Lipsticks and glosses may contain potentially troubling levels of metals, according to a preliminary new study.
Prior research has raised some concerns over the presence of lead in lipstick, but the new study is the first to suggest that many popular lip products also contain cadmium, chromium, aluminum and other metals -- some at levels that may be harmful.
"We looked at nine heavy metals and found that all of them were present in most of the lipsticks, but not necessarily at really high levels," study author Katharine Hammond, a professor of environmental health sciences with the University of California Berkeley's School of Public Health told The Huffington Post. "Low levels of metals may not create a risk, but as the exposure increases, the damage can increase." The results were published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives Thursday.
The researchers looked at eight different lipsticks and 24 lip glosses, bought at drug stores, department stores and chain specialty stores. Prices ranged from $5.59 to $24.
"The metals that we were really most concerned about were cadmium, chromium, aluminum and manganese," Hammond said, explaining that overexposure to each carries risks. Chronic, low level exposure to cadmium, for example, has been linked to serious kidney problems.
Glosses and lipsticks are of particular concern because of the potential for ingestion, Hammond said.
When used at what researchers called an average rate -- around twice a day -- the estimated intake exceeded acceptable daily levels for those metals, as established in prior public health efforts. In other words, they could pose a potential health risk.
But Hammond cautioned that the study is merely a first step that requires further investigation, both into the levels of metals in certain lip products, as well as what the health implications could be.
"I don't think that people should go into a panic, or abandon lipstick, but I do think this is a concern," she said. "I don't think this is trivial. It needs to be addressed."
Sharima Rasanayagam, staff scientist for the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, did not work on the study, but reviewed it. "It's definitely a preliminary study and something that needs more research, but we're concerned about there being potentially toxic chemicals in lipstick and consumers not knowing about it," Rasanayagam said.
The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, launched in 2004, aims to protect the health of consumers and workers by pushing for regulatory and legislative support for the elimination of dangerous chemicals from cosmetics. In 2007, it released a study that found that more than half of 33 lipstick brands contained lead at levels that are cause for concern.
The Food and Drug Administration has since looked into lead in lipstick and found that, generally, the amounts are very low and do not pose any safety concerns. It has not set limits for lead in cosmetics.
"The report does not provide any new meaningful information," said Linda Loretz, Chief Toxicologist for the Personal Care Products Council, a trade association for the cosmetics industry, in a statement. "The finding of trace levels of metals in lip products is not unexpected given their natural presence in air, soil and water. Very low levels are also found in drinking water and food."
All of which can make it confusing for consumers seeking information on what is in their lipstick or lip gloss and what, if anything, it means for their health.
"It's not practical for a woman to buy, say, 12 products and send them off for testing," Hammond admitted, adding that women have no real assurance that by opting for so-called "natural" cosmetics they can reduce their exposure. Metals, after all, are natural.
The Environmental Working Group maintains Skin Deep, a database of what it calls the "safety profile" of various cosmetics and body products. But, to date, it has only looked at lead in lipstick, not other metals, a communications representative wrote in an e-mail to The Huffington Post.
"Yes, we need to look at the levels [in lip gloss and lipstick]," Rasanayagam said. "But for some toxins, it doesn't matter if it's just a small level."
This story has been updated to include comment from Linda Loretz.