with a lead content of 2.81 parts per million.


“I believe that the Food and Drug Administration should pay attention to this,” study lead author Sa Liu, a UC Berkeley researcher in environmental health sciences, says in a statement. “Our study was small, using lip products that had been identified by young Asian women in Oakland, CA. 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.”

L’Oréal, Maybelline, Covergirl, and Revlon—the brands that dominate drugstore aisles—dominate the list of lead-contaminated lip products.

In a 2012 review of 400 lipsticks, however, the FDA claimed that the quantities of lead it found did not pose a hazard. “Lipstick, as a product intended for topical use with limited absorption, is ingested only in very small quantities. We do not consider the lead levels we found in the lipsticks to be a safety concern,” the FDA concluded. “The lead levels we found are within the limits recommended by other public health authorities for lead in cosmetics, including lipstick,”

Still, the FDA’s ranking of lip products according to their lead content (in terms of parts per million) provides a basic primer of the top brands and shades to avoid. (L’Oréal, Maybelline, CoverGirl, and Revlon—the brands that dominate drugstore aisles—make several repeat appearances.) A surprising entry is a lip shimmer by Burt’s Bees, which has continued to tout its “all-natural” credentials despite its acquisition by Clorox in 2007.

Conversely, the FDA’s study also reveals lipsticks with less than one part per million of lead, including shades by Wet n’ Wild, Bobbi Brown, and Shiseido. For even more lip products that have managed to nix the high-risk ingredients, check out the Environmental Working Group’s “Skin Deep” database. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics has cobbled together a list of its favorite brands, as well.


1. Maybelline Color Sensational (125 Pink Petal): 7.19 ppm

2. L’Oréal Colour Riche (410 Volcanic): 7.00 ppm

3. Nars Semi-Matte (1005 Red Lizard): 4.93 ppm

4. CoverGirl Queen Collection Vibrant Hues Color (Q580 Ruby Remix): 4.92 ppm

5. Nars Semi-Matte (1009 Funny Face): 4.89 ppm

6. L’Oréal Colour Riche (165 Tickled Pink): 4.45 ppm

7. L’Oréal Intensely Moisturizing Lipcolor (748 Heroic): 4.41 ppm

8. CoverGirl Continuous Color (025 Warm Brick): 4.28 ppm

9. Maybelline Color Sensational (475 Mauve Me): 4.23 ppm

10. Stargazer Lipstick (103c): 4.12 ppm

11. Revlon Matte (009 Fabulous Fig): 3.32 ppm

12. Sonia Kashuk Luxury Lip Color (27 Mauvey): 3.12 ppm

13. Avon Beyond Color (558 Mad For Mauve): 3.08 ppm

14. Avon Endless (530 Mauve Amour): 2.87 ppm

15. Revlon ColorStay (375 Ripened Red): 2.84 ppm

16. Burt’s Bees Lip Shimmer (d Toffee): 2.81 ppm

17. Revlon Super Lustrous Pearl (631 Luminous Pink): 2.81 ppm

18. Revlon Super Lustrous Pearl (643 Satin Plum): 2.77 ppm

19. Cover Girl Continuous Color (595 Iced Plum): 2.74 ppm

20. Stargazer Lipstick (101c): 2.71 ppm

+ Environmental Health Perspectives.

+ U.S. Food and Drug Administration

[Via MotherJones]