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Hazardous Beauty?

Levels permitted in Cosmetics are considered Toxic in Food

LipsLipstick tainted with lead. Mascara that contains mercury. A hair-straightening treatment that slicks your tresses with protein...and formaldehyde? As three recent controversies show, sometimes the world of beauty can be downright ugly.

Take the lipstick debate. Last fall, a study gave women reason to worry about their war paint:

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics tested 33 lipsticks for lead, from Burt's Bees Lip Shimmer to L'Oreal Colour Riche. They found that 61 percent of the lipsticks tested contained a detectable amount of the contaminant.
Even a minuscule amount of lead is a big problem, says Campaign for Safe Cosmetics spokeswoman Stacy Malkan. "What the companies will often say is, 'There's a little toxin in one product and you can't say it causes harm,' " she says. "But none of us uses just one product." Lead is a neurotoxin that accumulates in the body over time, which is why tiny amounts ingested regularly (or in the case of lipstick, multiple times per day) could be hazardous.
In eye-area cosmetics, the FDA allows mercury if no other effective preservative is available. The concentration can be up to 65 parts per million. That may not sound like much, but the presence of mercury in any amount worries some people. This month, Minnesota imposed a ban on many products containing the substance, including thermostats, medical devices and, yes, mascara.

"It's a potent neurotoxin that can cause brain damage in developing fetuses," Malkan says. "Many women get mercury from fish and other sources. We don't need any more."