Science! // Let’s Talk Abut… Lead in Cosmetics, Part 2

This is part 2 of my 3-part series about lead in cosmetics. Part 1 was about what lead is, so we can better understand it. Part 2 asks what I believe is one of the biggest questions: why is it so darn bad? So let’s start!

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What happens when we ingest lead?

Lead isn’t something we avoid entirely, because it does have uses, but it is not meant to get into our body’s systems. Lead often enters the human body either by ingestion (eating it in something, such as a kid eating paint chips), inhalation (through air particles), or even absorption (through handling lead). What happens then, once it’s inside our body?

Our bodies contain a lot of necessary metals, such as iron and calcium. Iron is necessary for us to transport oxygen throughout our bodies. Calcium is not just for your bones; it actually is necessary for nerve impulses. Some metals impact how proteins fold. The point is they are necessary. Most of these functions are in part caused by the metal’s specific reactivity- but what happens when you introduce another metal into the mix, a metal that we do not need?

Lead causes damage in the body because it displaces the good metals. Because it’s fundamentally different from the good metals, this makes the proteins less effective or otherwise interferes with function. We aren’t sure of everything that lead binds to, but here are some of what we do know now:

  • Lead binds to proteins that regulate blood pressure. This means it can cause developmental delays in children and possibly high blood pressure in adults.
  • Lead binds to proteins that may be involved in heme production. Essentially, it can lead to anemia.
  • Lead may interfere with sperm production. Usually not something women have to consider, but still important for males to be aware of.
  • Lead displaces calcium in nerve impulses (transmittance). Which means lead can cause cognitive impairments / can impact your ability to think clearly or rationally. It also impacts neurological development, not just in the brain but in our peripheral (limb) nerves as well.
  • Lead is known to cause kidney injury or even failure. Pretty straight-forward there
  • Worst of all: lead accumulates in the body, so all these things can get worse over time. Unlike other toxins like alcohol, our body does not filter lead effectively, so the amount of lead you ingest stays in your system. This means that as you have more and more exposure to lead, the problems get worse and worse.

So yes, lead is bad. Lead can damage our nervous system, reproductive system, cardiovascular system, and even excretory system.  It’s dangerous stuff- and it’s unnecessary.

In Part 3 (the final part), I’ll talk about lead regulation and give my best answer to the question: Should we be worried about lead in cosmetics?

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