If you’ve been following the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's recently released limitations on lead in consumer products, you probably already know that high levels of lead in your beauty products is not a good thing. When the FDA released those guidelines in January, it did not extend them to hair care products. According to a group of public health advocates, your at-home hair dye should have been included on that list.
Various advocacy groups, including the Environmental Working Group (EWG), Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), Breast Cancer Fund and the Center for Environmental Health (among others), petitioned the FDA to ban lead compounds from hair dye products. In a release by the EWG, assistant general counsel Tina Sigurdson said: “An FDA ban on lead acetate is long overdue. Lead acetate can expose people to lead, which has been linked to serious health problems like developmental, reproductive and organ system toxicity, as well as cancer. It’s unconscionable that this potent neurotoxin is still used in a handful of men’s hair dye formulas. Lead acetate already has been banned in Canada and the European Union. It’s time for the U.S. to take action.”
While the FDA has 180 days to make a final decision, you probably don’t need to pitch your hair color products in the meantime. Cosmetic chemist Kelly Dobos says that unless you’re using a very specific type of hair dye, there’s no need to panic. “Lead acetate is not used in typical semipermanent and permanent hair colors on the market. It is used in some progressive hair coloring products that build color gradually over time. The hair color formed by this method is unpredictable and drab, so it's use is fairly limited and rare. The only example on the market I can think of is the Grecian Formula.”
So what should you do in response to this news? “Consumers can easily check for this ingredient if they are concerned as it must be declared on the label,” adds Dobos. If you do find lead acetate listed on the ingredients list of your favorite box hair dye, Dobos assures that you should still consider it safe to use under current FDA guidelines. “In order for lead acetate to be used as a color additive, a petition was put to the FDA and safety studies performed. In those safety studies, the people using the product were monitored under controlled conditions for the amount of lead in their bloodstream. They showed no significant increase in lead levels, nor was it shown to be absorbed into the body during use.”