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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

How Safe is Your Lipstick?

Air Date: Week of

Joi Morgan wanted to find out more about what was in her lipgloss (Youth Radio)

For many women and girls, wearing make-up is essential. But Youth Radio's Joi Morgan started to wonder what exactly was in the bubblegum pink lip-stick she loved to wear, and when she investigated, she got some surprises.


CURWOOD: Well, given that so many chemicals were grandfathered into use and not tested for
safety at a federal level, some states are taking on the job of protecting consumers themselves. One
of the leaders is California, which has just set up the Safe Cosmetics Program Product Database,
allowing the public to go online and check if such products as makeup contain potentially
dangerous ingredients. This website arrives at a timely moment for Youth Radio's Joi Morgan.
Like many women, buying and wearing the latest cosmetics is almost a ritual for her, but she has
started to wonder exactly what is in those colorful glosses and bright pink lipsticks she paints on
her mouth. Here's Joi.

JOI: One thing I know for sure, my friends and I count on the perfect lip gloss to set off our looks,
whether we’re heading to class or a night out. Right now I’m totally into bubblegum pink. But I
was surprised to learn what's in these tubes!

JOI: Polybutene, Titanium Dioxide...

VOX 1: I've never read the labels, the fine print.

JOI: Stearalkonium...I don’t know how to say that.

VOX 2: I didn't even know there were instructions on the back.

JOI: Mica, Ricinus Communis...Oh I know that one, That’s castor oil!

VOX 3: Yeah it does matter, I mean, it’s on your mouth, meaning you’ll be putting that in your
mouth. Ultimately it's going to affect you.

JOI: Teenage girls spend nearly $14 a month on cosmetics. More than even their 18-24 year old
peers, according to a recent youth beauty market report. That’s one reason why researchers at the
University of California, Berkeley, collected popular lip products from a youth group in Oakland.
Dr. Katherine Hammond, an environmental health scientist, led the investigation tested the lipsticks
and glosses.

HAMMOND: We were looking at eight metals and what we particularly found were that cadmium,
chromium, manganese and aluminum were present at levels that could actually rise to the level of
some concern.

JOI: Consumer advocacy groups and the Food and Drug Administration, the agency that regulates
make-up, have both found lead in cosmetics, but disagree about whether the concentrations are
harmful or not.

HAMMOND: So the fact that these chemicals and metals were there does not surprise me, I had
some suspicion that they might be. On the other hand that they reached the levels that we might be
concerned, that did somewhat did surprise me.

JOI: The Personal Care Products Council stands by the safety of their products. But as a teenager
who wears a lot of make-up, how much metal am I actually exposing myself to?

HAMMOND: On average a person uses it just 2-3 times a day, you know, average is just an
average of many numbers, but nobody’s average right?

JOI: Right. It’s just, I have a feeling I’m waaay beyond average. When it comes to maintaining
my look, it takes more than 2 to 3 touch-ups! I wanted to be sure, so I walked around with a bulky
recorder and mic around my neck, looking like a dork, for a couple of days, capturing every time I
put on my lip gloss.

Testing, testing, testing, testing

[MUSIC: Lipstick: Vybz Kartel “Lipstick Gloss”]

JOI: I was sitting on the couch in my living room, getting ready to walk out the door in the
morning, when I applied a pretty pink punch shade for the first time.

OK, so I'm on the Bart right now and I just had some cookies, and that caused me to re-apply my
lip gloss. This is re-apply number 3. It’s 11:45...

It’s before noon and I’ve already hit the average daily application.

OK, it is 4:10. I just had some ice cream from Rite Aid so I have to re-apply again.
I reached 11 lipstick touch-ups by the end of that Friday night. And on Saturday, when I kept track
again, I reapplied 20 times. Which is the norm for a night out with my girls. But these two ladies at
the hair shop across the street from my office, Rashida and Gracie, stomped my average!

JOI: How often would you say you apply your lip gloss?

RASHIDA: On a good day where I think I’m looking real good, I’ll say, maybe every hour?

GRACIE: Because my profession causes me to talk so much, I am a mother and I talk so much and
I eat. I probably apply my lip gloss every 30 minutes it seems like…

JOI: I guess kids aren’t the only heavy users! How much is too much? I asked the Food and Drug
Administration spokesperson on cosmetics, Tamara Ward.

WARD: One of the things that we’d like our consumers to know is that unlike drugs, cosmetic
products do not receive premarket approval. The manufacturers are responsible for making sure
their product is safe and we will step in when we know that there is an issue with a cosmetic

JOI: Seems like the only directions on the side of my lip gloss are “apply as needed.”

WARD: Well the label is saying “as needed”, so “as needed” is vague but it is the choice of

JOI: I get that it’s my choice. At least now, in California the Department of Public Health has
set up a website to actually tell us what's in our lipstick and shampoo. So maybe I’m taking that
information to the cosmetic aisle next time I’m looking for a new shade of babydoll pink lip-gloss
to match the bronzy-gold around my eyes...

For Living on Earth, I’m Joi Morgan in Oakland.

CURWOOD: Joi reports for Youth Radio. Ike Sriskandarajah produced our story.



Check out more stories produced by the young people at Youth Radio

Personal Care Products Council

California Department of Public Health

FDA Info on the Chemicals in Cosmetics


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