Lead Found in Lipstick, Parabens in Perfume: What is Your Teen Wearing?

Lead Found in Lipstick, Parabens in Perfume: What is Your Teen Wearing?

January 3, 2009

By Guest Blogger Rachel Lincoln-Sarnoff, former CEO of Healthy Child 

Before meeting, after eating and, dangerously, while driving, I spend a lot of time applying lipstick or lip gloss to my lips. And according to the Environmental Working Group, all that licking means that I, an average woman, will eat more than nine pounds of the stuff over my lifetime.

Grossness aside, this fact wouldn’t be so alarming if it weren’t for another terrifying fact: In 2007, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, found that two-third of lipsticks contained lead, a known neurotoxin that has been linked to brain damage and miscarriages, among other horrors.

Nine. Pounds. Containing. Lead.

That’s enough to make you sit up, take notice, and dump the contents of your makeup bags into the trash (fearful all the time that you should be disposing of the stuff as hazardous waste).

But the news has gotten better: This year, Canada banned lead in lipstick. In August of 2008, a single vote in the State Assembly barred a similar ban in California. With a new introduction of the bill on deck for 2009, the geniuses at Teens Turning Green launched a clever “Lips Against Lead” petition, in which people are encouraged to apply lead-free lipstick and kiss an organic cotton petition, that will then be sent to the Assembly when the teens show up to shame them into passing it.

The whole experience made me think of my niece, an amazing Gen Y-er whom I watched come into the world and who is on the tail end of “tween,” the generation of eight-to-12-year-olds who are 20 million strong today and projected to hit 23 million by 2020, according to the U.S. Census.

Being naturally gorgeous herself, my niece has not yet begun to rely on the pancake-base-powder-blush-eyeliner-mascara-lip-gloss makeup routine that many teenagers turn to each morning, “putting on their faces” in a way that I haven’t seen since my grandmother refused to leave the house without her blue eye shadow.

But my niece has developed a serious penchant for lip gloss. And perfume. Not just any perfume, but the heavy, yummy-sweet stuff that you can only get from synthetic fragrances. Now this totally makes sense, as these are the scents that are marketed to her in the stores where she shops, like Forever 21, Claire’s and the Gap. The marketing experts who work with these companies to sell perfume to teens and tweens prey on two factors: first, that these girls are incredibly insecure about how they smell as their body chemistries shift and change, and second, the fact that, to them, makeup is typically verboten, while fragrance is an acceptable step towards womanhood that won’t raise eyebrows among their Gen X parents.

Perfume and lip gloss are just the tip of the iceberg. Once makeup is in the approved category, teen girls typically use more personal care products than women - an average of 17 as opposed to 12 – because they’re experimenting with what they do and don’t like. And because they’re on limited budgets, typically these products are the least inexpensive in the category - think Bonnie Bell, Wet ‘n Wild, Januarybelline. Unfortunately, these cheap products are manufactured from the cheapest chemical ingredients.

In fact, the Environmental Working Group found that most American girls typically have 13 different hormone-altering chemicals in their bodies at any given time. Overwhelmingly, tests of a small sample of girls detected paraben preservatives - typically “methylparaben” and “propylparaben” - in their blood and urine. Parabens have been linked to an increase in prostate and breast cancer, genital abnormalities in male babies, a decline in semen quality in men and early onset of puberty in girls.

Parabens in Perfume

The EWG’s study used a small sample group - only 20 girls. Obviously tests need to be done on a larger scale. But bigger studies have linked these chemicals to cancer and hormone disruption – both problems that have spiked in children in recent years. Childhood cancer rates are up 30% in the last 30 years, according to the Progressive Policy Institute. Girls today are menstruating as early as eight - while they are still young children! Scientists like New York doctor Frank Lipman are starting to look at the links between health risks and chemicals in personal care products. Although each product might have a low level of potentially dangerous chemicals, the 17 mixed together can pack a potent toxic punch in our children’s bodies.

How is it possible that beauty companies manufacturing teen products create them with ingredients that have been linked to serious health problems-even cancer? Because - newsflash - the beauty industry is unregulated:

Companies are not required to test products or ingredients for safety before they’re sold, manufacturers can use whatever chemicals they want in their products, and are not required to disclose their ingredients. The Toxic Substances Control Act was passed over 30 years ago and takes as its premise that chemicals are safe until they have been proven unsafe. The panel of scientists that make up the self-policing Cosmetic Ingredient Review is funded by-you guessed it!-the beauty industry. It’s hard to prove an ingredient is unsafe when your review board is paid by the companies that use it.

Now children and teenagers aren’t known for worrying about safety. They’re just trying to get through the day without too much anxiety about fitting in. And much of that fitting in involves identifying with their peers - through makeup and fragrance.

But as my niece’s perfume affinity increases, so have her frequent headaches. And although I’ve avoided getting all heavy on her with talk about cancer and early onset menstruation, I did gently suggest that she might consider cold-turkeying her perfume habit in an effort to ascertain if the synthetic perfumes might be contributing to a fragrance allergy manifesting itself in headaches. She just politely ignored me.

So my activism has taken another turn. I’m sending her a full set of Teens Going Green chemical-free beauty products for her birthday this year.  There’s no reason why she should be hurt by an industry that cares more about her money than her welfare. And the only way to convince her otherwise is to show her that products which don’t contain chemicals work just as well.

Have you looked at the ingredients in your lipstick lately? Check your brand at

The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and not necessarily those of Healthy Child Healthy World.