Myth Math: You Will NOT Eat Four Pounds of Lipstick. Four lbs of Pringles? Maybe.

by Liza Herz on 24 May 2011 · 91 comments

Mariah Carey is famous, in no particular order, for: being a diva, naming one of her twins Moroccan, and for having a “seven-octave” singing range. This nice bit of fiction is unquestioningly repeated by a credulous media with no one ever stopping to think, “Wow, seven octaves. Is that even possible?” Because of course, it isn’t. The truth is closer to three, which is still impressive.

The beauty equivalent of the seven-octave range is “women consume four pounds of lipstick in a lifetime, a line that gets hauled out anytime someone wants to remind you that makeup is full of toxins and BAD FOR YOU.

See the four pounds of lipstick fable here. And here. And here. And here’s a video that ups that number to seven pounds. *sigh* Even Oprah’s beloved Dr. Oz claims we go through seven pounds of lipgloss each decade.

But lipsticks are small and I am suspicious by nature. Plus, I learned multiplication and division in public school. So recently I flipped over a lipstick to check its weight and started to do some math.

Lipstick Math

  • A lipstick bullet (the actual lipstick part of the lipstick) weighs anywhere from 2.5 to 4.3 grams.  So let’s use an average weight of 3.4 grams.
  • 28.35 grams in an ounce means 8.34 lipsticks to an ounce.
  • 16 ounces in a pound means 133.44 lipsticks to a pound.
  • Four pounds of lipstick translates to 533.76 lipsticks.

So, if that “four pounds of lipstick” number were true, we’d be eating — not just wearing and not leaving smudged on coffee cups, napkins or wineglasses — 533 full lipsticks in our lifetime. In order to do that you’d have to wear lipstick daily from age 15 to age 70, and reapply enough times a day to go through one full tube per month. Who uses that much lipstick?

OK, maybe Lady GaGa or those nice men in Priscilla Queen of the Desert, but that’s it. Even the most lipstick-crazed among us gets bored. We all have half-used lipsticks abandoned at the bottom of our purse or languishing in plastic bins under the bathroom sink.

“Oh, and the Dr. Oz lip gloss number? Well, that math (at the end of this post) means you’d be going though one and a half entire tubes of gloss every week.”

So here’s the thing. I am interested in green beauty products.  I do want to know if what I use is harmful. I do want to know if there are dangerous trace materials in my cosmetics. But when I read that “four pounds of lipstick” line, I just shut right down and assume that everything else that person is saying is suspect or deliberately misleading. Or that their computer doesn’t come with a calculator. Or (most often) that they’re trying to sell me something — like their own makeup line.

Just because you’ve decided that you’re on the side of angels and that corporations are evil, doesn’t mean you get to make stuff up.

I love lipstick and lip gloss, but I really hate being treated like an idiot.

* * * * * * *

The Dr. Oz Lip Gloss Math:

  • 7 pounds into 10 years is .7 pounds per year
  • there are 317.51 grams in .7 pounds
  • a lip gloss or balm weighs roughly 4 grams
  • at 4 grams each, you need 79.37 lip glosses or balms to make up .7 pounds
  • so you’d be “consuming” nearly 80 entire lip glosses or balms in one year
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{ 52 comments… read them below or add one }

Susan 24 May 2011 at 7:05 am

my hate for dr. oz is endless as a result of his fear mongering. thank you for this!

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Liza 24 May 2011 at 5:40 pm

He does stir things up, doesn’t he? Why did I never realize this until now? Perhaps because i was too busy being frightened.

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Susan 29 May 2011 at 10:51 am

LOL probably! Every damn episode is about THE THING WE’RE ALL DOING EVERY DAY THAT IS GOING TO KILL US!!!!!!!!!!!!111ONE

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Jane 24 May 2011 at 7:49 am

This is right up there with the results of testing 49 cosmetic items last week that contained toxic stuff. OMG ALERT THE PRESSES WE TESTED .0000001% OF WHAT IS ON THE MARKET THE END IS NEAR

Fear mongering. Give me a break. Spanks for the solid common sense. Imma retweet/share this, mama.

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Janine 24 May 2011 at 8:18 am

Well, I can’t say I’m not concerned about that study, actually Jane. It is shocking that in just 49 “popular” cosmetics, 96 per cent of them contained lead. That’s a huge number out of a random little pool. I just wish they’d named all the tested products, not just the Benefit Pocket-Pal that was off the charts. Not being open with the product names contributes to that fear-mongering thing, so I’m with you there.

I’m now even more glad to know that I’ve probably eaten more Greek yogurt than I have lipstick. *grin*

Yay, Liza!!

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Liza 24 May 2011 at 5:45 pm

Thanks Ms. Jane. And I think you’ve captured the tone of last week’s ‘cosmetics are gonna kill ya’ story perfectly.

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YouLookHotToday 24 May 2011 at 8:15 am

Now I’m hungry. Anyone got a very berry lipstick I can have with my french toast?

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Cranky B. Pants 24 May 2011 at 9:01 am

Full points for showing your work Ms. Herz! Math is our friend.

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Liza 24 May 2011 at 5:47 pm

“Showing your work.” Hmmm. Does this mean that Cranky B. Pants is a public school MATH teacher? I knew you were cranky for a reason.

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Francois 24 May 2011 at 10:04 am

Janine; regulatory agencies around the world, including Health Canada, have acknowledged that naturally occurring trace elements of certain metals (namely lead) are unavoidable as they are, well, naturally occurring and found in plants, soil, animals, food, drinking water, and even air. Consequently, standards are set for trace amounts of these naturally occurring metals to ensure the safety of personal care products, as well as other consumer products, ingestible drugs, food and drinking water.

The report released last week found ONE SINGLE PRODUCT out of 49 that contained trace elements above the permissible guidelines set by Health Canada. ONE SINGLE PRODUCT out of 49.

Data is important. Context is essential. Data without context is irresponsible.

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Janine 24 May 2011 at 2:17 pm

Point taken. But I still don’t want lead in my lipstick, even if I’m not going to eat four pounds of it. That 96 percent of those 49 products registered lead content is still worriesome. A more thorough study would be welcome.

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Liza 24 May 2011 at 3:39 pm

Yes! Exactly! Context! That’s it in a nutshell: data without context is irresponsible. Thank you.

Question: But do trace elements actually build up in our systems to potentially hazardous levels or do our livers and kidneys process them? And and and

I have so many questions.

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Lesa 24 May 2011 at 10:22 am

All that being said, I still don’t want to ingest the shit.

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Janine 24 May 2011 at 2:09 pm

You don’t have to. This isn’t about eating lip products, it’s about what’s true and what isn’t. If people want to get a message across, best not to have listeners shut down because the messenger can’t do the math. It’s the equivalent of a press release littered with spelling errors or addressed to the wrong person. Delete.

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Left Brain 24 May 2011 at 5:44 pm

If you are concerned about the level of lead in lipstick then there is a simple solution, don’t use lipstick. There is a risk in using any cosmetic product and they are not necessary to live a healthy life.

Having trace levels of impurities like lead is unavoidable in cosmetic products that contain colorants (or even water for that matter). Lead is natural and not easily removed. If lead-avoidance is your primary concern there are NO cosmetics you can use. Stop using them.

But if you have a reasonable understanding of the risk of exposure then you probably wouldn’t have a problem with the miniscule lead levels in lipstick or any other personal care product.

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Janine 25 May 2011 at 7:56 am

See, now this is why I wish I’d enjoyed science and chemistry enough in high school to get me a science/chemistry degree in university. If those subjects had connected to beauty for me then, I’d be so much further ahead in my knowledge gathering. Plus I’d get to have extra letters after my name.

So does the body not absorb these trace elements? I have more questions, but feel it prudent to stick to just that one for now. *grin*

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Lesa 24 May 2011 at 2:38 pm

Totally, I get it, i hear what you’re saying, but incorrect math results don’t resonate with me anyway; i already know that I don’t want to eat certain products. But people like Jane above will shut down regardless of how the message is presented.

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Liza 24 May 2011 at 3:33 pm

I absolutely agree with you on that point. I don’t want to ingest harmful matter either. I just wish there existed an impartial source of scientific information that we could turn to.

Exaggeration is unnecessary and weakens an argument. We all have to play by the same rules. And when certain bodies release studies without explaining their findings in great detail, and instead use sweeping generalizations and more than a bit of obfuscation, it’s just poor scholarship. All of which makes the pedant in me crazy. Insane crazy.

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Lindsay 24 May 2011 at 2:40 pm

I’m so glad you can do math. Because I would have believed it all.

Silly Dr. Oz. Hmph.

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Liza 24 May 2011 at 3:34 pm

And I kinda love Dr. Oz. He addresses medical issues that concern women. So when they run with this kind of silliness, it makes me think his other advice and conclusions could be suspect.

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katherine 24 May 2011 at 2:41 pm

Hey, at least lipstick is calorie-free! Or is it?

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Janine 24 May 2011 at 2:48 pm

I don’t think we measure toxins in terms of calories — unless you count sugar as a toxin… I could make a case for that.

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Liza 24 May 2011 at 3:36 pm

And that’s a whole other potential post. Because the word ‘toxin’ has a scientific definition. But it gets used a lot to just mean ‘bad stuff’. Oh sigh.

I have to go back to school now for some graduate work in the sciences. I’ll see you in 4-6 years….

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Claire 30 May 2011 at 11:32 am

I have to be a dork right now and point out that the definition of a “toxin” refers to naturally occurring harmful substances such as snake venom or plant poisons. A “toxicant” is the meta category that includes man-made harmful chemicals. Heavy metals (such as lead) are both naturally occurring and also used as additives. “Healthy” heavy metals are beneficial in moderation, toxic in overdose (iron is an example), while certain “toxic” heavy metals are always bad for you (plutonium, lead, mercury).

Science lesson concluded :)

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Janine 30 May 2011 at 4:02 pm

I’ll at least continue to maintain that I’m “allergic” to sugar. It makes me fat.

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Liza 2 June 2011 at 9:23 am

Dear Claire: Thankyouthankyou for this bit of illumination. Dorks and geeks really are spiritual sisters.

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annette 24 May 2011 at 4:57 pm

Another way to look at this issue is the raising of consciousness.
This can eventually lead to incentives/pressure to remove those not so nice trace elements that occur naturally.
Technology probably already exists to do so, but if no one complains, or the complaints are not loud enough to draw attention and a call for action, why bother to do it?

Beauty products are BIG business. If there is no awareness by users of the things that can/should be removed, then we will all continue to buy and use product without thinking of what’s in it; perhaps also, not even wonder whether there is a better alternative, before we spend our money.

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Lesa 24 May 2011 at 6:52 pm

PREACH Annette.

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Issa 24 May 2011 at 8:52 pm

This is a nice post Janine! I love lipstick and glosses too!

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Janine 25 May 2011 at 2:45 am

I can’t take credit — this is the work of the fabulous Liza Herz :-)

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Issa 27 May 2011 at 3:47 am

oopppsss, sorry! i didn’t see that! Thanks to Liza! :)

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annette 25 May 2011 at 12:58 pm

A little while ago, on the evening tv news, a lady reporter listed a number of items like paint, gasoline etc that had lead removed, for some time now, and wondered out loud why it could not be removed from cosmetics.

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Dot & Lil 26 May 2011 at 8:57 pm

We are talking about different amounts here. Gas has lead removed, doesn’t mean there isn’t any left–I would assume there is though cosmetics are my area of expertise here! The reason it isn’t removed from cosmetics is because there isn’t any safety related reasons to do so–just as we all consume lead in our drinking water. No one adds lead to lipstick–it just IS there. Just as it’s all around you, everywhere.

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Dene Godfrey 2 April 2012 at 7:20 am

The difference here is that lead was deliberately added to fuel (lead tetraethyl – as an “anti-knocking” agent). Lead is NOT deliberately added to lipstick and, therefore, not so easy to take out. It really isn’t worth worrying about the lead in lipstick for two reasons:

1) You are exposed to several hundred times more lead in drinking water (and other water-based drinks – tea, coffee etc)

2) The lead in lipstick is bound into the pigment and it is extremely unlikely to be available to be absorbed by the body, and will be excreted with no adverse effects.

For more detail on this see: http://personalcaretruth.com/2012/02/lead-astray-by-the-campaign-for-scaring-consumers/

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Janine 2 April 2012 at 7:24 am

Exactly. Thanks so much Dene, for the clarification and the link!

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Dot & Lil 26 May 2011 at 9:08 pm

Thank you so, so much for this post. I basically spend my professional life learning about skincare and safety in cosmetics and teaching others. I fall into the category you listed though, HA! I do have my own line. But honestly, were I to decide to change businesses, I am now so passionate about peer-reviewed, truthful info in skincare that I can tell you that truth in skincare and an end to fear-mongering will be a lifelong mission for me. It is exceedingly rare to find a well-balanced view like the one you presented here. I commend you! There is so, so much scary misinformation out there on cosmetics. Just ALWAYS ask yourself–where are the sources? Sadly, they are rarely even listed, and when they are, they often don’t check out.

THANK YOU.

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Liza 27 May 2011 at 2:11 pm

Yes! An end to fear-mongering. That can be our rallyin, beauty-loving cry.

Thanks for the very kind words (and the kind post). And keep fighting the good (peer-reviewed and truthful) fight.

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Dot & Lil 26 May 2011 at 9:55 pm

I just blogged about this post here: http://dotandlil.blogspot.com/2011/05/eating-your-lipstick-some-common-sense.html

It’s sad how excited I am that someone has approached a cosmetics issue with truth, common sense and a desire for real data! Good comments here too.

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Liza 27 November 2012 at 8:25 am

Hi there. Just noticed that I didn’t thank you for your kind comments and great post. So, um, Thank You, very belatedly.
Liza

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Ali de Bold 28 May 2011 at 10:51 am

Well done, Janine! I’ve always wondered about this. I’m surprised no one else has done the math and that this is so often quoted to scare us all.

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Janine 28 May 2011 at 12:45 pm

Can’t take the credit, Ali — this is all Liza!

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Claire 30 May 2011 at 11:26 am

Oh Janine, I’m reading this on a Monday, and nothing makes my geeky heart beat faster than seeing you show your math. Love This Post – thanks for bringing some reason to this topic! I have also been suspicious of those claims for a long time but never made the effort to calculate the truth.

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Janine 30 May 2011 at 4:01 pm

Again, I can’t take the credit — this is Liza Herz’s math! She was venting on the subject one day; all I did was ask whether she might like to vent on Beautygeeks about it :-)

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Emma 11 July 2011 at 11:37 am

Damn, but what they use to color lipstick that contains lead? Is the lead present on the color or where?
I don’t really care if is a minuscule amount, it’s just another addition to all things around me containing lead and other toxic elements, whether they are naturally occurring or not, that can make me being sick in a few years.

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Janine 11 July 2011 at 2:39 pm

That is an excellent question, Emma. I bet it’s in the mineral pigments — lead is just part of our natural world. And for sure major manufacturers have made sure the levels are as low as possible.

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Sue Apito 1 April 2012 at 4:19 pm

“wondered out loud why it could not be removed from cosmetics”

Thanks for the math – I did basically the same research a few weeks ago with similar results! As a follow up to the question above – here is a recent article that covers the lead in lipstick issue itself better than any other article I have read: http://figandsage.blogspot.com/2012/03/soapbox-is-there-more-lead-in-my.html

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Janine 1 April 2012 at 6:47 pm

Thanks, Sue! It’s so great to see more and more people questioning some of the fear-based beauty “information” out there. We just spotted that story by Fig+Sage; it’s so well done. With more pieces like that, we’ll have fewer blithely-uttered myths cluttering up the industry to trip us up.

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Sandra 1 April 2012 at 4:36 pm

Thank you for writing this. I am so on that page. I am *totally* sold on healthier products and no one needs to convince me that natural (the real definition of it lol) is better than synthetic, because my own health has benefited from the changes I’ve made. I am though, exactly that person you talk about when you refer to how the made up claims and claims passed around with no proof and the huge exaggerations cause me to ‘shut down’ and not believe anything else that person says. I am guilty of dismissing whatever comes next, if I know the person is doing one of those things and so what I really want… are people advocating for natural products by using good, reliable information because I worry that when they don’t… they will cause others to ‘shut down’ and then that makes the job harder for those of us who do WANT natural products to be available, genuine, and affordable and are trying to educate others using credible information.

Good job. ;-)

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Liza 10 April 2012 at 3:14 pm

Thanks so much Sandra. I’m glad it’s not just me. A little less pointless exaggeration, a bit more truth and proper scholarship (math is cool, people!) and we could all make more educated decisions. So basically, I totally agree with you. Cheers,
Liza

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Sheila 7 May 2012 at 2:11 am

OK, am I missing something or is the math in this post also wrong? I agree the numbers are insane but a post about this fact should maybe be double checked? 7lbs lip gloss in 10 years is 0.7lb per year, not 1.43lb per year – looks like you’ve done math on 10lbs in 7 years. It basically doubles the amount, so actually what we’re talking about is 80 lip balms/glosses in a year – which is still way off base but hey, if we’re showing up the craziness lets be accurate?

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Liza 7 May 2012 at 9:07 am

Yes, you’re absolutely correct. Thank you for catching that. Nicely done.

And right there you have the reason why I don’t do my own taxes.

The craziness is now accurate. :)

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kyla 4 May 2013 at 4:56 pm

i use more than a tube a month LOL

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