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Lead: When a Synthetic Solution is Naturally Safer……

April 8, 2014

OK so I wrote about lead in lipstick and other things (including many a herbal extract) last week and got back a rather interesting and thought-provoking email from a good friend and industry contact of mine Ian Mclean from Concept Chemicals.

He pointed out that I could make a lead free lipstick if I opted to use his synthetic mica pigments as my colourant……

Now this was interesting.

Lead is ubiquitous in nature meaning that it can be found everywhere albeit in pretty small doses usually SOOOOOO taking that into consideration it would make sense that the only way to avoid lead would be to use a non-natural solution (solution as in solving a problem, not a chemical mixture even though you probably guessed that).

The lovely people at Impact Colours (available via Concept Chemicals here in Australia) have a range of synthetic mica to offer folks like me.  Rather than use natural mica which is famously mined in parts of India (I wrote about this too here) synthetic mica is manufactured in a factory and has the chemical name: Potassium Magnesium Aluminium Fluorosilicate.

Synthetic Mica

If that sounds scarier than you little old lead let me tell you a story.

While the above long and very chemical sounding mineral is produced in a lab it is inspired by nature (isn’t everything) and can indeed be found out in the big wide world.

This is what Flourophlogopite looks like in its natural form:


It is found hanging out around the volcanic areas of Italy and Sicily.

Synthetically it was developed for the electronics industry in the early 1900’s so is by no means a new and mutant mineral, indeed it has many benefits over its natural cousin including a higher heat stability, higher purity (which is where the lead comes in), greater reflectivity (higher shine) and better value proposition.  Sounds good.

So back to the lead in lipsticks thing.

Ian also passed on a bit more insight into the lead scandal that the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics like to bring up every now and then and that was when I had my second ‘aha’ moment.  When it comes to detecting lead in things like lipsticks you don’t just pop your lipstick into a machine and out comes a red flashing ‘you have 6 ppm of lead madam’  oh no.  My days in the analytical labs at University showed me that it takes a long time and much skill to prepare your sample.  They also taught me that the results achieved are highly dependent on the way the sample is prepared and the way the sample is prepared is crucial when working out if what you have in your sample is relevant or not.

The FDA use HCL (hydrochloric acid) to prepare the samples for lead analysis.  This is logical as if your lipstick was ingested where would it end up?  In the stomach of course and everyone knows that our stomach is home to a lovely bath of warm hydrochloric acid just ready to digest this beauty.

BUT apparently the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics thought better of using HCL and opted for  HF (hydrofluoric acid) which is 10-20 times more sensitive than HCL and found NOWHERE IN THE HUMAN BODY which begs the question WHY?

If you are sitting there thinking ‘well it’s just a method and if there is lead in there I want to know about it’ you might like to consider this:

Lead bound up in pigments that are not digested by the hydrochloric acid in our stomach pass through us unchanged.  The lead can’t get into our blood stream, can’t accumulate in our brains and / or liver and can’t make us sick.  The ONLY lead that is relevant here is the lead that could potentially under the right conditions pop out of its hiding hole and bite us on the bum.

So basically the CSC is overstating its results to make a point.

That said lead isn’t something we want to be popping around our mouthes, eyes or anywhere else so having a viable and sensible alternative such as these micas from Impact Colours may well be a solution.

I find all of this stuff terribly fascinating as one of the things that inspires and motivates me is the fact that every little thing we learn can be used to make the world a better, safer and more beautiful place and this is just another one of those situations.

Love it and thanks Ian. I’ll be in touch for some sparkles.

Amanda x



7 Comments leave one →
  1. April 9, 2014 2:38 am

    This is most definitely interesting. I am very curious about your statements about lead. I’ll have to do more research on how lead metabolizes in the body, particularly from pigments.

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      April 9, 2014 7:42 am

      I didn’t go into detail about how lead metabolises in the body really, only what happens when it is ingested as part of a mineral pigment. This is one of the most important considerations for lipsticks as they are applied around the lips.

      • April 9, 2014 8:43 am

        I was more so curious as to why the lead in pigment would just pass through the body and be excreted given lead most definitely gets metabolized and targets various soft tissues and organs as opposed to just ‘passing through’.

      • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
        April 9, 2014 10:07 am

        Because exposure from lead that say comes from leaded fuel (a major source of lead pollution up to the 1980’s) is just sitting on grass as tetraethyl lead and as such is readily available to interact with body tissues, same as the lead that was in water pipes. Lead in paint is similar to lead in lipstick in as much as it is bound up in pigment but the problem there was the chewing on toys (for children) meant that the overall lead exposure levels would be way higher than you would get in a lipstick so while most of the lead would pass through there is always the chance that some of it won’t, especially when exposure is high. What I am saying here is that in order to get the lead in cosmetic pigment measurable you need to digest the pigments in a seriously powerful acid as otherwise the lead is unavailable for detection – the exposure level (or risk) is tiny. Lead isn’t a great thing to have in any product but the exposure one would get from lipstick could well be less than the exposure one would get from eating veggies grown in sub-optimal soil (which many of us have, especially if we are over flight paths, in urban areas etc).

  2. April 9, 2014 10:55 am

    I see. Thanks for explaining!

  3. crantasticvoyageAlexys permalink
    May 4, 2015 11:56 am

    I wonder how I can tell a lipstick has synthetic mica versus natural mica by the ingredients list? Or would I have to contact the sellers?

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      May 4, 2015 1:14 pm

      You can’t tell by the name. The sellers may not know either as it isn’t a requirement that they know the origin of each material, more that each material meets the cosmetic safety requirements for heavy metals and contaminants. Naturally derived (mined) pigments are more likely to be contaminated than synthetics. As natural mica is becoming more and more expensive and hard to find it is more likely that a brand would list that on their labels if they had chosen to use natural mica and colourings as part of their brand philosophy as I can’t see any point otherwise. That said I guess you could ask and see what they say.

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