Researchers purchased cosmetics in Toronto, and sent them to an accredited laboratory to have them tested for the presence of arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury, beryllium, selenium, thallium and nickel. The items tested included foundations, concealers, powders, blushes, bronzers, mascaras, eyeliners, eyeshadows, lipsticks and glosses.
According to the Montreal Gazette:
“None of the products tested contained mercury, but lead was detected in 96 percent of the products, arsenic in 20 percent and cadmium in 51 percent. Nickel was found in all the products tested, beryllium in 90 percent, thallium in 61 percent and selenium in 14 percent.”
If you think your favorite lip gloss or eye shadow is "safe" because it doesn't list lead or arsenic on the ingredients label, think again. A new report revealed that virtually every cosmetic product tested contained a potentially dangerous or proven toxic heavy metal.
Heavy Metals Common in Makeup
In the report "Heavy Metal Hazard: The Health Risks of Hidden Heavy Metals in Face Makeup," Environmental Defence tested 49 different face makeup items, including five foundations, four concealers, four powders, five blushes or bronzers, seven mascaras, two eye liners, 14 eye shadows, and eight lipsticks or glosses. Their testing revealed serious heavy metal contamination in virtually all of the products:
- 96 percent contained lead
- 90 percent contained beryllium
- 61 percent contained thallium
- 51 percent contained cadmium
- 20 percent contained arsenic
Further, each product contained an average of two of the four metals of highest concern (arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury), which are designated as toxic in Canada because of proven health concerns. Most of the products also contained an average of four of the eight metals tested (arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury, nickel, beryllium, thallium, selenium).
Despite the widespread contamination, and the fact that all the metals but nickel are banned as intentional ingredients in Canadian cosmetics, not one of the products listed the heavy metals on the label.
What Are the Health Risks of Heavy Metals in Your Cosmetics?
Contaminants in personal care products are one of countless examples of environmental toxin exposures that you're better off avoiding. Although you probably won't notice an outright reaction to the lead in your lipstick (although some people do have noticeable adverse reactions to chemicals in cosmetics), the metal can accumulate in your body, leading to chronic disease over time.
According to the report, over time heavy metals can build up in your body leading to a number of health problems, including:
Reproductive and developmental disorders
Nerve, joint and muscle disorders
Cardiovascular, skeletal, blood, immune system, kidney and renal problems
Vomiting and nausea
Brittle hair and hair loss
What impact a contaminated cosmetic will have on you, personally, is virtually impossible to pinpoint, however, because it depends on a number of factors, including your other exposures to heavy metals, how much is ingested and how much contaminant is in the product.
As the researchers wrote:
"There are scientific debates as to what constitutes "safe" levels of heavy metal exposure. Overall, the health effects of heavy metals from cosmetics absorbed through skin requires further investigation. Notably though, the highest levels of arsenic (70 ppm), cadmium (3 ppm), and lead (110 ppm) were all found in lip glosses which could be ingested. Some metals, such as arsenic, cadmium, and lead, can accumulate in a person's body over time. There is limited understanding of the effects of cumulative exposure to these metals.
… Some may wonder why heavy metals in our makeup measured in the parts per million are really a cause for concern; for some of these metals, science has not established a "safe" level of exposure.
Cumulative exposure over time is especially difficult to study, as different combinations of exposures can have different effects, and the possible combinations are seemingly endless, given the number of cosmetics products out there.
Additionally, cosmetics are not the only source of exposure to many of these metals. Arsenic, for example, can be found in some drinking water, lead can be found in old paint, etc., and low-dose exposures can add up.
Eliminating elements like lead, cadmium, and chromium from the body takes over 40 years, with accumulation leading to problems such as nervous system disruption and kidney damage."
Why are Heavy Metals Not Listed on Cosmetic Labels?
Although all the heavy metals researchers tested for, except for nickel, are banned from being intentionally added to Canadian cosmetics, they do not have to be labeled when they show up as "impurities."
For instance, heavy metals can be in your makeup because they were a part of the raw ingredients used to make the product. Or they can be formed as byproducts of the manufacturing process or by the breakdown of other ingredients. All of these are scenarios in which impurities will not be listed on the label, even though they are present.
There are guidelines that attempt to protect Canadian consumers from "technically avoidable" impurities, but so far they remain in the draft form. Researchers wrote:
"Health Canada has a draft set of guidelines for some metal impurities that it considers "technically avoidable" by cosmetics companies), but progress on the guidelines has stalled, as they have remained in draft form for over two years.
... these guidelines need to be amended to better reflect what is "technically avoidable." A study of 20 lipsticks conducted by the United States Food and Drug Administration showed lead impurity levels averaged 1.07 ppm, where Canada's current draft guideline for lead impurities is 10 ppm, which is considerably high by comparison."
In the United States, the proposed Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010 would make it so that all ingredients, including "trade secrets" and impurities present at levels above technically feasible detection limits, would have to be listed on cosmetic labels -- but it has yet to be passed.
Most Makeup Nothing More Than a Colorful Chemical Cocktail
Heavy metals are only one type of toxin found in most cosmetics. If you use conventional makeup on a daily basis, you can absorb almost 5 pounds of chemicals into your body each year -- and that's without adding in body lotion, deodorant, shampoo, conditioner and other personal care products!
Many of these chemicals have been directly linked to cancer or are known to cause damage to your brain, reproductive system and other organs, and this is no exaggeration. Though it may sound hard to believe, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does NOT systematically review the safety of personal care products.
Of the 10,500 ingredients used in your personal care products, only 13 percent of them have been reviewed for safety in the last 30 years, according to an Environmental Working Group (EWG) analysis -- and those that have were reviewed by the Cosmetics Ingredients Review, which is run by the cosmetics industry!
On average, you likely apply 126 different ingredients to your skin daily and 90 percent of them have not been evaluated for safety.
"Cosmetic products and ingredients are not subject to FDA premarket approval authority, with the exception of color additives … Cosmetic firms are responsible for substantiating the safety of their products and ingredients before marketing."
For a quick seven-minute look at the pervasive use of toxic chemicals in everyday personal care products, watch The Story of Cosmetics below. It reveals, in a nutshell, the implications cosmetics truly have for your health.
Isn't it Time You Demanded More from Your Cosmetics?
Most of the personal care products and cosmetics in supermarkets and even high-end department stores contain toxic ingredients that can harm your health. You may think it's not that big of a deal, since you're only putting them on your skin, but remember that your skin is your largest organ -- and also the thinnest. Less than 1/10th of an inch separates your body from potential toxins.
Worse yet, your skin is highly permeable. Just about anything you put on your skin will end up in your bloodstream, and will be distributed throughout your body.
This is why I'm so fond of saying "don't put anything on your body that you wouldn't eat if you had to ..."
In many ways putting chemicals on your skin or scalp may actually be worse than eating them. When you eat something, the enzymes in your saliva and stomach help to break it down and flush it out of your body. However, when you put these chemicals on your skin, they are absorbed straight into your bloodstream without filtering of any kind, going directly to your delicate organs.
Once these chemicals find their way into your body, they tend to accumulate over time because you typically lack the necessary enzymes to break them down. When you add up daily exposure over the course of a lifetime, this adds up to an untold amount of chemical exposures.
You and your family deserve better -- and there are safer options currently available.
Tips for Finding Safer Cosmetics
The Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database is an excellent resource for finding and evaluating healthful personal care products. You can also search for your current favorite brands to get an idea of how toxic they may or may not be.
I also offer one of the highest quality organic skin care lines, shampoo and conditioner, and body butter available, all of which are completely natural and safe. Or, if you prefer, you can even make your own personal care products using simple all-natural ingredients that many of you may already have in your home.
Here are a few of my recommendations:
- All-natural moisturizers -- Pure emu oil is a great alternative to facial- and body moisturizers and lotions, as is pure coconut oil. It's a fantastic moisturizer and a potent source of the beneficial fat lauric acid.
- All-natural acne fighter -- Rubbing just a drop of oregano oil on a breakout can speed up the healing and prevent unsightly scarring without resorting to harsh commercial acne medication (remember to wash your hands thoroughly afterward).
- All-natural deodorant -- I advise avoiding ALL antiperspirants. Common soap and water works fine. If you still need further help then try a pinch of baking soda mixed into water as an effective all-day deodorant.
Finally, if you're perusing your local health food store for some safe, natural cosmetic or personal care options, here are my top guidelines to keep in mind:
- Look for the genuine USDA Organic Seal.
- Look for products that are fragrance-free. One artificial fragrance can contain hundreds -- even thousands -- of chemicals, and fragrances are a major cause of allergic reactions.
- Pay attention to the order in which the ingredients are listed. Manufacturers are required to list ingredients in descending order by volume, meaning the first few ingredients are the most prominent. If calendula extract is the last ingredient in a long list, your calendula body wash isn't very natural.
- Stick to the basics. Do you really need 20 products to prepare for your day? Simplify your life and rescue your bank account.
- Buy products that come in glass bottles rather than plastic, since chemicals can leach out of plastics and into the contents. Bisphenol A (BPA) is a serious concern; make sure any plastic container is BPA free.
- Look for products that are made by companies that are earth-friendly, animal-friendly and green.
If you want to get involved on a national level, those in the United States can ask your U.S. Representative to co-sponsor and support the Safe Cosmetics Act. The bill needs to be reintroduced in the new 112th Congress, and the more support it has, the better chance it has of being passed.