Study suggests lead risk in hair dyes
February 4, 1997
Web posted at: 1:43 p.m. EST (1843 GMT)
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Lead acetate in several popular hair dyes
could be harmful to children and should be taken off open
store shelves, according to a report in the Journal of the
American Pharmaceutical Association.
Howard Mielke, a toxicologist at Xavier University in
Louisiana and the report's author, said that a danger of
contamination exists when an adult uses the hair dyes and
then touches children or food.
"The user becomes a living purveyor of lead contamination,"
Mielke's research showed that even when used as directed,
lead from such dyes spread from the user's hands to whatever
he touched. The study warned that children could be
ingesting the lead by putting contaminated objects in their
"One recommendation is that pharmacists take hair colorings
containing lead off store shelves and keep them behind the
counter, so that they can talk to customers about how to
reduce the chances of contaminating themselves, and
especially their children, with poisonous lead," said the
Journal's Michael Posey.
The Food and Drug Administration said that it considers lead
acetate hair dyes safe when used as directed.
FDA cosmetics head John Bailey said Mielke's findings "are
premature," but the agency will investigate the researcher's
Lead acetate hair dyes are the minority of hair colorings on
the market, and are used in place of organic dyes because
they work gradually. Organic dyes also cause rashes on some
people, and some organic black dyes have been linked to a
slight risk for rare cancers.
The makers of dyes like Grecian Formula -- which does use
lead acetate and was part of the study -- point out their
products have been in use for 36 years.
"I think that all of the existing data, including this new
paper, indicates that the product can be and is being used
safely, provided that the user follows the recommendations
and instructions that accompany it on the label," said
University of Colorado researcher Dr. Phillip Guzelian, who
was hired by Grecian Formula to review safety studies.
Grecian Formula's manufacturer, Combe Inc., released a
statement calling their products "absolutely safe," but
Mielke's research suggests that the lead-acetate dyes
contained four to 10 times more lead than is allowed in
"One drop of this ... would contain many more times the daily
recommended level of lead for children or pregnant women,"
Mielke tested Grecian Formula, Lady Grecian Formula, Grecian
Plus, Youthhair Creme and RD Hair Coloring and Groomer for
his study. Other brands could also contain too much lead, he
The study measured the amount of lead on surfaces after use
of the dyes. Mielke did not run blood tests on his subjects
to determine if it was absorbed into the bloodstream.
Correspondent Andrew Holtz contributed to this report.
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