The neurotoxin lead acetate has been banned from hair products.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has banned the use of lead acetate in hair dye products entirely. Lead acetate is an active ingredient that darkens gray hair when used frequently, and it can increase the level of lead in the body, leading to toxicity. It is commonly found in consumer products, unfortunately, and often, in higher amounts than what is allowed. It is extremely difficult for consumers to test the level of lead present in a product, and many don’t even know it’s there.
“In 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,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD, said. “We now know that the approved use of lead acetate in adult hair dyes no longer meets our safety standard.”
Lead exposure can have serious health consequences, especially for children. It is a strong neurotoxin that can damage a developing child or adolescent’s cognitive functioning. It can also be harmful to adults, causing high blood pressure, kidney damage, infertility, and cancer, among other problems. Lead has long been banned in paint after it had been used in homes for years. Unfortunately, it is still found in many children’s toys.
Jennifer Lowry, MD, a toxicologist and pediatrician with Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, MO, investigates cases of lead poisoning in children. “When you find a child that already has an elevated blood lead, you’re already behind the eight ball,” she said. “The most rapid brain growth is from 0 to 3 years of age. It’s going to affect how the brain basically gets set.”
Melanie Benesh, a legislative attorney at the Environmental Working Group (EWG), said the ban has been a long-time coming. “A ban on lead acetate in off-the-shelf hair dyes is long overdue,” she said. “There is no safe level of lead exposure, which has been linked to developmental issues, reduced fertility, organ system toxicity, cancer and other serious health problems. We’re grateful for the FDA’s effort to protect public health from this source of exposure to one of the most hazardous chemicals known.”
Scott Faber, EWG’s senior vice president for government affairs, added, “Although the decision is good news, it also shows the federal system for regulating cosmetics safety needs reform. The federal law designed to ensure that personal care products are safe has remained largely unchanged since 1938. It’s good news the FDA has finally banned something as dangerous as lead from a product you put on your scalp. But it’s long past time for Congress to give the FDA the power and mandate to act quickly to protect us from dangers like lead acetate.”
In addition to the lead ban in hair dye products, Faber would like to see the agency grant the EWG’s petition to ban formaldehyde in straightening products. A legislative measure that has been introduced by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) would require companies to ensure products are safe before they hit the market, in general, including being free of all harmful toxins. Collins has introduced legislation to ban the PFAS from cosmetics as well.