You've all heard that certain types of crystal objects and beads are made of lead crystal, but have you ever stopped to think about whether or not the lead in those crystal beads are harmful?
The lead used in the making of lead crystal is indeed the same lead you read about poisoning children. Swarovski crystal beads contain about 32% lead or lead oxide which is used to maximize the way the light refracts through the crystal and gives them an almost diamond-like quality! This isn't unique to one company, either. Any lead crystal product actually contains lead to some degree, though there are European standards which dictate that there must be 30% or more lead contained within the crystal to be called lead crystal.
The lead in lead crystal beads is generally considered safe to touch and work with, but not safe for drinking or eating. This is why you don't find glasses made out of lead crystal, but you can buy jewelry beads made out of lead crystal. Most lead crystal companies claim that because the lead is not easily released from the crystal that is generally safe to handle. That being said, many people still advocate washing your hands after working or handling lead crystal for any amount of time just to be safe.
Many people believe the shimmering surface light on the sides of crystal beads are as result of lead being used, but that's not true. Many lead crystal bead makers actually use reflective special coatings to give the surfaces of their crystal beads different shimmers and colors. These coatings are not a result of lead in the crystals but are simply a paint used on the outside of the crystal beads.
Lead poisoning is a hot topic in some states and California has even passed a law recently limiting the use of lead in substances. California Proposition 65 sets requirements on the use of lead in products including jewelry of certain types. The law states that lead crystal beads are allowed for making adult jewelry but should be limited or completely avoided when making children's jewelry. Some other states are also considering passing similar legislation, so if you use lead crystal beads in your jewelry making you may want to keep informed about the local laws.
Lead crystal beads are fun to work with and make any piece of jewelry stand out and sparkle as though you plucked stars from the sky. With a little care and caution you can continue to work with these beautiful crystal beads and still remain safe.
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