While the FDA hasn’t banned dyes in our food and personal care products (despite Europe and Canada having banned many) it doesn’t mean they’re safe to use on your body.
Here’s the thing: even if you think a product is “natural” but its visual appearance is a bright or eye-catching color, it likely contains an added dye. Products like mouthwash, toothpaste, lotion, body wash, soap, deodorant, makeup, hair dyes, shampoo, and conditioner (just to share a few!) can all contain some type or form of dye. They can also be found in a range of consumer products ranging from cough syrup and contact lenses to cereal and clothing.
A Brief History on Dyes & Color Additives
Color additives have long been used in human culture to aid in celebrations and signify class. Egyptian women applied a derivative from copper and lead galena called mesdemet, malachite (sourced from copper), and other naturally occurring colorants like paprika and henna to their faces dating as far back at 4000 BC. It’s been said that Queen Elizabeth I of England would even apply white lead powder to her face to give herself a fair, porcelain complexion which may have led to her death after years of the chemicals being absorbed through her skin.
Over time, the desire to expand the color options in personal care products lead to many dyes being produced from byproducts of coal processing known as coal-tar dyes. After people began getting sick from using cosmetic products containing these dyes, ingredients were assessed and it was then discovered that many synthetic dyes were made using a variety of harmful poisonous chemicals such as lead, arsenic, and mercury. In 1906, the Food and Drugs Act was passed which prohibited the use of poisonous or deleterious colors in confectionery and the coloring or staining of food to conceal damage or inferiority.
Why Are Dyes Added in the First Place?
Dyes are added to products for a number of reasons including a means to hide discoloration as products age, even out the natural coloring in a product, give a product a color that might make it more appealing, or to differentiate between scents in a product line (orange for citrus, green for mint, etc.) Many companies like to use dyes because they are cheap, long-lasting, and can give their products a more pleasant appearance. But in reality, dyes can be detrimental to your skin and health.
If you’re running to check what’s in your cabinets, here are some things to look for:
- Dyes will usually be listed near the end of a long ingredient list.
- Keep an eye out for terms like “colorant”, “pigment”, and “dye”.
- Some dyes will have the name of a color followed by a number. For example, Blue 1 Lake, Green 3, and FD&C Yellow 6.
- The words “lake” or “aluminum lake” mean that color has been added. For example, Blue 1 Lake.
- Any product with the words FD&C (Food, Drugs and Cosmetics or D&C (Drugs & Cosmetics) contains an added dye. FDA-certified color additives have special names consisting of these prefixes. Sometimes you'll see “CI” (Color Index) after FD&C or D&C. Certified FD&C colors have been approved for use in food, drugs, and cosmetics; D&C for drugs and cosmetics, but not in food.
Why are Dyes Harmful?
Most dyes are made with a combination of 20 or more chemicals in order to achieve a particular shade. These chemicals are synthetically created from chemically refined petroleum by-products, acetone, and coal tar. The safety of these dyes is highly controversial. Would you want to take a bath in that? Neither would we!
Despite being legal, many FD&C colors can still be damaging to the body. As they absorb into your skin, they can drain your body of oxygen. Our bodies need oxygen to fuel our cells. Without oxygen, we have less energy and our bodies don’t function properly. Dyes can also be absorbed through the oral cavity from cosmetics used around the mouth such as lipsticks and even toothpaste.
For many people, dyes can cause some type of negative reaction to your skin or body. This may appear in the form of sensitive skin, redness, itching, or eye irritation. This is especially true for dyes in cosmetics and personal care products.
Remember: products that you put on your skin — your body’s largest organ! — get absorbed into your cells with some amount reaching your bloodstream. Potentially harmful effects of dyes include neurotoxicity, cancer risk, skin irritation, rash, eczema, and hyper-pigmentation.
Understanding Dyes & Pigments
From dyes and pigments to mineral oxides and lakes, trying to spot these ingredients on labels can be confusing at best. To help bring some clarity to things, here’s a quick overview on how to understand these color additives.
- Carmine: Also known as “cochineal”, this dye produces a unique red, much brighter than any other dye or pigment. This pigment is made from grinding up the dried bodies of the cochineal insect. Despite this, you can still find this pigment in products that have labels such as “cruelty free” and “no animal preservatives”.
- Titanium Dioxide: Used to lighten products and give them a matte finish. Is considered “natural” but the side effects of this ingredient are not well known.
- Manganese: Gives a deep purple tone to products and should never be used in alkaline formulations like soap. This ingredient is not allowed in any lip products.
- Chromium Oxide: Gives products a green hue. Can also be labeled as chromia, chrome green, or chromium sesquioxide.
- Ultramarines: Gives the product a pink, blue or violet coloration. Not stable in acid formulations (like goat milk lotion), but is found in many soaps and body washes. Are derived from minerals.
- Lakes: Lakes often give off bright hues and are commonly used in cosmetics as they don’t bleed. A lake pigment is made when a dye reacts to an inert binder such as a metallic salt. Many lakes are made using FD&C colors and are available in “high dye” or “low dye” compositions. Aluminum salts are often a component and will be noted in the name.
Added Dyes Are Just Plain Unnecessary
The funny thing about dyes in personal care products is that they are put there purely for visual reasons. Many times the natural color of the product without the dye would be perfectly acceptable, but to make things look more interesting while we lather up, companies add a dose of dye. But what happens when you actually start to bubble up with those products? Surprise! It turns white anyways. The dye is usually only visible when in a liquid state in the bottle. Is that really worth the risk?
Quick Tips on Added Dyes:
- Keep an eye out for yellow #6, Red #40, and Green #3 as these are the most controversial and potentially harmful dyes used in the market today.
- Remember that FD&C or D&C = Dye.
- Even if a product claims to be “natural”, always double-check the ingredients list.
- Dyes can be harmful to your skin and your body. Go dye-free to avoid slathering on unwanted toxins.
At Bend Soap Company, the colors of our products are those that are naturally inherent in the raw materials that we use. We’ve chosen to avoid using dyes and pigments simply for the fact that they can be troublesome and unnecessary for those with skin sensitivities like psoriasis and eczema. It’s something that sets us apart from many other goat milk soap and natural skincare companies you’ll find today and is something we don’t ever plan on changing.
Sign up to receive regular Toss the Toxins emails with educational information and tips from your friends at Bend Soap Company.