The Food and Drug Administration is charged with protecting public health by evaluating the safety of products Americans use every day. For the most part, the Agency acts based on sound scientific research and regulation of industry based on that science. The FDA conducts rigorous safety tests of consumer products, holding them to the highest scientific standards. When a product passes the FDA’s muster, we can be sure it’s safe.
Recently, activist groups like The Environmental Working Group (EWG) and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (CSC) launched broadside attacks on the FDA’s efforts to ensure levels of lead in lipstick are safe for consumers. This is yet another example of such groups’ inconsistency and disregard for hard scientific evidence: while supporting proposed legislation giving vast and complicated safety testing responsibilities to the FDA for cosmetics, they attack the FDA’s testing when its findings don’t fit their agenda.
In 2007, a loose amalgam of activist groups dedicated to stoking fear of materials in commonly used personal care products issued a report called “The Poison Kiss,” alleging that 33 brands of lipstick that they had tested contained “dangerous” and “toxic” levels of lead. They called on the FDA to crack down on the cosmetics industry to protect consumers.
To its credit, the FDA decided to test the same lipsticks that were the subject of the Poison Kiss report, and even to go further. The FDA created a scientifically rigorous testing methodology (the EWG and CSC would not reveal their testing protocol) and tested over 400 brands of lipstick for lead levels.
All were found to be safe by the FDA. The FDA states on its website: “We do not consider the lead levels we found in the lipsticks to be a safety concern. The lead levels we found are within the limits recommended by other public health authorities for lead in cosmetics, including lipstick.”
And that’s not surprising if you know the science.
International authoritative bodies have set safe levels for lead in cosmetics at levels far exceeding those currently found in lipstick (the International Cooperation on Cosmetic Regulation standard is 10ppm). In Germany, the official safe level in cosmetics is below 30ppm. Which is why when the FDA concluded its testing and found lead levels in lipsticks well below all of these international standards, they declared them safe.
But independent, scientific testing by a respected government agency is not good enough for the EWG and the CSC. It’s not good enough for them because it is not the result they wanted.
In a letter dated February 8, the groups demanded the FDA follow the opinion of one doctor that no level of lead in any product is safe. Rather than accept that any lipstick with any trace level of lead could be safe, they urge the non-scientific position, and the impossible to meet standard, of zero tolerance for any trace of lead. Not only is this a non-science based position on this product -- it makes no sense from a public health perspective, given the thousands of sources of lead exposure to which we are all subjected on a daily basis.
It is a shame that the FDA, which has a respected record on protecting public health and is strongly supported in that role by almost all Americans, has to defend itself from organizations that raise money by fueling unfounded and unscientific fears about thoroughly tested consumer products.
The Safe Cosmetics Alliance represents the men and women working in the personal care product and services industry committed to providing the highest quality and safest products – from manufacturers to your local salon owner. We support science-based legislative and regulatory policies that enhance current consumer safeguards and strengthen FDA oversight of cosmetic and personal care products to ensure continued product safety.