You may have received an Internet message from a friend that started something like this: "If there is a female you care anything about, share this with her… Recently a brand called "Red Earth" decreased their prices from $67 to $9.90. It contained lead. Lead is a chemical which causes cancer." The letter then goes on to list the ten brands that contain lead such as Chanel and Yves St. Laurent. It then describes a test you can do yourself to test for lead "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."
First and foremost, none of this is true. It is blatantly false and inane, but sincere enough to sound believable. To be absolutely clear, lead is never added to lipstick! And beyond that, it is ludicrous to suggest lead has anything to do with long-wearing lipsticks (it doesn't, no one is sneaking this into their formulas), or that gold in any form can detect lead. Lead-based house paint, a major source of health problems due to its lead content, can't be evaluated by scratching it with anything.
The one iota of truth in this offensive and devious Internet email is that a minute amount of lead may be present in some dyes used in cosmetics, but that can show up in myriad products from hair care to skin care. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) there are trace amounts of lead in certain FD &C (Food, Drug and Cosmetic) coloring agents. FDA separates color additives into two categories: (1) colors that the agency certifies (derived primarily from petroleum and known as coal-tar dyes) and (2) colors that are exempted from certification but approved for use (obtained largely from mineral, plant, or animal sources). Only approved substances may be used to color foods, drugs, cosmetics, and medical devices.
The FDA requires coal-tar dye manufacturers to submit test samples from each batch of color produced. These are then tested to confirm that each batch of the color is within established specifications. These certified colors are listed on labels as FD &C, D&C, or external D&C. It is illegal to use the uncertified versions of color additives that require certification in foods, drugs, cosmetics, and medical devices. To ensure consumer safety, only certain dyes can be used around the mouth and around the eyes.
In regard to the gold-ring test, www.urbanlegends.com explains that "…rubbing various metals across lipstick smears made on sheets of white paper produced dark brown marks… The streaks that supposedly herald the presence of lead in one's lipstick are in reality dark marks produced by the testing agents themselves. Gold, silver, copper, and pewter leave these trails no matter what they're rubbed against, in the same way that pencils make marks on whatever surfaces they are trailed along."
Urbanlegends.com went further to expose one other relentless lipstick myth. Have you heard this one—that the average woman who wears lipstick throughout her life will ingest between 4 and 6 pounds of lipstick? The improbability of this tall (and stomach-turning) tale leaves no room for doubt: it isn't possible. Think about it this way. The average tube of lipstick contains about 0.15 ounce of product, so if a woman were eating 5 pounds of the stuff that would be the equivalent of 530 whole entire tubes. As urbanlegends.com states, "The average woman isn't even likely to own  lipsticks during her lifetime, let alone use them right down to their nubs, with none of her lip rouge ever being kissed off, left on the edge of her coffee mug" or fork, spoon, or wiped off on a Kleenex.
One other point: lead does not cause cancer (though it is listed as a possible carcinogen from some sources). It does, however, cause brain and nerve damage, particularly in children (Sources: Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/tfacts13.html, and Cell Biology and Toxicology, 2002, volume 8, issue 5, pages 341–348).
An article in Consumer Reports (August 2003) suggests that scare-tactic emails repeatedly forwarded around the Internet are often a way for spammers to collect email addresses. Passing these lies around helps contribute to the nightmare known as spam. You can chalk this lipstick myth up to hundreds of others lurking around the Internet. When bizarre, unsubstantiated information like this comes your way, two of the best sources for finding out the truth are www.snopes.com and www.urbanlegends.com.
Source: Paula Begoun