EDF Health

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Lead in hair dye – one company considers it safe

Tom Neltner, J.D.Chemicals Policy Director

In October 2018, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the use of lead acetate in hair dyes in response to a March 2017 color additive petition from EDF and other health advocates. In December, we learned that Combe, Inc., the maker of the lead-acetate based hair dye Grecian Formula, objected to FDA’s decision, requested a formal evidentiary public hearing to review the decision, and claimed the use is safe. The objection puts the FDA’s decision on hold awaiting a process that may take years to resolve. Apparently, the company thinks it is safe for men to slather skin-soluble lead on their head every couple of days and to risk exposing their families to a heavy metal for which no safe level of exposure has been identified.

Combe’s action was somewhat surprising because the company told CBS News that it removed lead acetate from its Grecian Formula “quite a long time ago,” but was unable to provide an exact date. Presumably, someone in the know updated the product’s Wikipedia page, which says Grecian Formula does not contain lead acetate as of July 2018, although an earlier version of the page said April 2018.

Whatever the date it was reformulated, why would Combe block FDA’s decision when it has long sold a lead-free brand – Just For Men – and had already reportedly removed lead from Grecian Formula? From a market standpoint, objecting to FDA’s decision benefits Youthair, Combe’s main competitor, which continues to sell a leaded-version of progressive hair dye.

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