Dangerous Dyes: Let’s Get Lead Out of Our Hair
Dads, you wouldn’t knowingly bring poison into your home, and you certainly wouldn’t expose your kids. But you may not realize that if you use at-home hair dyes like Grecian Formula, whenever your children play with your hair, they could be getting a harmful hit of lead.
Lead is highly toxic, especially to children, yet for more than 30 years, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has allowed companies to add a lead-based compound called lead acetate to hair dyes. In 1980, the FDA approved the use of lead acetate in products that restore gray hair to its previous hue. Many of these products are marketed specifically to men.
The lead in these hair dyes poses serious health risks, both to adult consumers and to their children. So Earthjustice, as part of a coalition of health and environmental advocates has petitioned the FDA to ban lead from all hair dyes.
How much lead is in these products? A study by one of the petitioners, Dr. Howard Mielke of Tulane University in New Orleans, showed that samples of hair dyes that listed lead acetate as an ingredient had lead levels between 2,300 and 6,000 parts per million (ppm). The FDA allows lead levels as high as 6,000 ppm in dyes. For perspective, the federal government has banned sales of paint for homes and children’s products with lead levels greater than 90 ppm. If a product brushed onto walls and toys cannot have more than 90 ppm of lead, why can a product applied directly to the scalp have more than 66 times that amount?
If a product brushed onto walls and toys cannot have more than 90 ppm of lead, why can a product applied directly to the scalp have more than 66 times that amount?
The lead in these dyes can contaminate homes and harm children—even before they ruffle dad’s hair. One product’s instructions tell adult users to pour the lead-based dye onto their hands and then disperse it throughout their hair. Users then comb and blow-dry their hair. They’re told to wash their hands. This process is repeated daily until the desired color is reached, and then weekly after that. Doing this with lead hair dye can contaminate everyday objects in the home, such as combs, sinks, counter tops and bars of soap—things young children are likely to touch too. And because children tend to put their hands in their mouths, they are likely to ingest some of this lead, at which point it enters their bloodstreams.
Lead in blood, even at the lowest levels scientists can measure, harms children. It hurts their brains and nervous systems. It reduces IQ, hinders academic achievement and can cause behavioral disorders such as ADHD. That’s why the Centers for Disease Control, the American Academy of Pediatrics and other groups tell parents to eliminate lead from homes before exposure can occur.
In some cases, removing lead can be an expensive undertaking for communities, as they work to replace vital infrastructure or lead plumbing fixtures. But when it comes to lead acetate in a consumer product like hair dye, it should be an easy call. The FDA should simply revoke its approval of lead acetate in dyes.
Until June 5th, the FDA is accepting comments from the public on whether or not the agency should ban lead acetate from hair dyes. We expect companies that profit from selling lead-based dyes will vigorously oppose the ban.
If you want to make your voice heard, you can submit a comment here telling the FDA to get the lead out of hair dyes.