Getting the lead out


The trouble with getting information from the Internet is that it’s almost impossible to trace it to a reliable source. People send me stuff all the time, e-mails that have been forwarded so many times I have no idea who originally wrote them and if they were based on fact or fiction. The topics range from political wrongdoing-certainly no shortage of that in an election year-to environmental pollution (the ones from Robert Redford I accept without question) and health hazards from common sources. The person who forwards it to me wants me to send it along to everyone I can think of or to write about it. Well, I usually don’t do that until I can find time to do some sleuthing on my own. Sometimes I discover within a few days that it was all a big hoax. More often it turns out to be the product of faulty reasoning based on murky research. If the writer seems hysterical, I just trash it. So when I received an e-mail awhile back, “Subject: Lipstick Containing PIOSON! [sic],” my skepticism bell rang and I reached for the delete key. Come on. How credible is someone who can’t even spell poison? But curiosity made me hit the Save key instead.

“Lead is a chemical which causes cancer,” it says. Well, lead is actually a metal, and I know that it can cause learning disorders in children who eat lead-based paint flaking off windowsills in old tenements. Cancer, I’m not so sure. Even Van Gogh and other artists may have gone bonkers from lead pigment in oil paints, presumably absorbed through the skin. And there’s a move to replace lead in shot shells because birds and other predators can die from ingesting lead pellets just as gun fighters in old Western movies died of “lead poisoning.” And fish die from ingesting lead sinkers. And graphite long ago replaced lead in the No. 2 pencils we idly chew on.

Okay. Lead is bad (except in aprons that shield x-ray technicians from radiation) and just about everybody knows that. So what the heck is it doing in lipstick, for cripes sake? Don’t they know how much lipstick is ingested with our morning croissants? Washed down with our decaf lattes? Kissing? Where’s the FDA when we need them? The cosmetics industry has apparently convinced the agency that they can’t divulge the ingredients they use because formulas are proprietary or something. The listed brands supposedly containing lead are the “long-lasting” versions of Y.S.L., LancĂ´me, Estee Lauder, Shiseido, Chanel (lip conditioner), Red Earth (lip gloss), Clinique (Yikes, that’s my brand!) and something called Market America-Motives (lipstick), which I never heard of. I started calling representatives of these companies and got basically zilch. Online, I couldn’t get past the page where you order products. So I headed for Bloomy’s, where I drove a dozen sales reps nuts with questions they couldn’t answer.

Finally, I resorted to the gold test mentioned in the e-mail. You put the tester lipstick on the back of your hand, just like when you’re trying to match a color (this is supposed to throw the sales reps off), then you rub a gold ring over the lipstick mark and if it turns black, bingo, that’s lead. This does not explain why my gold ring turns my skin black when no lipstick is present, but that’s another story. Every “long-lasting” lipstick I tried tested positive, including the Clinique one I’ve used for years. Maybe that accounts for my apparent loss of brain cells. Oh, please, let’s not even go there.

I fled Bloomy’s just before the Estee Lauder rep called security, dumping my Clinique Baby Buff lip liner and Honey Gloss in the trash bin on the way out. When I got home I chucked the eye stuff for good measure. That explains the Dick Gephart eyebrows. Next I went to the spa where they sell only Aveda products. Stephanie assured me that absolutely everything Aveda sells is made with only “organic” ingredients. I guess that means we can eat them. She put a smudge of Apricot Lip Tint with SPF 15 on my hand. While she went to get a lip liner in Crushed Carob (that sounds absolutely edible), I gave it the gold ring test. No black. Whew!

I left with more than lipstick: a 50 ml tube of Moisture Plus Tint non-oily SPF 15 and Tourmaline Charged Eye Creme for poochy lids. I didn’t tell her I’d had these bags since I was 12. She offered to dye my eyebrows but I declined. Ninety-five dollars later, I still have the Dick Gephart look. But I finally got the lead out.