Nov. 17, 2005 -- Regularly sporting lipstick and dying your hair may increase a woman's risk of developing lupus, according to preliminary new research, but only if the woman already has a higher risk.
"It's a little early to tell everybody that lipstick is dangerous," says researcher Jun Wang, PhD, an assistant professor of medicine at Tufts New England Medical Center in Boston. "Lupus is not common, and a lot of people use lipstick, so not everyone who uses lipstick is at risk of lupus, but maybe a select group of people who have a genetic disposition to lupus will further increase their risk when they use lipstick," she tells WebMD.
"People with a family history of lupus may need to be more cautious when dying their hair or using lipstick," she says. "While hormones have been [implicated], [these findings] may be an explanation of the gender differences in this disease because so far no one knows what is responsible for the fact that women have a ninefold higher rate than men," she says.
Researchers presented the findings at the annual meeting of the American College of Rheumatology in San Diego.
In lupus, an autoimmune disease, the body attacks its own tissues and organs, including the joints, kidneys, heart, lungs, brain, blood, and the skin. For most people, lupus is a mild disease affecting only a few organs. For others, it may cause potentially fatal problems. More than 16,000 Americans develop lupus each year, according to the Lupus Foundation of America.
Exactly how cosmetics may raise risk of lupus is unknown, but lipstick can contain phthalates, chemical compounds used to make plastics, which also make lipstick creamier. These compounds have been linked to lupus in animal models.
When a woman wears lipstick, she may swallow a little of it, but it can also be absorbed through the lining of the mouth.
Permanent hair dyes contain potentially lupus-triggering chemicals called aromatic amines and hydrazines, according to the study.
Longer Use, Greater Risk
In fact, women who reported that they had ever used lipstick three days a week had a 40% increased risk of developing lupus. What's more, risk increased with years of lipstick use. The longer women used permanent hair dye, the greater their risk of developing lupus, the study showed.
Researchers recruited women with and without lupus over the Internet. Participants completed questionnaires that assessed how frequently they painted their lips and dyed their locks.
While the findings are preliminary, "chemicals in lipstick and hair dyes need to be evaluated," the study authors conclude.
"If this is proven true, it has a very big public influence," Wang says.
Lipstick, Cosmetics Are Safe
Gilbert Ross, MD, the medical and executive director of the American Council on Science and Health in New York City, is quick to point out that "hair dyes and other cosmetic products have been used by millions of women over many decades. As a rheumatologist, I have not seen any evidence that their use increases risk of any connective tissue disorder." Ross did not attend the meeting.
Studies on humans over the past four deceases have failed to show a link, he says. "There is no human data showing this is dangerous."