I’ve heard some hair dyes, the kind that slowly gray, contain lead. Should I be worried?
Progressive hair dyes pose a potential health threat, says Howard Mielke, PhD, associate professor of environmental toxicology at Xavier University of Louisiana College of Pharmacy in New Orleans. Unlike most dyes (permanent, semipermanent, and temporary), progressives usually contain lead acetate. They darken gray hairs by forming a lead salt that binds with hair proteins. According to a study headed by Dr. Mielke, these dyes contain 2,300 to 6,000 micrograms (mcg) of lead per gram. That’s up to 10 times the limit allowed in house paint (a lead source that remains a major hazard) (Journal of the American Pharmaceutical Association, Jan/Feb 1997).
Dr. Mielke’s research team found that 26 to nearly 80 mcg of lead remained on each hand after using the product, even after washing with soap and water. In fact, lead was found on everything subsequently touched–combs, hairdryers, and even phones.
While washing your hands or wearing gloves may help, it doesn’t eliminate all risk. “The dye is clear and does not stain, so you can’t know where it has dripped,” says Dr. Mielke. That means you could contaminate clean hands and, if you touch your mouth, ingest the dye unknowingly. Even passing a hand through dry, dyed hair picked up 286 mcg of lead. And some studies say that children 6 years old and younger can ingest only 6 mcg of lead per day, safely; adults, 30 to 60 mcg.
Herbert Needleman, MD, lead-poisoning expert and professor of pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, adds, “The more we study lead, the more we find harmful effects at lower doses than previously suspected.”
The FDA, currently reviewing this, maintains that lead acetate-containing hair dye products can be used safely by carefully following label directions. Still, Dr. Mielke has stopped such tests on humans. “If it’s too hazardous for my lab, I say it’s too hazardous for your bathroom.”
Check the label–and relax: If lead Acetate is not listed, then your Hair dye is okay.