Posted by: nickgerlich | October 18, 2007

Lip Balm

The rumor mill is a powerful thing. People are wont to believe other people, because we give credit to humans more readily than we do advertisers. Add in the ability to machine gun the world through email, and you can see how fast rumors can spread and start to have an impact on our shopping.

First there are the legitimate new stories, like all the millions of toys made in China that have been recalled because of lead paint fears. As we discussed earlier this semester, about 80% of the toys sold in the US are made in China. So when a problem occurs, it will more than likely involve that nation. But when people start hearing these news stories with alarming frequency, a negative buzz takes off. The result? Some 75% of Americans now claim they will think twice before buying Chinese-made toys this Christmas.

Never mind that the chance of lead poisoning from these toys is very small. A kid would have to gnaw on the toy to ingest the paint.

LipsBut what if women were applying lead-based products directly to their lips? How much faster could that be ingested?

And suddenly you have a powerful rumor making the rounds. Although it has been around since 2003, Fox News has been reporting about the FDA being ready to investigate (once again) the claims that certain brands and shades of lipstick (particularly red ones) have lots of lead in them.

It was just yesterday that my wife told me about this. We were driving through the desert when she dropped the lipstick bomb. I was surprised, since I had missed that news soundbite. Imagine, I thought, how fast lead could be absorbed through the mouth. Hey, if it works for Enlyten, why not lipstick?

But something about this story kept nagging me, so back at the hotel I Googled it. And the first result was the story over at debunking it as an urban legend. While Fox reports the FDA is going to revisit the topic again, it also said, almost as an afterthought, that the FDA had studied this before and never fond any of it to be true.

But imagine if you just heard from your mother, spouse, etc., that some lipsticks contain lead. And furthermore, you have been inundated with news about tainted Chinese toys. What is your first reaction? Why, I bet they’re making lipstick in China, too! Empty your purses, ladies. We need to do a lipstick check.

And instantly you’re on the internet sending “helpful” messages to friends and family members advising them to not buy certain brands or shades. Such is the power of the modern rumor, the electronic urban legend. We believe because we believe other humans, even though our spam blocker does not check for credentials.

Sure, the FDA may one day find some lead in lipstick. Maybe someday the President of Procter & Gamble will come clean and admit that the firm really has been donating profits to the Church of Satan. And wouldn’t it be nice if you really could get $1 million for forwarding that email to everyone in the world?

Before any of us believe anyone’s claims, we owe it to ourselves and humanity to check it out first. It is unfair to companies when we alter our shopping behaviors because of unfounded rumors we did not check out.

In the meantime, I’m just glad men don’t use lipstick. You never know where you might get lead poisoning these days.

Dr “Heard It Through The Grapevine” Gerlich



  1. […] Here is another person who, like me, found the snopes article and isn’t quite buying into the lead in lipstick fear. […]

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