LEAD–It’s probably the heavy metal you’ve heard about the most. It was removed from gasoline and house paint in the 1970s, which was a great victory for public health: As lead levels in our bodies went down, kids’ IQs went up and violent crime dropped. But lead and other heavy metals are not gone from our lives. They are hiding in things as varied as house dust, car emissions, cigarettes, food, metal belt buckles, kids’ backpacks, and makeup.
Heavy metals occur naturally in the earth but become concentrated with human activities like mining and manufacturing. As a result, we’re exposed to them from several sources, usually in very small amounts measured in parts per million (ppm). That may sound tiny, but even small quantities can be dangerous, because certain metals cause harm at extremely low levels or build up in the food chain and our bodies over time.
In 2007, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics decided to see whether rumors about lead hiding in lipsticks were true. The Campaign sent dozens of lipsticks (ranging from drugstore to luxury to natural brands) to an independent lab to test them for lead—and it found low levels in over half the lipsticks. As a follow-up, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) conducted its own expanded, 400-lipstick study, and it too found lead: The average concentration was 1.11 ppm, and the highest value was 7.19 ppm. (To put this in perspective, the FDA’s recommended limit for lead in candy is 0.1 ppm; there isn’t a limit for lead in cosmetics.)
Before we even started to make cosmetics, we knew that we were going to test all color products for heavy metals—it is what we needed to do to uphold our commitment to safety and transparency. So, during our product development process, we packed up our nearly perfected cosmetics formulas and sent them to an independent lab to be tested for 12 heavy metals. We were dismayed to see that even some of our shades contained heavy metals.
How did this happen?
Well, cosmetics companies are not intentionally adding heavy metals to products. The metals are contaminants that tag along with both mineral and synthetic ingredients used to impart color. And as we mentioned, the FDA does not have limits for heavy metal contaminants in color cosmetics, so companies with high levels of metals are not breaking the law.
We wanted to know if heavy metal contamination was a problem beyond lead in lipstick and beyond our in-formulation cosmetics, so we purchased 12 types of products (eye shadows, lip colors, blushes, and bronzers) from six other cosmetics brands. We sent the products to the lab to test for 12 different metals at very low levels of detection. The results revealed that every single product—from luxury brands that use synthetic colorants to natural brands that use mineral colorants—contained heavy metals. The most disturbing finding was 240 ppm of lead in a natural, mineral-based product meant for use on the lips. This level is so far above the FDA findings that we asked the lab to run the sample again. The second run of the test showed the same staggeringly high results.
We were shocked. But at least now we knew that the problem of heavy metal contamination in cosmetics is a big one—and rarely discussed. As we worked with suppliers and formulators to better understand how and why heavy metals might be contaminating the colorants we were using, it became clear that obtaining no-detect metals—while always the goal—simply wasn’t going to be an option across the board. (For example, we found that one batch of powders might have no detectable nickel, but another batch of the same formula made with colorants from a different lot did.)
We needed to define our own allowable limits of heavy metal levels in order to institute a standard that would be mindful of consumers’ health and keep this issue front and center for suppliers, formulators, and ourselves. We wanted these levels to be as health-conscious and protective as possible—but not so strict that they were unattainable and therefore would prevent us from bringing our color cosmetics to market.
So, in the absence of governmental guidance, we determined our allowable limits based on the Environmental Protection Agency’s limits for heavy metals in drinking water, the FDA’s limit for lead in candy, the lowest levels we saw from our external brand testing, and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and FDA studies. For the most dangerous metals (lead, arsenic, mercury, and cadmium), these levels are usually undetectable, but we ensure that they are always under 2 ppm. This is unprecedented in the cosmetics industry.
Here is the bottom line:
The only way to be sure that you’re not applying heavy metals to your skin is to refrain from using color cosmetics. The only way to be sure that your color cosmetics have undetectable or only extremely low levels of heavy metals is to use Beautycounter. We believe we’re using the strictest standards in the industry, testing all of our color products during formulation, at the end of formulation, and before we order any new batch. That is our commitment to you.
This Blog post is from Beautycounter.com