Toxic Lead Levels Present in Red Cosmetic Sindoor, warn scientists

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been giving a pass to something that turns out to be toxic to humans. It is the red cosmetic powder known as ‘sindoor’, commonly used in Hindu ceremonies.  Scientists recently found that this cosmetic powder can contain dangerous levels of lead.

In addition to triggering a variety of serious health conditions in adults, lead is a highly toxic poison associated with lower IQ, behavioral problems and growth delays in children who often are exposed to the substance hand to mouth.

“There is no safe level of lead.  That’s why we believe sindoor powder shouldn’t be sold or brought into the United States unless it is lead free.”

-Dr. Derek Shendell, associate professor of Environmental and Occupational Health, School of Public Health and co-author of the study


Red cosmetic powder used in Hindu ceremonies contains unsafe lead levels

Sindoor — a cosmetic powder sold in the United States and used during Hindu religious and cultural ceremonies — has unsafe levels of lead, according to a Rutgers University study.  Sindoor, a scarlet-colored powder that is used by women to place a bindi, or red dot, cosmetically on their foreheads. Married women also put it in their hair and it is used by men and children for religious purposes.

Rutgers researchers from the School of Public Health reported that 83 percent of the samples collected from the U.S. in New Jersey and 78 percent collected from India had at least 1.0 microgram of lead per gram of cosmetic powder. Meanwhile, 19 percent of the samples collected in New Jersey and 43 percent of the samples collected from India exceeded the 20 microgram of lead per gram of cosmetic powder limit imposed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The results indicated about one-third of the samples, which include 95 from South Asian stores in New Jersey and 23 from stores in Mumbai and New Delhi, India, contained lead levels above the limit set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Although other cosmetics such as kajal and tiro, eye products used in India and Nigeria, have been banned by the FDA because of elevated lead content, the FDA only issued a general warning about sindoor after testing by the Illinois Department of Health a decade ago discovered a high lead content in one brand…

The researchers are concerned about the amount of sindoor potentially entering the country on a weekly basis through the four international airports in the New York and New Jersey metropolitan area, including Philadelphia…

Researchers say the government should look at this as a public health issue and not rely on consumers to make the right choices. It is difficult, they say, to determine exactly which products contain lead based on the variety of sindoor available and because the number of products which contained lead in this study is high.


Journal Reference: Manthan P. Shah, Derek G. Shendell, Pamela Ohman Strickland, John D. Bogden, Francis W. Kemp, William Halperin. Lead Content of Sindoor, a Hindu Religious Powder and Cosmetic: New Jersey and India, 2014–2015. American Journal of Public Health, 2017; 107 (10): 1630 DOI: 10.2105/AJPH.2017.303931