FDA reinstates ban on lead added to hair dyes

Tom Neltner, Chemicals Policy Director

On October 7, FDA announced that it is reinstating its ban on lead acetate as the active ingredient in hair dyes that hide grey hair when used regularly. In 1980, the agency approved the chemical for hair dyes. In response to a color additive petition from the Environmental Defense Fund and others, in October 2018, the agency revoked its approval. Combe Inc, the maker of Grecian Formula, objected and forced the FDA to suspend its decision. With this new action, the FDA reinstates its decision effective January 6, 2022 and gives companies one year to reformulate lead acetate out of their products.

Grecian Formula reportedly stopped using lead acetate shortly before the FDA acted in 2018. From our searches, Youthair is the remaining brand that uses the chemical.

We applaud the FDA’s affirmation of its 2018 decision where it determined these products are not safe. The agency soundly rejects Combe’s arguments that low levels of lead are safe and concludes that “we have determined that there is no known level of exposure to lead that does not produce adverse effects” in adults. These adverse effects include heart and kidney damage.

People should not be spreading lead on their head! It gets through the skin where it can hurt their body in myriad of ways. While we applaud the decision, we don’t see anything in the record that explains why FDA took almost three years to reaffirm the obvious and allow consumers to unknowingly continue using the unsafe product. Therefore, it is even harder to understand why FDA chose to give Youthair another year – until January 2023 – to remove the product from the shelves.

The FDA has known for more than forty years that the lead in these hair dyes is absorbed through the scalp, especially when used every day to hide grey hair, but previously thought there was a safe level. Other federal agencies acknowledged a decade ago there is no known safe amount of exposure to lead in adults or children. The FDA’s action in 2018, reaffirmed today, brings it in line with the scientific consensus.

Beyond lead acetate hair dyes, the FDA needs to do more to drive down consumer’s exposures from all sources of lead in food and cosmetics by tightening limits on this heavy metal in common ingredients. To protect kids and adults, it needs to translate its recognition that there is no known safe level of lead exposure by updating its outdated standards for food additives, bottled water, metal cans, and brass faucets as we demanded in a petition last year. The agency’s Closer to Zero Action Plan for children’s foods is critical but not sufficient to protect adults.

This entry was posted in FDA. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.