Lead poisoning from crystal?

Originally Published: October 2, 2009
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Dear Alice,

Many people are buying Swarovski crystal beads to make crafts. I understand that they have 32% lead. Is this a danger to our health? People are making jewelry and figurines with the crystal beads.

Dear Reader,

The presence of lead in jewelry has received a lot of media attention and may very well be the ugly side of an industry that connotes beauty. In 2004, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recalled 150 million pieces of metal toy jewelry sold mainly in vending machines because this jewelry contained lead. In large doses, lead may cause serious health problems, especially in children, who absorb lead more easily. As such, the Swarovski crystals may pose a health risk if children (or adults) put them in their mouths. However, simply wearing or handling the crystals would not result in high levels of lead in the body. For more information on lead poisoning, read Lead in stoneware and crystal — Harmful? in the Go Ask Alice! general health archives.

The CPSC recommends that parents search their children's toys for metal jewelry and throw these out. Here are some tips for reducing the risk of lead poisoning in children:

  • Test paint and dust from your home for lead.
  • Repair or limit children's access to peeling paint or chewable surfaces painted with lead-based paint.
  • Pregnant women and children should avoid living in housing built before 1978 that is undergoing renovation
  • Create barriers between living/play areas and lead sources — close and lock doors, cover chipping paint with contact paper, etc.
  • Regularly wash children's hands and toys.
  • Regularly mop floors (with water and a floor cleaner) and wipe window components (with a liquid window cleaner).
  • If lead paint is on the outside of a home, prevent children from playing in bare soil where paint may have chipped off; if possible, provide them with sandboxes. Plant grass in bare areas or cover with wood chips.
    Adapted from Lead: Prevention Tips by the Centers for Disease Control.

Additional sources of lead in the environment may be:

  • Some imported canned food.Some food manufacturers outside the U.S. still use lead solder for sealing food cans.
  • Traditional remedies and cosmetics.Some ayurvedic medications, traditional medicines from India and other South Asian countries, may contain lead. Litargirio — a peach-colored powder popularly used in the Dominican Republic as deodorant, foot fungicide, and treatment for burns and wounds — contains very high levels of lead. Kohl, a traditional cosmetic that is often used as eyeliner, may also have high levels of lead.
    Adapted from Lead poisoning by the Mayo Clinic.

If you would like more information about metal jewelry that poses a safety risk because of lead content, you can call the CPSC at 1-800-638-2772, or visit the CPSC website.

While wearing crystal jewelry is considered safe, if you are very concerned about lead in crystals and other products, it may be advisable to use lead-free alternatives when possible.

Alice