I received an e-mail recently stating that several popular brands of lipstick (like Clinique, Estee Lauder, Chanel, and Lancome) contain lead. The e-mail said that long-wearing lipsticks contain higher amounts of lead, and that lead in lipstick can cause cancer. Is this true? Should I throw out all my lipstick?
- Nude Lips

Lead is indeed a highly toxic subastance that was once used for many years in common household items. The EPA website states that lead has been phased out, banned, or limited in consumer products since the 1980s. Ingesting lead can lead to problems such as brain and nervous system damage, heaing problems, headaches, reproductive issues, high blood pressure, and nerve disorders - but we haven’t read any studies linking lead with cancer.

Although lead was used in makeup several centures ago, Ask Gothamist is pretty sure that the FDA wouldn’t allow lead in lipstick these days. We checked the list of ingredients on some lipsticks and none listed lead in them. An Internet search on the subject revealed several sites debunking this e-mail as a myth - About.com and Snopes.com both say it’s hooey. So what IS that stuff in long-wearing lipstick that makes it stay? According to this article from Chemical and Engineering News, “Long-lasting color lipsticks contain silicone oil, which seals the color to your lips.” So now you know.

If you’re really concerned about what’s in lipstick - most are basically oil or wax and pigments in various permuatations - but still want to wear it, try using an all-natural brand or just reading labels carefully. If you have a question about a specific brand, ask the manufacturer.

Related: Ask Gothamist on myths about anti-perspirant causing Alzheimer’s.