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Study suggests lead risk in hair dyes

February 4, 1997
Web posted at: 1:43 p.m. EST (1843 GMT)


WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Lead acetate in several popular hair dyes could be harmful to children and should be taken off open store shelves, according to a report in the Journal of the American Pharmaceutical Association.

Howard Mielke, a toxicologist at Xavier University in Louisiana and the report's author, said that a danger of contamination exists when an adult uses the hair dyes and then touches children or food.

"The user becomes a living purveyor of lead contamination," Mielke said.


Mielke's research showed that even when used as directed, lead from such dyes spread from the user's hands to whatever he touched. The study warned that children could be ingesting the lead by putting contaminated objects in their mouths.

"One recommendation is that pharmacists take hair colorings containing lead off store shelves and keep them behind the counter, so that they can talk to customers about how to reduce the chances of contaminating themselves, and especially their children, with poisonous lead," said the Journal's Michael Posey.

The Food and Drug Administration said that it considers lead acetate hair dyes safe when used as directed.

FDA cosmetics head John Bailey said Mielke's findings "are premature," but the agency will investigate the researcher's results.

Lead acetate hair dyes are the minority of hair colorings on the market, and are used in place of organic dyes because they work gradually. Organic dyes also cause rashes on some people, and some organic black dyes have been linked to a slight risk for rare cancers.

Grecian Formula

The makers of dyes like Grecian Formula -- which does use lead acetate and was part of the study -- point out their products have been in use for 36 years.

"I think that all of the existing data, including this new paper, indicates that the product can be and is being used safely, provided that the user follows the recommendations and instructions that accompany it on the label," said University of Colorado researcher Dr. Phillip Guzelian, who was hired by Grecian Formula to review safety studies.

Grecian Formula's manufacturer, Combe Inc., released a statement calling their products "absolutely safe," but Mielke's research suggests that the lead-acetate dyes contained four to 10 times more lead than is allowed in household paint.

"One drop of this ... would contain many more times the daily recommended level of lead for children or pregnant women," Posey said.

Mielke tested Grecian Formula, Lady Grecian Formula, Grecian Plus, Youthhair Creme and RD Hair Coloring and Groomer for his study. Other brands could also contain too much lead, he said.

The study measured the amount of lead on surfaces after use of the dyes. Mielke did not run blood tests on his subjects to determine if it was absorbed into the bloodstream.

Correspondent Andrew Holtz contributed to this report.  

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