Get the Lead Out: Lipsticks That Won't Hurt Your Pocketbook Or Your Health

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shopping lipstick - trying on new lipstick
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When you think of lead poisoning, the first thing that comes to mind is probably peeling paint. Yet, for a lot of women, the biggest lead danger is right under their noses. Lipstick, the definitive American cosmetic, may also be one of the most dangerous: As a recent Mother Jones article pointed out, lipsticks routinely contain toxic ingredients like cadmium, chromium, aluminum and, worst of all, lead.

While simply putting lipstick on isn't dangerous, the fact is that most women also consume a fair bit of the waxy wonder. And, the more times during the day that women reapply lipstick, the more of those dangerous substances they are likely to ingest. In the case of some, the lead content can be bracing: Maybelline's Color Sensational in Pink Petal, the worst one on the market, contains a whopping 7.19 parts per million of lead. (That's 100 times more than any of the ones we recommend.)


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For most minerals, like cadmium, aluminum, and so on, there are minimum acceptable amounts for consumption. Lead, on the other hand, is supposed to be completely avoided. In children, it can cause lasting brain damage; in adults, it can lead to a host of problems, from cramps to seizures all the way to death.

(To clarify: As worrisome as a grown woman's occasional consumption of lead-laden lipstick may be, the effects could be significantly worse for young children playing dress-up with mom's cosmetics.)

While most companies are closed-lipped about their secret cosmetics recipes, there are, thankfully, a few resources available for women who are looking to get the lead out. The Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Database offers a breakdown of many top cosmetics, and the the FDA occasionally releases lists of which cosmetics have the most and least amounts of lead.

Unfortunately, many of the healthiest lipsticks are the most expensive. With that in mind, here are a few of our favorites from the most recent survey:

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Get the Lead Out: Lipsticks That Won't Hurt Your Pocketbook Or Your Health
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Get the Lead Out: Lipsticks That Won't Hurt Your Pocketbook Or Your Health
A mild red with a mild lead content of only 0.05 ppm, this one also has the best price among the low-lead brands: a comparatively cheap $7.
Most lower-lead lipsticks hover around the $15 range. And, for that matter, a lot of them are also Estee Lauder products. This one fits both descriptions: it has the lowest lead content -- less than 0.026 parts per million -- and a fairly reasonable $15 price.
Bright red is the classic lipstick color, and with only 0.03 ppm of lead, this Estee Lauder-owned lipstick is a definite winner. $15
The fiery red spells danger! The 0.05 ppm of lead spells safety! The $15 price and Estee Lauder manufacturing spells "no surprises here"!
A tawny brown, with 0.05 ppm of lead. $15
Light raspberry, with 0.06 ppm of lead. $15
A smooth, mellow red, this lipstick has a mid-range price of $15 and a low-range lead content of 0.07 ppm. The same, by the way, goes for Clinique's lovely guava stain color. And, not surprisingly, these are made by Estee Lauder.
A classic Jackie Kennedy pink, only 0.04 ppm of lead, made by you-know-who. The only downside is the price: $25.
A slightly richer color, the same low 0.06 ppm lead content, the same Estee Lauder manufacturing. $24
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Bruce Watson is DailyFinance's Savings editor. You can reach him by e-mail at bruce.watson@teamaol.com, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.
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