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Lead in lipsticks: safe levels of unintentional lead contamination confirmed

26 March, 2013

Lead can be found as an unintentional contaminant in food and other consumer products mainly coming from the environment or industrial processes. There is strict EU legislation in place to minimise the exposure of humans via the food chain. As lipsticks are consumed orally during wearing, they may be considered to be similar as food. Lead is not allowed to be used as an ingredient in cosmetics. However, the non-intended presence of a small quantity of this substance may occur deriving from impurities of natural or synthetic ingredients, or from the manufacturing process, storage, or migration from packaging.  Such contamination is technically unavoidable even in good manufacturing practice. To-date there is no European legal limit of lead in cosmetic products such as lipsticks or toothpaste.

In order to understand whether there is need for setting maximum levels in legislation, the JRC supported the work as member of the Working Group on Traces of the International Cooperation on Cosmetics Regulation (ICCR)* by carrying out a survey on the lead content in lipsticks and lip glosses available on the European market. 

The outcome of the JRC survey demonstrated that the majority of all lip products (78%) contained less than 1 mg/kg of lead. On average, the lead content found in lipsticks (0.75 mg/kg) was nearly double that found in lip glosses (0.38 mg/kg). In all cases, the actual lead concentration measured in the finished products is far below the recommended limits for Germany (20 mg/kg) and Canada (10 mg/kg). More details on the monitoring study can be found in a recently published paper*.

Furthermore, the JRC through its International Measurement Evaluation Program (IMEP) ran a proficiency test (IMEP-35) with the aim of testing the analytical capabilities of laboratories from all around the world to determine total lead in lipstick. The outcome of IMEP-35 proved that laboratories are able to perform accurate determination of total lead in lipstick at the level of around 1 mg kg-1. Detailed information can be found in JRC Scientific and Technical Report**.

This information on the measurement capabilities together with the results from the European monitoring study could serve European policy makers in establishing possible thresholds at very low concentrations.

*Background note:
The ICCR is an international group of cosmetic regulatory authorities from the United States, Japan, the European Union (European Commission) and Canada. This multilateral framework maintains the highest level of global consumer protection, while minimizing barriers to international trade.

Read more in:
*P. Piccinini, M. Piecha, S. Fortaner Torrent, European survey on the content of lead in lip products, J. Pharm. Biom. Anal., 2013, 76, 225-233.

Latest update 26 March, 2013

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