From what is virtually birth to death, American women have been, and continue to be, bombarded with imagery introduced by multi-billion dollar cosmetic companies. Case in point, flip through any feminine reading material at the grocery check out , and it’s no difficult task to discern that about 75 percent of magazine content is advertising for beauty products. Just as men are made to believe that they need to be the walking embodiment of testosterone, many women are made to feel as if they are somehow lacking without a face improved by the likes of mascara, concealer, blush, and bronzers.
But in the keen words of attractive people everywhere, beauty ain’t cheap.
There’s so much emphasis placed on this social expectation, in fact, that in some cases women, and inevitably some men, may actually be subjecting themselves to unprecedented and dangerous levels of various makeup products. Unknown to many, overexposure to store-bought lip products may present toxic levels of metallic compounds that reside within the cosmetics. In response to this growing trend that emphatically poses various health risks, the UC Berkeley School of Public Health conducted a study that measured potentially ingestible levels of metallic compounds present in various lip makeup samples.
According to the original research paper, “[researchers] analyzed lip products by inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectrometry and used previous estimates of lip product usage rates to determine daily oral intakes. [They] derived acceptable daily intakes (ADIs) based on information used to determine public health goals for exposure, and compared ADIs with estimated intakes to assess potential risks.”
Before proceeding, it’s key to note the creative techniques used to determine risk and toxicity data in this particular study. Most research that has been conducted on the topic of cosmetic hazard has, in the past, only taken note of the presence of various toxic compounds, not the quantity, which is ultimately the most relevant value. Not only did this UC Berkeley study take into consideration the major heavy metals playing a part in cosmetic toxicity, but researchers also measured the prevalence of these compounds in correlation to consumer use. The researchers found metals including lead, cadmium, aluminum and manganese — all of which are toxic upon ingestion.
“Just finding these metals isn’t the issue; it’s the levels that matter,” said principal investigator S. Katharine Hammond, a professor in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at UC Berkeley, in a press release. “Some of the toxic metals are occurring at levels that could possibly have an effect in the long term.”
Exposure to the metallic residues over an extended period of time can cause what are known as chronic health effects. This means that a slow and gradual deposition of hazardous materials within the body can lead to the development of illness, or in some extreme cases, death.
Overexposure to lead is known as plumbism, a condition involving abdominal pain, confusion, headache and (once again, in extreme cases) death. Cadmium, which made one of its first public debuts in the Erin Brockovich fiasco, is known to cause chills, fever and muscle aching (in milder cases). Aluminum poisoning can be responsible for neurodegeneration, and manganese toxicity can result in motor-function disturbances. Any combination thereof and you’re looking at a cocktail of symptoms even Dr. House would struggle to diagnose.
“I believe that the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) should pay attention to this,” said the study’s lead author, Sa Liu, in a press release. Liu is a UC Berkeley researcher in the department of environmental health sciences. “The lipsticks and lip glosses in our study are common brands available in stores everywhere. Based upon our findings, a larger, more thorough survey of lip products — and cosmetics in general — is warranted.”
Scientific verdicts such as these undeniably evoke suspicion and vigilance within consumers — an absolutely appropriate, and as history tells us, necessary response. Furthermore, these findings may beg the following questions: how are these residues ending up in the lip products, why are these residues allowed to end up in the lip products, and, perhaps most crucial, what is being done to put an end to these contaminations?
Research teams such as those residing within UC Berkeley’s Public Health and Environmental Health Science programs are persistently hunting for answers and change. With the various health maladies plaguing the American populace, those introduced by purposefully imbibed foreign contaminants are only hindrances to the consumer and the medical community as a whole. Through conducting studies such as these, perhaps regulatory agencies and consumers may help put a stop to such unnecessary health liabilities present in everyday commodities.
EMILY SEFEROVICH can be reached at email@example.com.