Lead is a natural metal found in the earth’s crust that is used, in small amounts, in crystal beading used in jewelry. The effects of lead in crystal beads ranges from benign to dangerous depending on the means of exposure and the age of person exposed. It is important to note that it is illegal in the United States for items to contain hazardous levels of lead and the Consumer Product Safety Commission does recall dangerous jewelry products.
Effects of Skin Contact
Handling and wearing crystal beads offers negligible effects from lead. The possibility of transferring lead through skin contact is not significant. Lead is a naturally occurring metal that is present in our air, water and soil. Much of the lead that can be found in the environment is largely a result of leaded gasoline use and the consequent pollution from vehicle exhaust. As a result, lead is present in the dust and dirt that contacts our skin daily to no effect. Similarly, the possibility of transferring lead through skin contact with crystal beads is not significant.
Effects of Ingestion
The most dangerous effect presented by crystal beads is reaped by ingesting them. Lead crystal beads are created from glass that is treated with lead oxides to create that magical sparkle that is often associated with shimmering crystal. Most crystal beads contain 30 to 32 percent lead content. While most adults do not run the risk of consuming crystal beads, children do. If any child or adult should suck on, lick or ingest crystal components, the lead content in the crystal bead would be absorbed into the soft tissues of the body. This lead will then be stored inside the bones and teeth. In dangerous quantities the presence of lead in bones can eventually lead to damage in the nervous system, brain, kidneys, and reproductive organs. For these reasons, crystal components should not be used in children's jewelry.
Effects on Children
Lead exposure from crystal beads affects adults and children differently. Children are more susceptible to lead exposure. While the benign effects of skin contact are the same regardless of age, the consequences of ingesting crystal beads are much different between adults and children. Adult bodies will process up to 99 percent of lead consumed as a waste product and will digest it out of the body within two weeks. Children’s bodies can only process 32 percent of consumed lead as waste. This means that smaller quantities of consumed crystal beads will more rapidly be stored in children’s bodies and more quickly lead to organ damage for children.
Tina Lane is a freelance writer and blogger in the Cincinnati and Dayton area. Her work has been published in the Eastsider Magazine, The Voice of the Miami Valley, and various online media. She blogs at FloridaGirlMeetstheMidwest.com, where she has been writing for two years. Tina is a Rollins College Alumni.