With the recent news that some lipsticks contain lead, women are understandably concerned about the effects their choice of lip color could have on their health. After all, it isn’t worth shortening your lifespan to have rosier lips. It also raises the question – does using lipstick increase the risk of cancer of the lips?
What Causes Cancer of the Lips?
As with most cancers, no one knows exactly what causes lip cancer – but it’s more common in fair-skinned people and men. In fact, men, particularly older men, are two to three times more likely to get cancer of the lip than women. Like skin cancer, the risk of lip cancer goes up with greater sun exposure. Smoking and excessive use of alcohol is also associated with a higher risk of lip cancer. All of these factors have one thing in common. They cause mutations in cells, which can lead to a cancer if the body is unable to repair it.
Is Using Lipstick a Risk for Cancer of the Lips?
There’s very little evidence that using lipstick increases the risk of lip cancer. The fact that lip cancer is two to three times more common in men suggests that lipstick isn’t a strong risk factor for the disease. If anything, wearing a lipstick containing sunscreen may be protective since cancer of the lips is more common in people who get frequent sun exposure. Many dermatologists recommend that women wear lipstick containing sunscreen to protect their lips from the harmful effects of ultraviolet light.
Is Lipstick with Lead a Big Concern?
Despite the widespread warnings about lipsticks containing lead, it’s not clear whether the small amounts of lead in some lipsticks are a health threat. An independent testing lab sponsored by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics made the surprising discovery that over half of the 33 name-brand lipsticks they tested contained small amounts of lead. This should certainly change the way you look at cosmetics.
Why is lead a problem? Lead is unsafe for children since it affects a child’s brain and nervous system. It’s also harmful for a developing fetus to be exposed to lead. For this reason, pregnant women should avoid using lipstick during pregnancy or while breastfeeding. Lead is also toxic in non-pregnant adults at high levels and can cause a variety of symptoms and affect numerous organ systems including the brain, blood, kidneys, and gastrointestinal tract.
Using Lipstick and Cancer of the Lips: The Bottom Line
There’s no evidence that using lipstick increases the risk of lip cancer. It’s more likely that lipsticks containing sunscreen are at least somewhat protective. On the other hand, lipsticks with lead are still a concern, so it’s best to wear them less often. Save them for a special occasion or buy a lead-free lipstick online.
The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. “Lead in Lipsticks”
Medscape.com website. “Lip Cancer: Incidence, Trends, Histology”