Responding to widespread and growing concern about heavy metals in personal care products, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently issued a new draft guidance recommending lower limits for lead in many popular cosmetic products, including lipsticks, lip glosses, lip liners, eye shadows, blushes, body lotions, and shampoos.
While not binding, the recommendation by the FDA maintains that lead levels beyond 10 parts per million (ppm) represent a potential public health threat, as exposure to these amounts or higher result in detectable levels of lead in the blood. Lead, of course, is a known neurotoxin that tends to accumulate in the body over time.
According to reports, the FDA guidance was prompted by a Citizen Petition submitted in 2011 by an association representing the personal care products industry. This petition pushed the FDA to take a closer look at cosmetic products, and particularly those applied to the lips, to make sure they aren’t breaching safety levels that might put customers at risk.
Research conducted by the FDA shows that more than 99 percent of all cosmetic lip products and cosmetics applied externally – nearly all such products currently on the market – are tainted with lead. But the agency maintains that these levels are below the threat level.
“Although most cosmetics on the market in the United States generally already contain less than 10 ppm of lead, a small number contained higher amounts, and we are aware that some cosmetics from other countries contain lead at higher levels,” the FDA states on its website.
“This makes guidance on recommend maximum lead levels all the more important as more products are imported into this country.”
Lead still allowed in personal care products, along with other cancer-causing toxins
Like other FDA guidances that affect large industries, the new rules aren’t actually rules, nor are they enforceable. They are merely recommendations that the industry is urged to abide by, though there is no penalty for not abiding by them. This means that most personal care products will likely continue to contain lead and other toxins.
The FDA guidance also does nothing to address the many other toxic metals commonly found in personal care products such as cadmium, aluminum, and chromium. Research published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP) back in 2013 found that of all the major brands tested, all of them were tainted with manganese, titanium, and aluminum.
Many of these toxins are known carcinogens, meaning they increase one’s risk of developing cancer. And these aren’t just at trace levels – they’re at levels that could pose some serious public health risks, though the FDA has yet to address the problem.
“As a group, these metals pose a host of potential health risks including damage to the brain and nerves, kidneys, as well as a variety of cancers,” Dr. Ken Spaeth, director of the Occupational and Environmental Medicine Center at North Shore LIJ Health System in Great Neck, New York, explained to CBS News several years back.
Those most at risk are often those heavily using such products, including young girls and pregnant women. Exposure to lead and other metals can interfere with the neurological and cognitive development of unborn babies, as well as younger adults and teenagers whose brains and organs are still developing.
“From a public health policy perspective, there should be zero tolerance for such metals (and other toxic contaminants) in consumer products, and personal care products in particular,” Dr. Spaeth added.
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