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Get The Lead Out: Lawmaker Takes Aim At Toxins Found In Popular Cosmetics

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- In the 18th century it wasn't uncommon for women and men to become ill with lead poisoning.

The source? Toxic makeup.

Now, more than 200 years later, lab tests show some of the makeup we buy may still be dangerous.

Makeup artist Shari Kanell told CBS2's Jessica Moore that she wonders what's actually in all the different cosmetics on the market today.

"There's so many companies out there that are making cosmetics, it's overwhelming sometimes," she said.

It's not just confusing for the consumer.

"We asked the FDA to do a little analysis and they basically said that less than one percent of imported cosmetic product is actually inspected," Congressman Frank Pallone said.

Pallone said there are just six full-time FDA inspectors to monitor 3-million cosmetic shipments from nearly 30,000 foreign companies that come into the country every year. The lack of oversight has allowed potentially dangerous products to make their way onto store shelves.

"We know that young people are particularly susceptible to some of these toxic elements," he said.

CBS2 randomly bought makeup from three discount retailers popular with teens and sent it to an independent lab for testing. Each product was found to contain to both lead and arsenic.

"Those ingredients can be absorbed by the body, into the blood stream, and in some cases can accumulate in the body," Melanie Bennish said.

Bennish is an attorney with the Environmental Working Group. The non-profit organization publishes a cosmetic database exposing potential health hazards for more than 70,000 products.

"We have been looking for a long time at the regulatory system related to cosmetics and it really is the wild, wild west," she said.

Bennish said while there's a lot of regulation on the books for food and drugs, there's very little in the way of cosmetics.

"That is what the cosmetic industry lobbied for in 1938," she explained.

With cosmetic imports doubling over the last decade, Pallone said everyone agrees it's time for change.

"We're working with the industry on this user fee bill," he said.

He's introduced legislation that will require cosmetic manufacturers to pay a fee to register with the FDA. Those fees will in turn be used to better regulate the products.

Until then there are ways to protect yourself. You can see where your favorite products rank on the Environmental Working Group's database, and experts recommend you only buy products from well-known companies.

"I tend to go with the higher quality brand names," Kanell said.

The FDA said most of the problems are with imported cosmetics, but a spokesperson told CBS2 there's little they can do about it unless the law is changed.


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