Poison in Your Purse: Fashion Accessories With Dangerous Amounts of Lead
Christine Chen | My Body
In the past, we’ve been told to beware of lead in house paint, but now health officials want you to pay attention to the chemicals used to make those low-cost fashion pieces you love so much. Nothing can pop an outfit quite like a glittery necklace or bright purse, but at what cost? Is the lead content really that dangerous?
Here’s what you need to know before you shop.
Some colorful accessories have an outer layer containing lead that leaves behind invisible particles on your skin. For the past three years, the Center for Environmental Health has been investigating accessories at retail stores, which agreed to the testing following a 2010 lawsuit. The dangers are real and only now coming to light.
Risks and Dangers
Even at low levels, doctors say lead exposure can be linked to a long list of health problems. According to the Centers for Disease Control, sometimes the symptoms are not obvious, but they can include headaches, insomnia and memory or concentration problems, and in serious cases, heart disease, kidney issues, and more. The National Institutes of Health says lead poisoning can build up over time. And because we touch our favorite fashion accessories over and over, the lead has a real chance to get into our food, our drink and ultimately our bodies.
What To Look Out For
The Center for Environmental Health found consistent contamination at some popular stores selling lower cost fashion to teens, including Wet Seal, Charlotte Russe and Forever 21, while Target, H&M, J.Crew and Guess were cleared. Fashion industry leaders say most of the suspected products are made in China. While all products cannot feasibly tested, the cheaper brands have tended to be the worst offenders.
How to Shop
Until all the facts come in, you’ll have to rely on a little common sense and intuition. Know that brighter, shinier accessories pose a higher risk, because it takes lead salts to produce vibrant reds, greens, yellows and oranges — all more likely to be contaminated than muted tones. It’s a bright idea to look for natural dyes that come from plants and minerals, such as vegetable dyes. Eco-fashion clothing and accessories will usually be clearly labeled, and the FDA has a system of determining which natural dyes are safe, too.
The good news is that since this testing began, officials have discovered a steady reduction in lead-contaminated fashion in retail stores. Retailers found in violation have been fined, and that money goes into a fund that pays for further testing.
But until more strict controls can be put in place, be wary of cheap brands and knockoffs. But you knew that anyway.