Although lead was banned from paint and varnish for residential use in 1978, it’s still used in certain consumer products for children, food items, traditional medicines, cosmetics, hobby-related items, and other products.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) monitors and regulates levels of lead in food, food containers and utensils, dietary supplements, and cosmetics because of its potential to cause serious health effects. However, lead can be found in some consumer products made in other countries and then imported into the United States. Lead can also be found in collectible items no longer produced in the United States but passed down through the generations. Lead exposure can also depend on where you live because it can be found in some types of pollution.
If you think that your child has been exposed to a product containing lead, contact your child’s health care provider. They can help you decide whether a blood lead test is needed and recommend appropriate follow-up actions if your child has been exposed.
See the categories below for information about products that may contain lead.
Just playing with toys or wearing jewelry that contains lead isn’t harmful. Yet children—especially those under 6—often put things in their mouths, which is why these products can cause harm.
Most children exposed to lead don’t have symptoms. If you think your child is in danger of lead poisoning, call their doctor. They can help you determine if a blood test is needed, which is the best way to measure a child’s blood lead level.
- Toys—Lead softens plastic and makes it more flexible, which is why it is used in some children’s toys. Lead also may be found in the paint on toys—those made in the United States before 1978 and those still made in other countries and imported here.
- Jewelry—Metallic charms and other metal toy jewelry may contain lead.
- A searchable database of toys and other children’s products found to contain unsafe levels of lead from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission
- Fact sheets from the National Center for Healthy Housing:
- How children may be exposed to lead in consumer products information from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
- Product safety recall information from Safe Kids Worldwide
- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's lead page
Lead is sometimes found in certain foods, traditional medicines, and cosmetics imported from other countries. You cannot tell if these products contain lead by looking at or tasting them. An item may contain lead even if it is not listed as an ingredient on the label. Consuming even small amounts of lead can be harmful.
Common items found to contain lead include:
- Spices—It is illegal to add lead to food that will be sold in the United States, but lead has been found in some foods and spices. Spices bought or sent in from outside the United States are more likely to have high lead levels than similar products sold in the United States. To reduce the risk of lead exposure, buy your spices locally.
- Candies—Lead may be in candies because of ingredients such as chili powder or because of improper drying, storing, and grinding of the ingredients. Ink from plastic or paper candy wrappers may also contain lead that seeps into the imported candy.
- Kohl, kajal, and surma—These are traditional eye makeup items imported from Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Lead can get onto your hands when using these products and can then enter your body if you touch your mouth. Some lead can also get absorbed by the eyes when wearing these products.
- Sindoor—Sindoor is a red ceremonial powder that may contain lead. Sindoor is not meant to be used in food. Lead can enter your body if you touch your mouth after handling sindoor. Children are especially at risk because they often put their hands in their mouths.
- Medicines—Some Ayurvedic (an alternative form of medicine with Indian roots) medicines, herbal remedies, and dietary supplements may contain lead. Lead has been found in powders and tablets given for arthritis, infertility, upset stomach, menstrual cramps, colic, and other illnesses traditionally used by Indian, Middle Eastern, West Asian, and Hispanic cultures.
There are also concerns about the risk of lead exposure when eating venison from deer killed with lead bullets. For this reason, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) recommends using bullets that don't contain lead.
Venison and lead resources
- The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources' Statement on Lead Ammunition and Tackle
- The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources' Safely Eating Wild Game webpage
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Health Consultation: The Potential for Ingestion Exposure to Lead Fragments in Venison in Wisconsin (PDF)
- Venison and Lead (video) from DHS
Resources for food pantries, food processors, and their clients
Food pantries and their clients should know that lead bullet fragments could be found in donated venison.
Similarly, venison processors should use best practices to reduce the amount of lead that ends up in food.
Learn more in a letter to food pantry managers about the distribution of deer killed with lead bullets (PDF)
Lead can also be found in air, water, or soil pollution from facilities engaged in smelting or refining, as well as mines, airports, or other industrial sources. See the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Learn About Lead page for more .
- Lead in foods, cosmetics, and medicines from the CDC
- Spices as a potential source of lead exposure from the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice
- Lead in spices from Consumer Reports
- Candy test results from the California Department of Public Health
- Chocolate test results from As You Sow, a nonprofit organization
- Lead in sindoor powder from Reuters
- Lead in imported kohl or kajal makeup from the Food and Drug Administration
- Lead in supplements and remedies from the New York City Department of Health
- Fishing—Lead dust from fishing sinkers and lures can get into tackle boxes, which can cause exposure.
- Firearms—Activities like shot reloading, casting bullets, and firearm cleaning can cause exposure.
- Stained-glass window making—This process can cause exposure from fumes when the lead solder is heated to combine pieces of glass.