Is Your Lipstick Making You Sick?

New research linking yet another ingredient commonly found in lipstick to muscle problems, hormone disruption and even heavy metals poisoning is raising alarms once again about health dangers that may be hidden in today’s cosmetics.

The Daily Mail is reporting on research conducted by the University of California and Colorado which found that triclosan, an ingredient used as a preservative in lipstick, contributes to obstructing the processes which allow muscles, including the heart, to receive signals from the brain. Tests found a 25 percent reduction in cardiac function within 20 minutes of contact with the compound, suggesting that triclosan can affect a person’s health.

According to molecular bioscientist Professor Isaac Pessah, there was a “dramatic” reduction in heart function within 20 minutes of laboratory mice being exposed to triclosan and warned that there is ‘strong evidence’ that it could affect human health.

The research, which was funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health, Muscular Dystrophy Association and JB Johnson Foundation and published in the peer-reviewed journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) is the not the first such study to raise concerns about triclosan. Previous research suggests the substance may be linked to thyroid and fertility problems. It may increase women’s levels of male hormones causing symptoms such as acne, weight gain, excessive hair growth, menstrual dysfunction and infertility.

Triclosan isn’t the only questionable ingredient in lipstick. Heavy metals are another culprit.  As the Mail reports, a 2010 report published in the Journal of Hazardous Materials in 2010 examined a variety of lipsticks and found them to contain heavy metals such as cadmium and chromium. These are known to cause skin problems such as dermatitis and possible kidney damage after long term use. It can take up to 40 years after ingestion for the body to completely cleanse itself from these metals. 

In 2008, investigators at Tufts Medical Center in Boston found a link between lipstick and a severe arthritis-like auto-immune disease known as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), a condition in which the body produces antibodies that attack healthy tissue. It is believed that the lupus is caused by chemicals and heavy metals in lipstick being absorbed through the tissues that line the cheeks and back of the lips, which are known as the buccal mucosa.

The findings prompted researchers to conclude that “using lipstick at least three days a week is significantly associated with an increased risk of SLE.”

Another serious concern is the lead levels which are naturally found in some of the minerals used to produce the bright colors in lipsticks. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tested over 400 lipsticks last year and found that most of them contained lead. Nine of the lipstick brands with the most lead are sold by L’Oreal, such as their “Color Sensation” Pink Petal which had the highest lead levels of all lipsticks tested at 7.19 parts per million. The average lead level in the other brands tested was 1.11 parts per million.

L’Oreal insists that “the lead levels detected by the FDA in the study are also within the limits ¬recommended by global public health authorities for -cosmetics, including lipstick.”

The Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association (CTPA) also dismissed the latest research because it only involved tests on mice rather than humans and said the amounts of triclosan used in the experiments exceeded the maximum permitted levels in cosmetics.

But the research was convincing enough to make Johnson & Johnson decide to remove triclosan – along with many other worrisome chemicals – from all of its skincare products. The company announced that “Despite triclosan having a long and extensive history of safe use, we want you to have peace of mind. So we have set a goal to phase out triclosan in our beauty and baby care products. We have made significant progress in developing alternatives that will allow us to replace triclosan.”

Pat Thomas, a UK expert and author on cosmetic safety, is urging women to moderate both their use of lipstick and the brightness of the colors they choose.

“The lists of permitted ingredients lag seriously behind research on safety,” she told the Mail.  “This includes substances such as parabens and triclosan.”

As for lead levels, “it depends on the lipstick,” she said. “More and more manufacturers are using mineral products for the pigments in their lipstick. These minerals are mined from the ground, and any mined product will contain lead, as well as other potential dangers such as arsenic and cadmium.”

Proportions vary by color, with the brightest colors containing the highest amounts of lead. Even though these levels are still comparatively low, women who are concerned about exposure should choose glosses or more sheer colors.

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