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Recently, there have been fears about lead and other heavy metals in lipstick. And with that, come the statistics about how much lipstick a woman eats in a day, in a year, in a lifetime, etc. From a 2002 Glamour “Beauty Quick Tips” article claiming women consume about 4 pounds over a lifetime to this 2009 video from RAW Natural Beauty that asserts that women eat as much as 7 pounds, the numbers sound staggering. Imagine what 7 pounds of lipstick looks like!
There’s a crucial problem with all of these numbers, however: They don’t include their sources. Unfortunately, the Internet can industriously spread misinformation without anyone checking up on it, which means these numbers are repeated without reference to any primary sources. The more the issue of potentially harmful ingredients comes up in cosmetics, the more we take the idea that these numbers are true for granted.
So how much lipstick are you actually eating? The number is probably quite a bit lower than what you’ve heard.
How Much Lipstick Do Women Use Every Day?
How much lipstick a woman wears in a day varies quite a bit. A 2005 study done with 360 participants between 19- and 65-years-old who were regular lipstick wearers allowed researchers to measure their tubes at the beginning and end of a two-week period. They also recorded how many times a day they applied lipstick (Food and Chemical Toxicology).
The researchers found that the mean number of applications was 2.4, the median number of applications was 2.1, and 11% of the participants applied their lipstick 4 or more times in one day. The mean amount per application was 5 milligrams, but 12% women applied as much as 20 milligrams or more at every application. This all added up to being a mean lipstick use of 24 milligrams per day, and a maximum use of 80 milligrams per day. Another series of studies study done in Europe found that the mean daily use of lipstick was 24.6 milligrams (Proposition 65 Response, California).
How Much Lipstick is Consumed Daily? Annually?
Several scientific studies I’ve read, including one looking at lipstick consumption and lupus erythematosus and this one on red lipstick and barium exposure, mention a statistic from the European Scientific Commission on Consumer Safety stating that the average daily aggregate exposure is 0.06 grams per day, or 60 milligrams per day. This statistic isn’t just specific to consumption orally, however, as it would also include any amount absorbed through your skin or inhaled. And this number is based off of a formula, not from studies.
[Read More: What’s the Real Danger of Red Lipstick?]
But let’s do the math to see how much it averages out to in a lifetime if all that went into your stomach.
I wasn’t able to find consistent studies on the age women start wearing makeup, but a study done by the NPD group found that recently makeup use has been growing among girls aged 8-12 years old (New York Times). So, for the sake of calculating this, let’s look at a woman who started wearing lipstick every single day at age 10. And let’s assume she lives to the age that U.S. Social Security currently claims as the average life expectancy for a woman turning 65-years-old right now: 86-years-old.
So, 86-year life expectancy – 10 year-old age of beginning lipstick use = 76 years of daily lipstick wear.
Next, 0.06 grams per x 365 days per year = 21.9 grams per year of lipstick aggregate exposure (in this case, we’re assuming this is all ingested).
Then, 21.9 grams per year x 76 years of daily lipstick wear = 1664.4 grams or roughly 1.7 kilograms in a lifetime. For those familiar with pounds over kilograms, that amounts to about 3.7 pounds in a lifetime.
What would it Take to Get to 7 Pounds of Ingested Lipstick?
I wasn’t able to find any studies about how much lipstick a woman ingests over any period of time. Nor was the Attorney General of California’s response to the Proposition 65 Claims Concerning Lead in Lipstick. The section discussing lipstick consumption discusses the amount used by consumers, not the amount swallowed or unintentionally eaten. While it’s inevitable that some lipstick gets ingested, inhaled, etc., I wasn’t able to find any formal studies that explain how much.
How much lipstick would it take to get to the 7 pound number many sources claim?
First, 7 pounds is 3.18 kilograms or 3180 grams.
Next, 3180 in a lifetime of lipstick use / 76 years of lipstick wearing = 41.8 grams per year.
Then, 41.8 grams per year / 365 days per year = 0.11 grams per day or 110 milligrams.
That number isn’t how much lipstick you need to use to ingest 7 pounds, that’s how much you need to swallow to get to 7 pounds. In all likelihood, you’d have to use even more than 110 milligrams per day, since it’s highly unlikely that you ingest every milligram you apply.
Compared to the study above, where the heaviest lipstick used 80 milligrams per day, it’s clear that this doesn’t add up. Even if those women who used 80 milligrams every day swallowed every milligram of lipstick they applied, it would only equal 4.9 pounds in a lifetime. And if you took the mean of the U.S. study of 24 milligrams, and assumed women ingested all of it (which is pretty unlikely), it equals out to about 1.5 pounds in a lifetime.
We don’t know exactly how much lipstick a woman swallows in a lifetime. Because ingredients in cosmetics are a serious issue, it’s important to know how much lipstick gets into the body, but those numbers should come from scientific studies.
If we used the European Scientific Commission on Consumer Safety’s numbers for aggregate exposure as a number of milligrams ingested, despite the fact that it measure other means of exposure, it equals 3.7 pounds in a lifetime, which is lower than most estimates I’ve seen. And if we consider the study that looked at home much lipstick women simply apply in a day, most women apply far less than the daily aggregate exposure listed in the European Commission study. These calculations also assume that an average woman uses lipstick every single day between 10- and 86-years old.
So do women actually eat 7 pounds of lipstick in their lifetimes? No, almost certainly not.