Can I really test my makeup for heavy metals with aluminum foil?

You might’ve seen this “test” floating around the internet—smear your makeup on some aluminum foil, wipe with paper towel or tissue, and if there’s any black on the tissue, your makeup contains heavy metals. Comment sections on videos like this are full of people declaring they’ve just thrown out their entire collection of lipstick, and that’s really sad, because this “test” has no basis in reality.

Aluminum is a very reactive metal; I’m sure you’ve had aluminum foil turn black after being in contact with leftover food, but that doesn’t mean your lasagne is made of lead. We can probably say that something in the makeup is reacting with the aluminum foil, but to declare it to be heavy metals is a massive (and totally unfounded) assumption.

The pigments used in cosmetics must be cosmetic grade, and they are very carefully regulated. You can review the FDA requirements and regulations here. For cosmetic grade iron oxides, they are as follows:

  • Arsenic (as As), not more than 3 parts per million.
  • Lead (as Pb), not more than 10 parts per million.
  • Mercury (as Hg), not more than 3 parts per million.

For comparison, food grade iron oxides must meet the following standard:

  • Arsenic (as As), not more than 3 parts per million (ppm).
  • Lead (as Pb), not more than 5 ppm.
  • Mercury (as Hg), not more than 1 ppm.

Remember, these are maximum allowed values. Many suppliers will provide a Certificate of Analysis for their oxides showing what their specific product has tested at. You can review this one for brown iron oxide from TKB Trading and see that As = ≤2 ppm (less than or equal to 2 ppm), Pb = ≤5 ppm, and Hg = ≤1 ppm. All fall below the maximum allowable value and meet or exceed food grade requirements.

So, yes, there is likely a minuscule amount of heavy metals in your makeup (and food), but we’re talking parts per million—this is incredibly low. Even if the heavy metals in your lipstick did react with aluminum foil, you would not be able to see it with the naked eye.

Hopefully that helps put your mind at ease!

Posted in: Safety