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Toxic Heavy Metals Found In Cosmetics

Think twice next time your shopping for your favorite make-up and skincare products at your local drug or department stores.  A new study by Health Canada confirms that popular cosmetics products contain toxic heavy metals, including lead, arsenic and cadmium and other heavy metals.  Of the 49 products tested for the study, all were found to be contaminated with heavy metals!  Some products contained levels of arsenic and lead that far exceed the limits recommended by health officials.  What's more shocking is none of the products listed the metals on label ingredient lists.

Major loopholes in U.S. federal law allow the $50 billion cosmetics industry to put unlimited amounts of chemicals into personal care products with no required testing, no monitoring of health effects and inadequate labeling requirements. In fact, cosmetics are among the least-regulated products on the market.  

Here are the results of the tests:
  • 100 percent of the products contained nickel, 96 percent contained lead and 90 percent contained beryllium.
  • At least one of the products tested contained seven of the eight metals of concern (arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury, beryllium, nickel, selenium and thallium).
  • On average, products contained four of the eight metals of concern.
  • The highest levels of arsenic (70 parts per million, or ppm), cadmium (3 ppm), and lead (110 ppm) were all found in lip glosses, which can be ingested.
  • The product containing the highest level of lead was Benefit’s Benetint lip gloss at 110 ppm, more than 10 times higher than the 10 ppm limit set out in the Health Canada Draft Guidance on Heavy Metal Impurities in Cosmetics. This same product contained 70 ppm of arsenic, which is more than 20 times higher than Health Canada’s recommended limit of 3 ppm.

The heavy metals in these products are “impurities”—unintentional contaminants—that are not required to be disclosed on ingredient lists in Canada or the United States.  Health Canada has developed draft guidelines for impurity levels of some metals it believes are “technically avoidable” by manufacturers.  What's even more scary is the United States does not have standards or even drafted any guidelines for these metals in cosmetics.    

Why should you be concerned?  Lead is linked to neurological problems and The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that lead exposure is not safe at any level.  The Environmental Protection Agency lists arsenic as being linked to stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and cancer of the bladder, lungs, skin, kidney, nasal passages, liver and prostate.

What You Can Do 
Because lead is a contaminant not listed on lipstick ingredient labels, it's next to impossible for consumers to avoid.  But don't let that dissuade you from doing something.  Here's what you can do.

  • E-mail, call or write to the companies that make your favorite lipstick shades and tell them that lead-free products are important to you.
  • Research cosmetics and skincare before you buy.
  • Make sure the cosmetic or skincare company has signed "The Compact for Safe Cosmetics" here:
  • Search over 65,000 cosmetic brands at Skin Deep Cosmetics Database to find out the toxicity level of your makeup and skincare to ensure safety levels. 
  • Share this article with friends and family.

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