Can you kill yourself with lipstick?
The answer is yes. But I don’t recommend it.
The scaremongers are out in force at the moment following an FDA report that measured levels of lead in lipstick. The levels they found were extremely low, in the region of one part per million. And when I say low, I mean low. To put it in context that would mean that a 6 g sample of lipstick contained 0.000006 of a gram. This would be a microscopic speck way too small to see with the naked eye. It is a hundred times too small to be measured with the most precise balance in my lab. In fact weighing such small amount would require the most sophisticated of weighing technology including, obviously, a microscope to handle the sample.
How Dangerous is Lead?
Nonetheless, lead is a dangerous material so lets have a look at how we could use lipstick to do ourselves some serious harm. Unfortunately the health effects of lead are still not very clearly known. And there is a good reason for this. The problem with lead is that it closely resembles some of the metals your body normally uses for things like enyzme activities and making proteins. If lead get used instead it means that things don’t work quite how they are supposed to. It is very much like the old saying, putting a spanner in the works. A spanner left in your car’s engine is quite likely to mess something up, but you don’t know what. The harm from lead is much like this. What it might do is very variable and a bit hard to predict. Symptoms of lead poisoning are quite diverse.
This makes it very hard to assess how much is safe, and equally hard to assess how much is dangerous especially when you consider that we are all in contact with lead all the time. We obviously can and do cope with the small amounts of lead we encounter on a daily basis. Strawberries for example have been measured with 0.1ppm of lead. Nobody can say for sure at what level lead starts to be a problem. But for our project of using lead to kill ourselves, we need to use some kind of figure. The accepted indication of lead poisoning is a reading of 250 ppm or above of lead measured in the blood – though this is very much a rule of thumb rather than a hard and fast number. But at least it gives us a number that allows us to calculate how much lipstick you would need to ingest to definitely do some damage.
How Much Lipstick Will Kill You?
So the FDA have told us how much lead we have in our lipstick, and we have found the level we need to reach in the body. The only other number we need is body weight. I currently weigh about 80Kg. Obviously I am a rather portly middle aged scientist You might well weigh a bit less, but it shouldn’t make that big a difference. To get up to the danger limit I would have to ingest about 0.2 grams of lead. To reach that figure I would need to eat around 33,000 lipsticks weighing 6 grams each. I can probably buy that amount wholesale, so that will save a bit of money. Incidentally it doesn’t hugely matter which brand you use. The lead isn’t added to the lipstick, it gets in as impurities in the natural pigments. Natural pigments are going to be pretty variable so the lead level will go up and down a bit from batch to batch. To make sure we get a reasonable level of lead in our sample the best bet will be to buy lots of different makes so we get close to the average.
How Do You Get the Lead Out of the Lipstick?
But before we start tucking in, we have a further practical problem. Nearly all the lead in the lipsticks is going to be bound up in a mineral form. This is going to make it very hard for our bodies to absorb it. Luckily the chemists who work in this area have already published ways of extracting the lead to get it into a soluble form. You need to do this to measure it, and also to make it possible for you body to absorb it. To quote from a paper reporting lead levels in lipstick – “A weighed sample of 0.2 grams of lipstick is placed in a teflon vessel and reacted with 4ml of concentrated nitric acid. left at room temperature for four hours then placed in the oven at 85 degrees centigrade overnight. After digestion the sample was allowed to cool to room temperature. Furthermore after adding 1 mil of 30% hydrogen peroxide. The sample solutions were heated at 85 degrees for another hour. The clear supernatant was transferred to polypropylene tubes and diluted to 10 ml with deionised water.”
So as you can see in order to get at the lead the researchers had to use powerful acids, high temperatures and quite a lengthy preparation. So killing yourself with lipstick is going to take a bit more than simply eating a lot of lipstick. We are going to need vats of acid and a big oven as well. You can probably skip some of the steps if you just want to poison yourself. For instance the researchers used deionised water to avoid the lead found in tap water. We don’t need to do that. But we will need a strong acid and plenty of time.
So there it is – how to kill yourself with lipstick. As I say I don’t recommend it. If you have to, there is beautiful white chalk cliff called Beachy Head near where I was born which is a much quicker and more effect means of committing suicide. It’s also a nice day out. If you really want to get lead poisoning there are much much easier ways to do it. Eating lots of strawberries for instance, will be more enjoyable and less trouble. On the whole though, it is hard to disagree with the conclusion drawn by the FDA in their report on the lead levels they found. “We do not consider the lead levels we found in the lipsticks to be a safety concern.”
More on Lead in Lipstick
The original FDA Report on Lead in Lipstick
Rocz Panstw Zakl Hig. 1995;46(3):223-38. Content of lead, cadmium, mercury, zinc and copper in fruit from various regions of Poland Wojciechowska-Mazurek M, Zawadzka T, Kar?owski K, Starska K, Cwiek-Ludwicka K, Bruli?ska-Ostrowska E.
Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology 54 (2009) 105–113 Assessment of lead in cosmetic products Iman Al-Saleh, Sami Al-Enazi, Neptune Shinwari
Youtube Video Version
I have started a Youtube Channel which now has a massive two videos on it.