Lead in Cosmetics and Folk Remedies

How could a toxic metal possibly infiltrate an infant’s blood so quickly? One would think through diet or living environment – not cosmetics.

In some cultures, makeup is applied to young children as a form of remedy or tradition. Recently, a Massachusetts doctor discovered lead poisoning in an infant whose parents had applied “tiro,” a lead-based Nigerian folk remedy, to their child’s eyelids. Tiro can contain up to 82.6% lead. Screening for lead determined that the boy had more than double the level of concern that prompts medical attention. The Centers for Disease Control and Protection are now advising health care providers to ask about cosmetics and eye medications when assessing potential lead exposure hazards, especially among immigrant communities.

Folk remedies are not regulated by the government because they aren’t tracked by the FDA. Many of them are brought to the U.S. from foreign countries and pass through many generations of use. Only laboratory testing reveals lead in a folk remedy.

Lead is highly toxic; there is no safe level of its exposure. It can cause behavior issues and can have lasting effects on the child’s mental development. However, lead can infiltrate anyone’s immune system.

This is not the first time that tests have exposed high levels of toxics in cosmetics. Lead has been found in certain types of lipsticks, and other toxics like formaldehyde in eye shadow, foundation powder, and even baby bath!

In 2010, Virginia Department of Health found skin whitening cream from Mexico to have high amounts of mercury, which can cause mercury poisoning and has been linked to impaired brain development in infants and children. Skin whitening creams are also targeted at minorities, disproportionately effecting these populations.

The Food and Drug administration has warned about lead, but has not taken steps to eliminate it in cosmetics. CEH’s allies in the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics have been working hard to force cosmetic companies to get toxics out of their products.

You can take action by supporting the Safe Cosmetics Act, legislation that would eliminate harmful chemicals from the products women, men and children put on their bodies every day.

Stay tuned to for more information on lead and toxics in purses and wallets, personal care products, and more.