The findings do signal a need for more public oversight, the researchers said.
The FDA regulates cosmetics safety under the authority of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. Cosmetics must be safe when used as the label directs or under ordinary conditions. The FDA does not, however, require cosmetics to get pre-market approval. Color additives must get pre-market approval, in most cases. No limits for lead in cosmetics have been set by the FDA.
The FDA, however, has set specifications for lead in the color additives that are used in cosmetics.
The Personal Care Products Council, a trade association representing the cosmetics industry, said in a statement Wednesday that the lead content of lipsticks has already been studied by the FDA and that the agency decided the amounts involved were not a threat to public safety.
"Trace amounts of metals in lip products need to be put into context," Linda Loretz, chief toxicologist for the council, said in the statement. "Food is a primary source for many of these naturally present metals, and exposure from lip products is minimal in comparison. For example, daily trace amounts of chromium or cadmium from lip products based on the results in this report are less than 1 percent of daily exposures one would get from their diet. In the case of manganese, typical daily intake from food is more than 1000-fold greater than the amount from lip products."
"Cosmetic companies are required by law to substantiate the safety of their products before they are marketed. Nothing matters more to cosmetic companies than the safety and the well-being of the people who use and enjoy them," Loretz added.
The findings are not surprising, said Dr. Luz Fonacier, head of the allergy and training program at Winthrop University Hospital in Mineola, N.Y. Many lip products are packaged in metal containers, she said, "and this may affect the amount detected by investigators."
"I agree with the authors that there should be U.S. standards for metal content in cosmetics and that monitoring of metals in cosmetics, especially those with a higher likelihood of ingestion or absorption, should be done," Fonacier said.
Dr. Ken Spaeth is director of occupational and environmental medicine at North Shore-LIJ Health System in New Hyde Park, N.Y. He reviewed the findings and has written a book for doctors on detecting heavy metal exposure problems.
He said, "The findings should certainly raise concern about the use of the products."
Certain people should be especially careful about exposure, he said, including pregnant women and teens. "The fetus is particularly susceptible," he said. "And brain development continues throughout adolescence."