Does wearing lipstick protect you from cancer?

Lead in Lipstick
There's no evidence that lead in lipstick leads to cancer.
There's no evidence that lead in lipstick leads to cancer.
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It's been said that beauty is pain. Throughout history, that theory has been tested time and again. From early Egyptian times to the Elizabethan period and beyond, women have sought to create aesthetic ideals with makeup. More often than not, the makeup that was used contained harmful -- even poisonous -- ingredients.

These days, however, the cosmetic industry is well-regulated. The cosmetics industry has been under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) since 1938. It's important to note that, unlike the requirements the agency has for drugs, biologics and medical devices, the FDA does not require pre-market approval for cosmetic products or ingredients. The FDA will, however, investigate adulterated or misbranded products and take legal action -- such as halting supplies or pursuing a criminal investigation -- when necessary. Makeup consumers are therefore generally confident that the makeup they apply to their faces contains safe, tested ingredients. In fact, if you wear makeup, chances are you've never worried about the safety of it at all -- at least not until recent studies began casting doubts on a product many women use daily.

A study by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently warned that there was lead in 20 different lipsticks they had analyzed. The FDA research determined that lead levels in these lipsticks were more than ten times higher than the lead standard for candy. While exposure to lead is considered unsafe -- particularly in pregnant women -- there are no documented cases of medical complications from wearing lipstick. So, the urban legend that you can get cancer from the lead in lipstick is untrue. In fact, cancer isn't even considered one of the effects of lead exposure [source: National Safety Council].

For lots more information on lipstick and skin care, see the links below.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). "Skin Cancer Statistics." June 12, 2009. (Jan. 19, 2010)
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). "Skin Cancer Trends." June 12, 2009. (Jan. 19, 2010)
  • MSNBC. "Not just lip service: Gloss can invite skin cancer." April 30, 2008. (Jan. 19, 2010)
  • National Safety Council. "Lead Poisoning." Dec. 23, 2004. (Jan. 19, 2010)
  • Skin Cancer Foundation. "Sun Protection and Makeup." (Jan. 19, 2010)
  • The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. "FDA Study: Lead Levels in Lipstick Much Higher than Previously Expected." Sept. 1, 2009. (Jan. 19, 2010)
  • WebMD. "History of Makeup." Sept. 19, 2009. (Jan. 19, 2010)

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