Despite FDA Ban, Lead Lingers in Hair-Coloring Products

by Terry Bryant

On December 3, 2018, a ban on lead acetate in hair coloring products went into effect. Consumer Reports and several watchdog groups had filed a petition with the FDA earlier this year to put the ban in place. The FDA’s release about the ban reads in part:

“The FDA reviewed the information and data submitted by the petitioners, as well as other relevant information, and concluded that there is no longer a reasonable certainty of no harm from this use of lead acetate.  This conclusion is based on the recognition that there is no safe exposure level for lead….”

The statement goes on to say that the original granting of approval of lead acetate as an ingredient in coloring products was based on a 1980 study that included “deficiencies.”

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb explained in the release that “[i]n the nearly 40 years since lead acetate was initially approved as a color additive, our understanding of the hazards of lead exposure has evolved significantly. We now know that the approved use of lead acetate in adult hair dyes no longer meets our safety standard.”

Where Is Lead Acetate Found?

Lead acetate has mostly been used in progressive hair dyes for men. These hair-coloring products dye hair gradually over time, rather than in one use. These products included Youthhair and Grecian Formula. In its response to Consumer Reports before the ban went into effect, Grecian Formula’s manufacturer Combe said it no longer uses lead acetate in hair-coloring products.

Studies have linked the compound to serious health concerns that include memory issues, muscle pain, high blood pressure, and birth defects and developmental problems in children. While the United States has been slower to ban its use, it is banned throughout the European Union, and Canada banned its use in hair colors in 2008. The research from Canada’s health agency, which was included in the petition to the FDA, concluded that “relatively small incremental exposures, such as those which would occur with regular use of hair dyes containing lead acetate, could result in the accumulation of potentially harmful body burdens of lead.”

Old Hair Dye Still On Shelves

Although the FDA’s ban is now in effect, it doesn’t mean that hair dyes containing lead acetate have been swept from all store shelves. Old product may still be on the market, so consumers are wise to read hair-dye ingredient lists to ensure the products they are buying are free of this harmful ingredient. (The FDA reports that another color additive called bismuth citrate, which does not contain lead, is being used by some manufacturers as a replacement for lead acetate.) Consumer Reports researched different major retail chains and found hair dyes containing lead acetate still for sale on some shelves and online, including at Amazon, Rite Aid, Walgreens, and Walmart.

Other Things Containing Lead

Other products that may contain trace amounts of lead include lipsticks, lip glosses, lip liners, eye shadows, blushes, shampoos, and body lotions. The FDA has issued guidance to manufacturers as to lead maximums in these products, but these guidelines are only recommendations and are not required to be followed.

Lead exposure can also occur from lead paint in buildings and from drinking water when pipes have corroded. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that lead exposure is particularly harmful to children.

If you believe you or someone in your family has been exposed to lead, or have suffered another injury, contact the experienced personal injury attorneys at Terry Bryant Accident & Injury Law. We are available to help you get the compensation you deserve. Call us at 1 (800) 444-5000 or contact us through our site.