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For Immediate Release: May 16th, 2011
Contact:  Stacy Malkan, 202-321-6963, stacy@safecosmetics.org;
Stephenie Hendricks, 415-258-9151, stephdh@earthlink.net

Toxic Heavy Metals Widespread in Cosmetics, New Study Finds

Campaign for Safe Cosmetics Calls on Congress to Enact Cosmetics Safety Legislation

San Francisco – According to a new report by Environmental Defence Canada, popular cosmetics products contain toxic heavy metals, such as lead, arsenic and cadmium. Of the 49 products tested for the study, all were found to be contaminated with heavy metals; some products contained levels of arsenic and lead that far exceed the limits recommended by Health Canada, the country’s public health department. None of the products listed the metals on label ingredient lists.

“Consumers in the United States use the same products and face similar weakness in cosmetics safety standards,” said Lisa Archer, Director of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics at the Breast Cancer Fund. “The fact that there are so many hidden impurities in cosmetics shows how urgently we need laws that protect consumers by ensuring products are safe.”

The tests found that:

  • 100 percent of the products contained nickel, 96 percent contained lead and 90 percent contained beryllium.
  • At least one of the products tested contained seven of the eight metals of concern (arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury, beryllium, nickel, selenium and thallium).
  • On average, products contained four of the eight metals of concern.
  • The highest levels of arsenic (70 parts per million, or ppm), cadmium (3 ppm), and lead (110 ppm) were all found in lip glosses, which can be ingested.
  • The product containing the highest level of lead was Benefit’s Benetint lip gloss at 110 ppm, more than 10 times higher than the 10 ppm limit set out in the Health Canada Draft Guidance on Heavy Metal Impurities in Cosmetics. This same product contained 70 ppm of arsenic, which is more than 20 times higher than Health Canada’s recommended limit of 3 ppm.

The heavy metals in these products are “impurities”—unintentional contaminants—that are not required to be disclosed on ingredient lists in Canada or the United States. Health Canada has developed draft guidelines for impurity levels of some metals it believes are “technically avoidable” by manufacturers. The United States does not have standards or even draft guidelines for these metals in cosmetics.

Previous studies by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics have demonstrated that heavy metals are present in a variety of products sold in the United States. In 2007 the Campaign released lab results proving widespread presence of lead in lipstick. The Food and Drug Administration did follow up testing in 2009 and reported that lead levels in lipstick were much higher than previously reported.

In 2009 the Campaign tested children’s face paint for heavy metals and found that 10 out of 10 products contained lead, and 6 out of 10 products contained the potent allergens nickel, chromium and/or cobalt.

The test results from Canada demonstrate that the problem with impurities in cosmetics is likely much greater in the United States than previously reported.

Individual exposures to these metals in small amounts are unlikely to cause harm, but heavy metals can build up in the body over time and may increase risk for a variety of health problems. For example, lead is linked to neurological problems. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that lead exposure is not safe at any level. The Environmental Protection Agency lists arsenic as being linked to stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and cancer of the bladder, lungs, skin, kidney, nasal passages, liver and prostate. Both lead and arsenic were found in Benefit’s Benetint lip gloss, which is likely to be ingested.

“Some cosmetics companies are moving toward plant-based colorants to avoid heavy metal contamination,” said Archer. “Others are asking their suppliers to screen for contaminants. But the only way to protect all consumers is to pass laws that ensure the products we use on our bodies are safe.”

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The report is available online at http://environmentaldefence.ca/reports/heavy-metal-hazard-health-risks-hidden-heavy-metals-in-face-makeup.

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (www.SafeCosmetics.org) is a coalition of more than 150 nonprofit organizations working to protect the health of consumers and workers by eliminating dangerous chemicals from cosmetics. Core members include Clean Water Action, the Breast Cancer Fund, Commonweal, Environmental Working Group, Friends of the Earth and Women’s Voices for the Earth. The Breast Cancer Fund, a national 501(c)(3) organization focused on preventing breast cancer by identifying and eliminating the environmental links to the disease, serves as the national coordinator for the Campaign.