How much lead is in your lipstick?

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - Some health advocates have said no level of lead in lipstick is safe. The Food and Drug Administration recommends a maximum level of 10 parts per million of lead contamination in lipstick. Testing of lipsticks has commonly found traces of lead contamination, and experts said it seems impossible to avoid.

Local 8 News sent five samples of different purchased lipsticks to Galbraith Laboratories for independent, blind tests. The lab had no idea what the brand or source was for any of the samples, only that they were samples of lipsticks.

Here are results of the blind testing at Galbraith Laboratories:
(lead levels in parts per million)

Sample 1: L'Oreal - 407 Liya's Red (from Walgreens drug store) $8.99
Lead level: 0.716 ppm

Sample 2: Estee Lauder - Pure Color Envy 370 Carnal (from Belk department store) $32
Lead level: 0.160 ppm

Sample 3: Wet n Wild - 539A Cherry Frost (from Walmart discount store) $.93
Lead level: 0.585 ppm

Sample 4: Cover Girl - 295 Succulent Cherry (from Walgreens drug store) $8.79
Lead level: 0.625 ppm

Sample 5: Urban Decay - Vice Spiderweb Cream (from Ulta cosmetics store) $17
Lead level: 0.165 ppm

All five of our samples tested well under the FDA 10 ppm threshold. However, there was a range of results, with the two most expensive brands of lipstick testing lowest for lead contamination.

Lead is a known neurotoxin that can damage the brain. The difficult question is what level of contamination of this naturally occurring substance presents a health risk.

Stacy Malkan co-founded the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, which released a report on lead in lipstick in 2007. She told Local 8 News that exposure to lead over time can be a concern.

"Lead is a substance that builds up in the body over time," Malkan said. "So if you're exposed today, tomorrow, you'll still be carrying that lead in your body. It's cumulative over time. So, it's really best to avoid all avoidable exposures to lead as much as possible throughout our lives."

After consumer advocates had detected the traces of lead in lipstick, the Food and Drug Administration conduced its own study, reporting the trace amounts it found in hundreds of lipsticks. The specific results of that are listed here.

Drew Crain, PhD is a research biologist experienced in working with environmental contaminants at Maryville College. Crain said, "I would say that the amount in normal lipstick, less than 10 parts per million, is not gonna cause a health problem in an adult human that's healthy. I am concerned about pregnant women, because there is simply no safe level of lead for a fetus."

Malkan also cautioned against lead exposure for pregnant women, because of the potential exposure for babies.

"The most vulnerable time for exposure is when you're pregnant or exposures to a developing child," she said. "So if we want to protect children from toxins we really have to keep them out of products that are used by women who are or could be or may want to become pregnant."

Crain said, "I would again only be concerned with the amount of lead that's getting into the bloodstream of a woman that was pregnant." He also noted that parents may want to keep lipstick out of reach of young children who might try to eat it.