Makeup's been around for a long time, perhaps longer than you think. There are biblical references to makeup use, notably in the book of Ester in the Old Testament. Ancient Egyptians, circa 10,000 B.C., were wild about makeup and both men and women carried pots of the stuff around with them in case their lipstick, crushed insect eyeshadow or kohl eyeliner needed a little touch up as the day went on. The Greeks used it. Romans used it. Even the Vikings were reported to use it (yes, those strapping blond warriors lined their eyes with kohl, and lest you think it was just to keep the sun glare out of their eyes, they didn't exactly rush to take it off when in port.) The Sumerian Queen Schub-ad of ancient Ur, back in 3,500 B.C., used lip colorant. And recently archaeologist at a South African dig found 57 small pots of red makeup with the usual cache of broken stone weaponry.

So, what was in that make up? A lot of stuff you wouldn't want to use. Lead (makes your IQ plummet and causes brain damage). Mercury (makes you go mad). Those two ingredients were the basis for most makeup throughout history. Then there's arsenic (an Elizabeth I era favorite). And other things that might not hasten your death but sure are icky (egg whites on the face to create the "all the rage" glazed look, also compliments of the Elizabethan age); the aforementioned iridescent insect wings (Egyptian eyeshadow); ants (Cleopatra's the lipstick base) and crushed carmine beetles (she liked the red color). The list goes on.

This past October, researchers went out and bought 33 brands of red lipstick and sent them to a lab for testing. The results? Over half contained lead.


Still? Today? I mean it's one thing to read about foolish aristocrats using it to whiten their faces in Regency England, but in 2007? How is that possible? "Because there is no federal standard for lead in cosmetics, the advocacy group used the Food and Drug Administration's limits for lead in candy as a yardstick." (ABC News)

Oh, well that's okay then. Hold on. Candy? There's lead in candy?

Well, trace amounts. The FDA allows 0.1 parts per million (ppm) in candy. But some lipsticks had a little more than trace amounts. The lead levels of the brands tested ranged from 0.03 to 0.65 ppm, one-third exceeding the o.1 ppm guideline.

Now remember that's a "guideline" not a requirement. The FDA does not set a limit for lead in lipstick. Apparently they don't consider it something we ingest, so don't see the need. Um. Have they every worn lipstick? Not all of it ends up on water glasses and white t-shirts.

But don't let my alarmism sway you. Before you throw your lipstick away, read the full report. “A Poison Kiss: The Problem of Lead in Lipstick,” including complete test results, is posted at

And remember that adage that's probably as old as makeup use: beauty comes from the inside.

--Liz Jasper


  1. Morgan St. John // November 7, 2007 at 4:42 PM  

    oH yes. we just got this info in an email from my MIL. She likes keeping us all safe from worldly predators... I'm afraid I usually just delete most of what she sends. This time I'm probably okay. I wear lipstick about once a week. Church on Sunday! I know. Shame on me! Good post. I never seem to make it here on Cinthia's blog day. :( But I enjoy my visits anyway. :)

  2. Misc. Muse // November 7, 2007 at 5:27 PM  

    I deffinately wouldn't buy makeup from China. Look at my post for site for China free christmas for kids.

  3. Liz Jasper // November 7, 2007 at 11:03 PM  

    Thanks Morgan : ) And I'm sure if it's to CHURCH, you're protected. LOL.

    And, Misc, I'm with ya on the "know where your makeup comes from" before you put it on. Thanks for the link to the gift ideas. (Though I hate to think about Christmas shopping already.)


  4. Beth Trissel // November 11, 2007 at 7:48 AM  

    It's not only lipstick according to what I've been reading, thanks to this post! It seems there's other 'stuff' floating around in cosmetics, or there can be. I was shocked to see that none of the major companies have signed that purity pledge. I may throw out my current stash and switch to the Body Shop or Burt's Bees as they are OK.