The U.S. Food and Drug Administration provides strict regulation over cosmetics manufactured and imported for sale in the United States to ensure they do not contain cancer causing agents. It regulates dyes to ensure consumer safety.
The rumor of lipstick dyes causing cancer dates to a 2003 email that continues to circulate. The email claims lipstick manufacturers use red earth as a dye and that it contains lead. However, while lead is poisonous, it is not a carcinogen. The FDA's routine testing of lipsticks does not show the reason for concern regarding lipstick. Consumers are likely to ingest more lead from food products than lipsticks.
The FDA regulations limit products in which manufacturers use certain dyes. A dye that has approval for topical use requires additional studies and approval before use in tattoo ink an artist injects into the skin. Products for use around the eyes have a different set of approval regulations.
To protect consumers, the FDA requires certification of each dye batch. While dye manufacturers often identify dyes by the European Colour Index or E number, the FDA prohibits cosmetic manufacturers from using any dyes without maintaining a record of the FDA certification number. The FDA also requires the use of the exact dye and not a generic form.