This Mother's Day, Do More Than Pay Lip Service to Your Mom's Health


When it comes to Mother's Day gifts, most people stick to something safe, like a candle or bath salts, Sheryl Sandberg's new book or a pair of bunny slippers. But if you're looking for something a little braver -- and you want to do your mom a favor -- you may think about getting her a new tube of lipstick.

Lipstick, after all, is almost the definitive American cosmetic, the classic female accoutrement. It's given its name to a branch of feminism, an economic index, a TV series and dozens of movies. And while your mom might not love the shade that you pick out, she will no doubt appreciate the fact that you're showing a little initiative and stepping away from the Hallmark counter.

As an added plus, your purchase may even help your mom's health. As a recent Mother Jones article pointed out, lipsticks routinely contain toxic ingredients like cadmium, chromium, aluminum and, worst of all, lead. And the more times during the day that women reapply it, the more of those dangerous substances they are likely to ingest.

While there are minimum acceptable amounts for most minerals, lead is, officially, something that humans are supposed to avoid entirely. 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.

Unfortunately, it's near-impossible to scan for all the ingredients in cosmetics that could, potentially cause health problems for your mom: companies are slow to disclose the secret ingredients in their makeup, and budget cuts have left the FDA underfunded and unable to analyze all the cosmetics on the market. On the bright side, the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Database offers a breakdown of some of the top cosmetics out there, and the the FDA occasionally releases lists of which cosmetics have the most and least amounts of lead.

Here are the ten winners from the most recent survey:

1. Clinique's Almost Lipstick, Black Honey. With less than 0.026 parts per million of lead, this lipstick led the pack.

2. Lori Anne Mood Magic Blue. Bright side: only 0.03 ppm of lead. Bad news: it will make your mom look like Laura Palmer.

3. M.A.C. Satin Red Lipstick. Bright red is the classic lipstick color, and with only 0.03 ppm of lead, this one is a definite winner.

4. Estee Lauder Pure Color Long Lasting Lipstick in Pink Parfait. A classic Jackie Kennedy pink, only 0.04 ppm of lead.

5. Lori Anne Mood Magic Yellow. A mixed blessing. On the bright side, it only has 0.05 ppm of lead, on the downside it looks like a zit coverup for Bart Simpson.

6. M.A.C. Lady Danger. The bright red spells danger. The 0.05 ppm of lead spells safety!

7. Iman Red Luxury Moisturizing Lipstick. A mild red with a mild lead content of only 0.05 ppm.

8. Fashion Fair Earth Red. A tawny brown, with 0.05 ppm of lead.

9. Fashion Fair Magenta Mist. Light raspberry, 0.06 ppm of lead.

10. Bobbi Brown Black Berry lipstick. A slightly richer color, the same low 0.06 ppm lead content.

At the other end of the scale, Maybelline's Color Sensational in Pink Petal contained a whopping 7.19 ppm of lead, the most of the 400 lipsticks the FDA tested.

Granted, Bobbi Brown lipsticks cost around $25, versus around $5 for Maybelline. But isn't your mom worth it?

Bruce Watson is DailyFinance's Savings editor. You can reach him by e-mail at, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.