The kiss of death: Lead in lipsticks

The kiss of death: Lead in lipsticks

The presence of lead beyond permissible limits in Maggie noodles has gained national and international importance. The whole country – the media and the government machinery – has woken up from its slumbers. While this is a good development to consolidate consumer awareness, one should recognise the work being done by non-governmental entities in this field.

For the past two decades, prominent consumer organisations i.e. Consumer Education and Research Centre (CERC) in Ahmedabad and Voluntary Organisation in the Interest of Consumer Education (VOICE), New Delhi, have been conducting comparative tests on food (including noodles), drugs and cosmetics (besides domestic appliances) and publishing reports. Neither the consumers nor the media and Government have taken serious note of it. Since the nation is at present obsessed with lead, one such report relating to lead in lipsticks is noteworthy.

The Egyptians popularised it as the ‘kiss of death’ and the English banished it as the ‘devils work’. And in 1770, the British Parliament passed a law that said a woman wearing lipstick could be tried for witchcraft. But today, lipstick is a roaring business with hundreds of brands vying each other to occupy a woman’s lips. How safe are they? Does a consumer know what the lipstick contains and whether it is safe?

The CERC, back in 2010, tested 43 varieties of lipstick and three varieties of lip gloss and found presence of toxic lead. Of the 16 varieties of brown lipsticks, 13 had lead content higher than 10ppm ranging between 7ppm to 25ppm.

The 20 varieties of red lipsticks tested, 15 were found having lead content higher than 10ppm, ranging between 4ppm and 23ppm. The highest lead level of 23ppm was found in a brown coloured lipstick. The varieties included popular brands like Eyetex, Revlon, Elle 18, L’Oreal, Lakme, Max Factor, Oriflame, Color Bar etc. Eight of 43 lipsticks and one of three lip glosses were imported.

The tests were conducted against the Indian Standards IS: 12074-1987: Reaffirmed 2005. The lead level was determined using atomic absorption spectrophotometer.

The tests also referred to IS:9875-1990 Lipstick Specification for standards of heavy metals in cosmetics. The limit set by the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) for lead in cosmetics is 20ppm, maximum. Microbiological tests were conducted for two parameters applying IS: 14648:2005.

Colours of danger

The comparative tests have revealed that the varieties in red colour, like RCV Roopvella, Tian Nuo and Personi had lead

ranging from 5ppm to 10ppm. The varieties that had lead ranging from 11ppm to 15ppm include Fendi, L’Oreal, Revlon, Streetwear etc. Brands like Max Factor, Fendi, Color Bar and Eyetex Dazzler had lead from 16ppm to 20ppm. While, Lakme (D414 Freespirit Lipcolor) had 21ppm to 25ppm of lead.

Similarly, in case of brown colour most of the brands tested, contained 16ppm to 20ppm of lead. Only the IVOVI variety (Shade 10) had 25ppm. Usually the CERC tests rate one of the tested products as ‘best buy.’ However in case of lipsticks and lip gloss, the test report said that ‘all brands tested had detectable levels of lead, we decided not to rate and rank them.’ The test results were sent to the manufacturers for their response. Some of them have disputed the results and some did not respond.

The CERC test report has found that, higher the price of the lipstick, more the lead. For instance, Personi 140 Matte priced at Rs 10 contained only 2ppm, whereas L’Oreal 903 Color Riche (brown) priced at Rs 490, contained 17ppm. The lead in lipsticks, priced at Rs 10, ranged from 2ppm to 17ppm and in those priced above Rs 100, it ranged from 11ppm to 23ppm.

Even legal requirements regarding labeling information were flouted. Batch numbers too were missing in 23 lipsticks and one lip gloss and the licence number in 10 lipsticks and two lip glosses. Also, the dates of manufacture or expiry dates were missing from 33 varieties of lipstick.

The CERC has recommended the prohibition of colours used in cosmetics that contain lead, the lowering of the limit of permissible lead content from 20ppm to 0ppm in cosmetics and to make it mandatory for manufacturers to display the list of ingredients. It has also suggested certain amendments to the Drugs and Cosmetics Act and Rules.

(The writer is Member, Central Consumer Protection Council, Government of India)

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