Personal Care Truth | July 19, 2012

With the power of the Internet can come the power of misinformation, and that includes the science behind cosmetics. Perry Romanoski, who has been a personal care chemist for 18 years, made a list of popular makeup myths invented and perpetuated by the “Toxic Makeup Patrol.”

Here are some of the highlights:

1. Lead in lipstick is dangerous.

“There is no evidence that if people use lipstick that contains trace levels of lead, it will have any impact on their health,” Romanoski writes.

An FDA study of lead content in 400 lipsticks found the average concentration was 1.11 parts per million, which is a very small amount, according to personalcaretruth.com.

A study of 360 women found a mean exposure to lipstick of 24 mg a day. Increasing that exposure to 100 mg a day gives an exposure of 111 nanograms. To put this into context: A small cup of coffee contains 100 grams of water. If the water used in the coffee contains the maximum permitted concentration of lead, that exposure would be 10,000 nanograms from a single cup of coffee. 111 nanograms a day from lipstick, 10,000 nanograms from a cup of coffee.

Even if the water is one-tenth of the permitted concentration of lead, lipstick is still 40 times less harmful than water.

2. Humans absorb five pounds of chemicals in our bodies from the makeup and products we apply every year.

Firstly, chemical exposure is different than absorption. According to a study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, an average person is exposed to these amounts of chemicals each day by these cosmetics:

  • Lipstick: 0.024 g
  • Spray perfume: 0.53 g
  • Liquid foundation: 0.67 g
  • Solid antiperspirant: 0.79 g
  • Face cream: 2.05 g
  • Hairspray: 3.57 g
  • Skin lotion: 8.70 g
  • Shampoo: 12.8 g
  • Body wash: 14.5 g

Doing the math, the average user is exposed to 35 pounds of chemicals a year. Many of the products are mainly water, so subtracting the water leaves non-water chemical exposure at five pounds a year. But our bodies do not absorb everything we put in them. Conflating absorption and exposure is a common scare tactic.

3. Go to the “Skin Deep Database” to run a check before you shop.

The Skin Deep Database is an online resource of cosmetic ingredients assembled by the Environmental Working Group, a consumer advocacy group.

The reliability of their data is questionable. It has been pointed out that a nonexistent chemical, polyparaben, is listed in the database. Their hazard score ratings are not consistent, either. According to chemistscorner.org:

“For example, they have listings for both Sodium Coceth Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate. Cosmetic chemists know that these compounds are essentially identical with minimal differences. But somehow the Sodium Coceth Sulfate gets a 0 hazard score, while Sodium Laureth Sulfate gets a 4 hazard.”

Finally, it is important to note that EWG is unwilling to modify their conclusions when new evidence comes to light. Science should be based on evidence – not what evidence suits your agenda.

For more information on the Safe Cosmetics Alliance please visit safecosmeticsalliance.org.