The Lead Present in Your Hair Dye is Bad News: Here’s How

While you must love coloring your hair in wild different colors, to come out bold and set apart from the crowd or if you just use hair dyes to cover the gift of age to you, your white hair- have you ever considered going through the constituents of the product before using it?

You might have passed the 48-hour patch test, but you might not be aware of the lead acetate that’s used in those hair dyes as a color preservative. A lot of people fail to notice the little details that may lead to terminal consequences, we care about the external facade too much to even consider factual information related to our actions.

After all who doesn’t love looking young and getting rid of that old gray hair? Or who doesn’t love changing their hair color as the seasons change, right? Too cool! But what if a little façade for fun or what might seem to be necessary take a massive toll on your well-being and also your loved ones’?

Speaking of lead acetate – It is especially used in the hair dyes that are used to cover grey hair, particularly by men older men. The exposure to lead can cause severe health-related issues that might be unwelcome, especially if you have children. Consistent use of lead acetate is not only carcinogenic, but it also threatens the most vital organs of the human body–like the brain, as lead acetate has the ability to go to various organs all through the body having terminally adverse effects. It is also a recognized neurotoxin and is capable of causing enormous damage to nerve tissues.[1]

Although it was initially approved to use lead acetate as a color additive, about after four decades the FDA has finally researched through and acknowledged the perilous effects of the chemical. As of now, numerous consumer safety groups and advocates petitioned the FDA to act upon this situation and take necessary measures for the same.[2]

The petition and the new scientific data available prompted the FDA to make its decision and resulted in lead acetate getting banned from being used in hair products. Yet they aren’t still off the shelves in stores, as the ban is still so far to take effect. However, as per a recent report, lead acetate is presently banned in Europe and Canada. 

Why is the change being made?

Lead acetate crystalline chemical compound which is used as an additive in dyeing or textile printing, that helps the dye to fix or stain a material permanently or semi-permanently. The inorganic chemical was also used as a sweetener in primeval times. 

Lead acetate is not only dangerous for the person with the hair dye, but also for the people around that person. It can wreak havoc through traveling to other pivotal organs of the body and is also a known neurotoxin.

Lead, when used in excess can have actual side effects like nausea, skin irritation, cramps et cetera. The most treacherous ones of them are lead poisoning and cancer, which if overlooked may even result in death. Now, this should be an alert enough for all the men who are the most eminent users of hair dyes the most.[3]

As a matter of fact, lead is the component that is responsible for giving you a “long-lasting” hair color. And it may not surprise you when your neck and hands are stained after colouring your hair, “it happens all the times” you might say. The reason behind this stained is the concentration of lead acetate in the solution, which is easily and deeply absorbed through the skin and thus to the bloodstream.[4]

This may lead to skin cancer (leukemia or lymphoma), intoxicate the blood followed by other issues. It is also recognized severely carcinogenic when used consistently for long periods of time (as in the case of progressive hair dyes), open to maladies like brain cancer, kidney or lung cancer if inhaled or consumed. Ingestion may take place by the order of touching the dyed hair and then eating with it directly without considering basic hygiene.

Children were being affected.

If adults are frequent users of products with lead compounds, not only them but their children will also have to face the consequences. It may create a hindrance in the development of the child’s brain, which may lead to learning disabilities and they are at a higher risk of neurotoxicity as they are fragile beings. Not just the hair dye that the parent or family members uses, the lead compound is also found in many of the children’s toys.

It’s important to protect your children from regular contact, as it may make contact with them via touching, inhaling or ingesting. Close contact to lead acetate by children may also lead to acute nervous system damage. Hence, it’s your call to protect both yourself and your loved ones by making the right choice.[5]

How is the FDA’s role significant in this?

As the FDA looked into this exacting issue, it realized that the safety standards have now grown and that the use of lead in adult hair-coloring products, which was initially approved, no longer matches them. Thus, they have banned it successfully in Canada and Europe, the US still has a way to go. The use of lead in any sort of hair product or cosmetic is now unpardonable. However, the FDA has provided the companies with a timeline of 12 months to reformulate the hair dyes that include lead compounds in them. As per the FDA, some manufacturers have replaced the additive that consists of lead with the one that doesn’t by now.[6]

This decision was mainly prompted due to the petition that the FDA received by consumer safety groups and advocacies, and the FDA thus answered their prayers, followed by their own thorough research on it. This step taken by the FDA proves to be an imperative action towards consumer safety, in comparison to the old agencies that approved the usage of lead. FDA’s intervention in this will help in raising more awareness about this issue that might seem insignificant but can be fatal if failed to notice.[7]

There is a need for more awareness.

While a majority of people might still be uninformed about this fact, it is important to raise awareness and save lives. Since a lot of people aren’t aware of the consequences of such things, it is important that more people take the matter into their hands and spread the necessary wakefulness through self-education and updating other people with their knowledge. 


[1] Eberle CE, Sandler DP, Taylor KW, White AJ. 2019. Hair dye and chemical straightener use and breast cancer risk in a large U.S. population of black and white women. Int J Cancer; doi: 10.1002/ijc.32738 [Online 4 December 2019].

[2] https://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/cosmetic-products/lead-acetate-progressive-hair-dye-products

[3] NCI (National Cancer Institute). 2016. Hair Dyes and Cancer Risk. Available: www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/myths/hair-dyes-fact-sheet[accessed August 22, 2018]

[4] https://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/cosmetic-products/hair-dyes

[5] Quach T, Von Behren J, Goldberg D, Layefsky M, and Reynolds P. 2015. Adverse birth outcomes and maternal complications in licensed cosmetologists and manicurists in California. Int Arch Occup Environ Health 88(7):823-83

[6] https://www.niehs.nih.gov/news/newsroom/releases/2019/december4/index.cfm

[7] https://www.fda.gov/food/cfsan-constituent-updates/fda-repeal-color-additive-approval-use-lead-acetate-hair-dyes