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Alarming Levels of Toxic Metals Detected in Popular Lipsticks

Update Date: May 02, 2013 11:47 AM EDT

The pursuit of luscious, red lips may be putting women in danger, according to scientists who recently found alarming levels of toxins in popular lipsticks and lip glosses.

A new analysis, conducted by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley's School of Public Health, revealed that many common lipsticks and lip glosses contain dangerous levels of of chromium, which has been tied to lung cancer and stomach cancer, aluminum, which can increase the risk of Alzheimer's, and manganese, which can cause mood swings and memory and coordination impairments.  Other harmful metals found in the cosmetics included cadmium, lead and five other metals.

While some metals detected were found at benign levels, other metals were found at levels that are potentially dangerous. However, researchers noted that none of the 32 lip beauty products tested in the study contained levels of metal that exceeded current public health exposure standards.

"Just finding these metals isn't the issue; it's the levels that matter," study principal investigator S. Katharine Hammond, professor of environmental health science, said in a news release. "Some of the toxic metals are occurring at levels that could possibly have an effect in the long term."

Researchers say lipstick and lip gloss are of particular concern because they are often injected or absorbed by the person wearing them.

After analyzing the content in the lip beauty products, researchers found that the average daily use, or two to three applications a day, led to an unhealthy intake of chromium in ten of the 32 lipsticks and glosses test.  Researchers found that high use, around eight applications a day, could expose women and girls to too much aluminum, cadmium and manganese, which has been linked to toxicity in the nervous system.  Researchers noted that led was detected in 24 of the 32 products, but at a concentration that was generally lower than the acceptable daily intake level.

While the brands tested in the study have not been revealed, researchers are describing them as "very common" and widely available at pharmacies and department stores. The lipsticks and glosses analyzed in the study were selected after researchers polled teenagers between the ages of 14 and 19 about the products they used. 

Researchers say that the latest finding doesn't mean that women and girls should toss their lipstick in the trash.  However, researchers say the findings should act as a wake-up call for U.S. health regulators. The study authors say that currently there are no U.S. standards for metal content in cosmetics. However, the European Union considers cadmium, chromium and lead to be unacceptable ingredients at any level in cosmetic products.

"I believe that the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) should pay attention to this," lead author Sa Liu, a UC Berkeley researcher in environmental health sciences, said in a news release.

"Our study was small, using lip products that had been identified by young Asian women in Oakland, Calif. 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," she added.

The findings were published Thursday in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

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