In February of this year, there was another round of media sensationalism when it was reported that a number of popular brands of lipstick contain potentially dangerous levels of lead. This is not a new claim; it has popped up a number of times, including during the 1990s and again in 2007.
It is, of course, true that many lipsticks do contain lead. It’s an effective component of some color additives, and is used at levels that are well below safety margins. Most mainstream media reported this accurately, such as this article from the Washington Post, but gave a voice to self-described watchdog groups such as the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics who put out this report claiming that there is “no safe level of lead exposure” and mischaracterizing the lead content in lipstick as “contamination”. Some alternative media and chain emails even got the science more wrong than that, stating that the lead is a cancer risk. (The practical danger from lead poisoning is as a neurotoxin, not a carcinogen.) Snopes effectively debunked those reports. (continue reading…)