In the past we’ve covered the so-called “Campaign for Safe Cosmetics,” (CSC) an environmentalist scare spinoff of the Environmental Working Group (perhaps better billed the “Environmental Worry Group”). EWG is so prone to overblowing fears of chemicals that 79 percent of members of the Society of Toxicology surveyed thought EWG overstated chemical risks, so it’s understandable that CSC, its corporate child, is hyping a study that found certain heavy metals in lipstick and other makeup products.
Read the Huffington Post story about the study, and one might think that only clearing out the makeup bag and replacing its contents with “organic” cosmetics can save someone from terrible diseases. Actually, that’s not even what the study author suggests. As she says, “I don’t think that people should go into a panic, or abandon lipstick.” One possible reason: The study didn’t actually attempt to determine if people had been harmed, but only if the levels of chemicals exceeded an arbitrary threshold.
So who actually makes sure cosmetics are safe? The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has responsibility under the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act to regulate cosmetic product safety. Despite claims that no limits are set on lead in cosmetic products, the FDA actually does limit the types of color additives that can be used in cosmetic products based on safety assessments. These regulations include a limit on lead in these additives.
Should cosmetics companies fail to sufficiently demonstrate that their products are safe before bringing them to market, the products must bear a warning label stating that. And if any cosmetic is found to be unsafe, FDA can go to court to take it off the market and companies can be liable for steep damages.
When CSC touted its finding that that some lipsticks contain supposedly potentially dangerous levels of lead (i.e. more lead residue than is allowed in food), FDA responded by conducting two separate rounds of tests. After the tests, FDA ruled that it “[does] not consider the lead levels we found in the lipsticks to be a safety concern.” CSC has a history of overstating risks and is the offspring of a group that toxics experts think overstates risks. There’s no reason to expect these latest findings to be different.