Panel discusess potential dangers of cosmetics

There are traces of lead found in many popular name brand lipsticks.

Alyssa Kroeten

In an age when stores’ shelves are stuffed with cosmetics and magazine covers are laden with beauty how-to’s, issues are being raised about toxins found in one of the most common beauty products: lipstick.

According to a September 2007 study released by The Campaign for Safer Cosmetics, 61 percent of brand-name lipsticks tested contained “detectable levels” of lead.

The study, titled “A Poison Kiss,” was conducted by an independent laboratory and used red lipsticks bought from Minneapolis, San Francisco, Boston and Hartford, Conn. Top brands such as Cover Girl, L’Oreal and Christian Dior tested positive for toxins, according to the study.

As a self-proclaimed former “Seventeen magazine diva,” Stacy Malkan, author of “Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry,” addressed the issue in a panel discussion for her book at the Mayo Memorial Auditorium on Tuesday night.

There is no safe amount of lead, Malkan said.

The level of lead found in lipstick is low, John Bailey, chief scientist for the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association, said in a statement regarding the study.

“The average amount of lead a woman would be exposed to when using cosmetics is 1,000 times less than the amount she would get from eating, breathing and drinking water,” Bailey said.

Lindsay Dahl, coordinator for Minnesota Healthy Legacy, said low doses do matter because exposure over time negatively affects the hormone system. Exposure to toxins in cosmetics is linked to birth defects, cancer and reproductive disorders, Dahl said.

Horst Rechelbacher, founder of Aveda and Intelligent Nutrients, said product safety should be of primary concern to cosmetic companies.

“Why put something on the body that is not safe enough to eat?” Rechelbacher said.

The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act permits the Food and Drug Administration to regulate cosmetics, Stephanie Kwisnek, public affairs specialist for the FDA, said. Yet the FDA is not authorized to approve cosmetics before hitting the market.

“We do make sure that cosmetic products are safe, and if we hear of any formal complaints, we do look into them,” Kwisnek said.

Malkan said there are no FDA regulations limiting lead in lipstick. “We have to do the work ourselves because there are no regulations,” Malkan said.

Federal policies are the only way to regulate toxins in cosmetics and require safer alternatives, Dahl said.

“It’s just common sense; when we go to the store we should be able to buy safe products,” Dahl said. “It’s not a female issue, it’s a people issue.”

Sophomore journalism student Hillary Kline said advertising contributes to consumers’ obsession with beauty products.

“We are constantly being judged and pampering ourselves to someone else,” Kline said.

The effects of toxins in cosmetics, such as liptstick, are not being broadcasted to the average citizen, Rechelbacher said.

“We have to really wake up to a different reality,” Rechelbacher said.