US study on lipsticks stirs worry in China

Updated: 2013-05-14 14:48

By Chen Jia in San Francisco (China Daily)

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For 27-year-old Lucy Lin, a housewife who moved to the United States with her family, shopping for cosmetics on behalf of people back in China is her main source of income.

Lately, however, her customers across the Pacific have been peppering Lin with questions about the safety of the cosmetics where she lives.

In early May, researchers from the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley, tested 32 lipsticks and lip glosses sold in local drugstores and department stores and found the products contained lead, chromium, cadmium, aluminum and five other metals that could cause health concerns.

Translations of news reports about the survey, the results of which were published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, have been reposted on Chinese social media websites, with plenty of frantic commentary.

"I am shocked after reading it. 'Made in the USA' was supposed to be high-standard promise for me," said Zhu Rui, a Beijing native and mother of a 1-year-old boy. She said he had bought lip gloss from a buyer in the US and continued using the product during her pregnancy.

Liu Sa, lead author of the Berkeley survey, said the US Food and Drug Administration should "pay attention to this issue and conduct more-thorough studies to test toxic constituents in the products and evaluate potential risk" associated with their use. Based on such research findings she said, the FDA should then "set safety standards to protect public health".

She said the US has no standard for metal content in cosmetics. The European Union's Cosmetics Directive lists cadmium, chromium and lead, and compounds related to these metals, as unacceptable ingredients in consumer cosmetics.

Six years ago, the Ministry of Health added 790 ingredients to its list of banned substances in cosmetics. In late 2011, China established its Expert Committee for Health Care, Food and Cosmetics Safety under the State Food and Drug Administration to provide technical advice for Chinese officials.

So far, the SFDA hasn't issued any advisory to Chinese consumers regarding lipstick or lip gloss sold in the US.

Liu said her team's research didn't detect a pattern of which brands or types of lipstick or lip gloss contained metals at levels high enough to cause health concerns.

Aluminum, the researcher said, is related to impaired neurological development in premature infants. Cadmium is a known human carcinogen associated with lung cancer and respiratory-system damage when inhaled; oral exposure can lead to kidney and bone damage. Chromium is a lung carcinogen that has been linked to stomach tumors.

"Just finding these metals isn't the issue; it's the levels that matter. Some of the toxic metals are occurring at levels that could possibly have an effect in the long term," the study's principal investigator, S. Katharine Hammond, a UC Berkeley professor of environmental health sciences, said in a statement.

An industry representative said that lip products are safe and that the detected metals occur naturally in the environment.

"The [Berkeley] report does not provide any new meaningful information," Linda Loretz, chief toxicologist for the Washington-based Personal Care Products Council, said in a statement. "There is nothing in there that would raise a potential concern. The finding of trace levels of metals in lip products is not unexpected given their natural presence in air, soil and water. Very low levels are also found in drinking water and food.

"The issue of lead in lipstick has long been studied and has been thoroughly addressed by FDA," she added. "As an example of FDA's diligence in this area, in 2011 the agency tested 400 different lipsticks across many brands and concluded the low levels of lead that were detected were safe."

(China Daily 05/14/2013 page8)