Allergen, Not An Allergen Skin

LEAD: Allergen or Not An Allergen?

Not An Allergen.


While a skin rash is one of the symptoms of heavy metal toxicity, and while lead is dangerous and should not be ingested in amounts higher than the concentrations naturally occurring in our water or air, lead is not a common contact allergen.

Lead paint was outlawed in 1978, which is why it is not a good idea to let children to play with vintage toys and pencils (not due to the pencil “lead,” which is made of graphite, but because the paint on the outside of old pencils may contain lead). This is especially important for young children who tend to put things in their mouth.

Lead can also be present in cosmetics — because it is naturally present in our environment — with a recent scare being lead in lipsticks. But as lead is present in our air, water, and soil, it is not the presence that is the concern as much as the concentration. The lead that we normally intake from air, water, and food is approximately 0.3mg, which is much higher than the 0.001-0.002% (10-20 parts per million or 10-20mcg) normally used in colored cosmetics (and certainly in VMV lipsticks). This amount is usually further reduced as colorants must go through additional dilution for use in cosmetics. The poisonous dose (acute lead poisoning) is a concentration of 60-80 mcg/dL in the blood, which occurs if there is an ingestion of large amounts of lead or a major inhalation of lead vapors. The US FDA restricts the types of colorants that can be used by cosmetics as well as their concentrations, to reduce the risk of lead ingestion. And studies in the US show that the majority of cosmetics there follow the rule of less than 10 ppm. There are reports from some countries, however, where levels are much higher (Brandon Er alj toxicology & environmental chem. 2012;94(1). But the bottom line: lead is not an allergen.

If you have a history of sensitive skin, don’t guess: random trial and error can cause more damage. Ask your dermatologist about a patch test.

For more:

On the prevalence of skin allergies, see Skin Allergies Are More Common Than Ever and One In Four Is Allergic to Common Skin Care And Cosmetic Ingredients.

To learn more about the VH-Rating System and hypoallergenicity, click here.


Regularly published reports on the most common allergens by the North American Contact Dermatitis Group and European Surveillance System on Contact Allergies (based on over 28,000 patch test results, combined), plus other studies. Remember, we are all individuals — just because an ingredient is not on the most common allergen lists does not mean you cannot be sensitive to it, or that it will not become an allergen. These references, being based on so many patch test results, are a good basis but it is always best to get a patch test yourself.

1. Warshaw, E.M., Maibach, H.I., Taylor, J.S., et al. North American contact dermatitis group patch test results: 2011-2012. Dermatitis. 2015; 26: 49-59

2. W Uter et al. The European Baseline Series in 10 European Countries, 2005/2006–Results of the European Surveillance System on Contact Allergies (ESSCA). Contact Dermatitis 61 (1), 31-38.7 2009

3. Wetter, DA et al. Results of patch testing to personal care product allergens in a standard series and a supplemental cosmetic series: An analysis of 945 patients from the Mayo Clinic Contact Dermatitis Group, 2000-2007. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2010 Nov;63(5):789-98.

4. Verallo-Rowell VM. The validated hypoallergenic cosmetics rating system: its 30-year evolution and effect on the prevalence of cosmetic reactions. Dermatitis 2011 Apr; 22(2):80-97

5. Ruby Pawankar et al. World Health Organization. White Book on Allergy 2011-2012 Executive Summary.

6. Misery L et al. Sensitive skin in the American population: prevalence, clinical data, and role of the dermatologist. Int J Dermatol. 2011 Aug;50(8):961-7.

7. Warshaw EM1, Maibach HI, Taylor JS, Sasseville D, DeKoven JG, Zirwas MJ, Fransway AF, Mathias CG, Zug KA, DeLeo VA, Fowler JF Jr, Marks JG, Pratt MD, Storrs FJ, Belsito DV. North American contact dermatitis group patch test results: 2011-2012.Dermatitis. 2015 Jan-Feb;26(1):49-59.

8. Warshaw, E et al. Allergic patch test reactions associated with cosmetics: Retrospective analysis of cross-sectional data from the North American Contact Dermatitis Group, 2001-2004. J AmAcadDermatol 2009;60:23-38. 

9. Foliaki S et al. Antibiotic use in infancy and symptoms of asthma, rhinoconjunctivitis, and eczema in children 6 and 7 years old: International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood Phase III. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2009 Nov;124(5):982-9.

10. Kei EF et al. Role of the gut microbiota in defining human health. Expert Rev Anti Infect Ther. 2010 Apr; 8(4): 435–454.

11. Thavagnanam S et al. A meta-analysis of the association between Caesarean section and childhood asthma. Clin Exp Allergy. 2008;38(4):629–633.

12. Marks JG, Belsito DV, DeLeo VA, et al. North American Contact Dermatitis Group patch-test results, 1998 to 2000. Am J Contact Dermat. 2003;14(2):59-62.

13. Warshaw EM, Belsito DV, Taylor JS, et al. North American Contact Dermatitis Group patch test results: 2009 to 2010. Dermatitis. 2013;24(2):50-99.

By Laura

Martini & NewYork(er) Fan; SmittenMom; Good Karma (occasional sass); Skinfatuated, Skintellectual, Skingenious CEO, VMV HYPOALLERGENICS Views mine: Instagram/LauraAtVMV

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