Certain hair dyes, including that old standby Grecian Formula, contain so much lead that consumers’ bathrooms, hair dryers, even their hands and newly tinted hair are contaminated, says a new study.
The study, to be published today in the Journal of the American Pharmaceutical Association, raises the possibility of danger to children. It urges pharmacists to advise that customers buy lead-free hair colorings, and to stop selling dyes that contain lead.
“The user becomes a living purveyor of lead contamination,” concluded study author Howard Mielke, a toxicologist at Xavier University of Louisiana.
The Food and Drug Administration said it would examine the data, but insisted that research to date shows lead-containing dyes, which make up a minority of the hair-coloring market, are safe if used properly.
Mielke’s recommendations to the 50,000 pharmacists who read the APhA journal “are premature,” said FDA cosmetics chief John Bailey.
At issue are so-called progressive hair dyes, the kind used repeatedly to build up to the desired color and then maintain it.
The FDA allows these dyes to be made with lead acetate because studies found it unlikely to be absorbed through users’ skin. But the FDA does require warning labels to keep the dyes away from children and to wash hands after using. (Because these dyes don’t stain skin, gloves aren’t recommended.)
“Our products are absolutely safe,” said a statement by Grecian Formula manufacturer Combe Inc. The company said European researchers studied 53 Grecian Formula users and didn’t detect any hand-to-mouth lead contamination.
Lead is mainly a threat to young children, who can suffer brain damage and other problems after ingesting even small amounts.
They get lead poisoning primarily by touching lead-tainted products, such as peeling paint, and putting their hands into their mouths.
Mielke tested five lead-containing hair dyes and found they had four to 10 times more lead than the government allows in household paint.
Then Mielke and his laboratory technician dyed their own hair with the lead-containing dyes.
After washing their hands, the two still had between 26 and 79 micrograms of lead on each hand. A microgram is a millionth of a gram.
Lead was on their hair dryers and their faucets. Far more was on their hair - running his hands through his hair after the dye dried gave Mielke 70 to 286 micrograms of lead on each hand, before washing.
Mielke didn’t do blood tests to see if this surface lead was absorbed, but he notes that the amount he measured on washed hands far exceeds the lead a child can safely ingest in a day - just 6 micrograms - and equals the safe maximum of 30 to 60 micrograms for adults.