Gold Ring Test for Lead in Lipstick

(Karen Arnold/

A viral alert circulating since May 2003 claims major-brand lipsticks contain cancer-causing lead, which consumers can test for by scratching the surface of a product with a 24K gold ring.

Sample Emails About Lead in Lipstick

As posted on Facebook, April 8, 2013:

Subject: Dangers of Lead in Lipstick
Even lipstick isn't safe anymore...what's next? Brands don't mean everything. Recently a brand called "Red Earth" decreased their prices from $67 to $9.90. It contained lead. Lead is a chemical which cause cancer.
The brands which contain lead are:
4. Y.S.L (Yves St. Laurent)
7. RED EARTH (Lip Gloss)
8. CHANEL (Lip Conditioner)
The higher the lead content, the greater the chance of causing cancer.
After doing a test on lipsticks, it was found that the Yves St. Laurent (YSL) lipstick contained the most amount of lead. Watch out for those lipsticks which are supposed to stay longer. If your lipstick stays longer, it is because of the higher content of lead.
Here is the test you can do yourself:
1. Put some lipstick on your hand.
2. Use a gold ring to scratch on the lipstick.
3. If the lipstick color changes to black then you know the lipstick contains lead. Please send this information to all your girlfriends, wives and female family members.
This information is being circulated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Dioxin carcinogens causes cancer. Especially breast cancer


There's no such thing as a "gold ring test" for lead in cosmetics. The handy home test for lead in lipstick touted in the message is bogus. Certain metals, including gold, may leave a dark streak when scratched across various surfaces, but this is reportedly an artifact of the metals themselves, not an indicator of a chemical reaction with lead or any other specific substance. No scientific explanation or proof has ever been offered to support the claim that contact with gold reveals the presence of lead in lipsticks.

Moreover, while tests by the FDA and consumer groups confirm the presence of trace amounts of lead in name-brand lipsticks, the government maintains that the products are safe for human use.

This much-forwarded message is long on misinformation and short on facts. It's true that laboratory tests have shown that many name-brand lipsticks sold in the United States contain trace amounts of lead from the dyes used in manufacturing. According to statements from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the American Cancer Society, however, the lead content of these coloring agents meets all current safety standards set by U.S. government agencies and ​poses no serious health threat to consumers.

Moreover, the message is both inaccurate and misleading when it implies that cancer is the primary health hazard posed by lead exposure. Though lead is indeed listed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a probable human carcinogen, it has ​other, more direct health effects — including brain damage, nerve disorders, and reproductive problems — that are far more worrisome.

For accurate information on known and suspected health hazards associated with cosmetic products and ingredients, including lipstick, see the cosmetics section of the FDA website (plus updates below).

Dec. 2005 Update - Statement From the American Cancer Society

Rumor: In May 2003, an email began making the rounds claiming that many of the most popular lipsticks on the market contain lead and will cause cancer. The email then offers a way to test lipsticks to see if they have lead.
Fact: A search of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration website finds that lead content of coloring agents used in lipstick is regulated by that agency, and that the levels permitted are not a health problem.

March 2006 Update - Statement From Cancer Research U.K.

The email appears to be one of the many hoax emails claiming that a variety of everyday products can cause cancer. We've had deodorant, shampoo, washing up liquid and now lipstick. None of these claims are true and just spread alarm unnecessarily.

Sep. 2006 Update - New Email Variant

A new version of this message circulating since September 2006 contains the additional claim that the material was authored by a Dr. Nahid Neman of the breast cancer unit of Mt. Sinai Hospital in Toronto. No such person exists.

2007 Update - Further Testing Confirms Presence of Lead

New test results published by a consumer advocacy group, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, confirmed the outcome of previous tests showing that some name-brand lipsticks sold in the United States do, in fact, contain trace amounts of lead.

One-third of the 33 products tested contained an amount of lead in excess of 0.1 ppm (parts per million), the group said, which is the U.S. Food & Drug Administration's upper limit for allowable lead in candy. The FDA has not set an overall limit for lead in cosmetics, though it does regulate how much lead is permitted in coloring agents used in their manufacture.

The consumer group is calling for reformulation of the lead-containing products and stricter oversight by the Food & Drug Administration. FDA spokesperson Stephanie Kwisnek responded in a statement to the Associated Press that the agency will examine the new test results and determine what action, "if any," may be needed to protect public health.

2010 Update - FDA Test Confirm Lead in Lipstick

Following up on test results published by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration conducted its own tests on the same brands of lipstick and concluded the following:​

FDA found lead in all of the lipsticks tested, ranging from 0.09 ppm to 3.06 ppm with an average value of 1.07 ppm. FDA concludes that the lead levels found are within the range that would be expected from lipsticks formulated with permitted color additives and other ingredients that had been prepared under good manufacturing practice conditions.
Is there a safety concern about the lead found by FDA in lipsticks?
No. FDA has assessed the potential for harm to consumers from use of lipstick containing lead at the levels found in its testing. Lipstick, as a product intended for topical use, is only ingested incidentally and in very small quantities. FDA does not consider the lead levels that it found in the lipsticks to be a safety concern.

2012 Update - Further FDA Testing Finds Lead in 400 Lipsticks

More laboratory tests commissioned by the FDA found traces of lead in at least 400 shades of name-brand lipstick. However, the federal agency continues to insist the levels aren't harmful. "We do not consider the lead levels we found in the lipsticks to be a safety concern," says the FDA website. "The lead levels we found are within the limits recommended by other public health authorities for lead in cosmetics." Consumer groups continue to challenge the FDA's position, arguing that even small amounts of lead are unacceptable.

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