Lipstick - often a woman's go-to make-up tool to add a little glamour to their look - might actually be causing more harm than previously thought.

A new University of California at Berkeley study tested 32 brands of lipstick and lip glosses commonly found at drugstores, grocery stores and specialty make-up outlets. The study showed that these products contain toxic levels of lead, cadmium, aluminum, chromium among other harmful chemicals. The report, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, indicated that some of these metals reached potentially health-hazardous levels.

Researchers selected the products to test after polling teenage girls aged 14-19 to find out what were the most popular products currently being used.

"Just finding these metals isn't the issue; it's the levels that matter," study author S. Katharine Hammond, professor of environmental health sciences at UC Berkeley, said in a statement. "Some of the toxic metals are occurring at levels that could possibly have an effect in the long term."

The average user applies lipstick 2.3 times daily and ingests 24 milligrams each day, while a heavy user applies it as many as 14 times and ingests an average of 83 milligrams, the UC study says. However, overexposure to these metals over time can lead to health problems such as neurological damage and increased cancer risk, the researchers warned.

Although the study did not disclose the brand names of the lipsticks, they did say they all came from seven popular make-up companies. Out of the 32 tested, lead was found in 24 of them although the levels were lower than the acceptable daily intake.

In the study, certain colors were not more likely than others to have the toxic metals, Hammond said. Nor were glosses more likely to have them than lipsticks, or vice versa.

The FDA regulates cosmetics safety under the authority of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. Cosmetics must be safe when used as the label directs or under ordinary conditions. The FDA does not, however, require cosmetics to get pre-market approval.

More alarmingly, no limits for lead in cosmetics have been set by the FDA.

"This study is saying, 'FDA, wake up and pay attention,' " Hammond said.


Click here for FDA's report on lead in lipsticks from 2007. Covergirl, Revlon and the Body Shop topped the list in terms of how much lead per container.

EWG's Skin Deep is an extensive cosmetic database which offers further information on the safety of beauty and hygiene products.