You may have heard some of the buzz that's been going on for some time regarding FDA approved dyes used in foods and cosmetics. I've done a LOT of research and while I've found conflicting information here and there, this is a summary of what seems to be the most credible information.
Let's start at the beginning:
Dyes are classified using FD&C, D&C, or external D&C. What do those letters really mean?
F = Food use
D = Drug use
C = Cosmetic use
So next time you see something like FD&C Blue No. 1 you'll know that, that blue dye has been approved by the FDA for use in food, drugs, and cosmetics. There are around 9 synthetic FD&C dyes and about 36 synthetic D&C dyes approved for cosmetics from what I can tell. Certain dyes approved for cosmetics are only approved for general cosmetics (soaps, lotions, etc.) while others are approved for eyes and lips, just eyes, just lips, etc.
So obviously not all dyes are approved as food dyes, but you may be surprised to learn that some dyes not approved for food use are still approved for lip products. Does that make sense? While there's a great deal of skepticism regarding whether or not women eat "pounds" of lipstick over the course of their life, there's no denying that some of your lipstick, lipgloss, lip balm, etc. ends up in your mouth and is ingested. These dyes are often referred to as artificial colors, synthetic dyes, or coal tar dyes.
Quick history of dye approval: We'll start with the 1960's since I don't want this post to go on forever. After the 1960's (dye awareness was growing by this point) the FDA required all color additives to be proven safe, however, from what I've read the FDA did not perform the testing at this time or collect the data themselves, they allowed manufacturers to do it--major conflict of interest!
How are dyes tested? I think it's very important to highlight that dyes are tested on animals. It's just a fact. Animals are used to test dyes to see how they'll react topically, internally, etc. That means sometimes it's not just applied on them, but injected into them, fed to them, etc. Horrible. If you are at all against animal testing you may not realize that while the actual product you're purchasing hasn't been tested on animals, the dyes used in that product may have been originally or recently. Think of all the poor innocent little mice, fluffy bunnies, puppies, monkeys, etc.
Fast-forward to now. Coal tar dyes (which are of course derived from coal tar or a derivative of coal tar) require that each batch produced is evaluated by the FDA and must receive certification. Only coal tar dyes and petroleum-based products are evaluated on a batch-by-batch basis. Dyes derived from plant, animal or mineral sources are regulated by the FDA, but not scrutinized by batch. From what I understand, the batch certification is given to the manufacturer of the dye. So if company X makes the dye the FDA analyzes a sample and gives company X certification for that specific batch if it passes. Then other companies (such as cosmetic companies) acquire the dye and as soon as they open it for use they must have it re-certified by the FDA themselves or they can't use it. This is for batch certified dyes only. The problem is, most small companies don't know this and may accidentally use these batch dyes without realizing it.
There are 2 basic types of dyes:
1. Straight colorants (dyes) - Dissolve in water and come in both powders and liquids
2. Lake - These specific dyes do not dissolve in water and are far more stable
Animal derived dyes: There are 2 that I know of.
1. Carmine which is often referred to as Natural Red #4 or Crimson Lake (very commonly used) is derived from parts of the female cochineal (insects) and often used to create true red.
2. Canthaxanthin which is derived from ocean crustaceans, though a synthetic version is also used. This I believe is used for golden orange hues.
One of the biggest general issues with coal tar dyes is that they often contain heavy metals. Heavy metals are not good for you and are considered hazardous for your brain, among other things. While the FDA regulates how much lead and arsenic an approved dye can possess, it doesn't mean that they don't contain any.
Here are a list of some common dyes and some of the health issues associated with them according to research done by some groups:
Red Dye #3 - Showed signs of a connection to thyroid tumors in rats in the 80's and the FDA suggested banning it. The government decided to overrule this decision so it is still used in some products.
FD&C Blue #1 - This has been found to be a skin and eye irritant by some organizations. The International Agency for Research on Cancer deemed in the late 90's that this dye caused cancer in rats.
FD&C Green #3 - This is believed to be a carcinogen and has been linked to tumors in rats in some studies
FD&C Yellow #5 - This is an extremely controversial dye that many have been trying to ban. There is currently a petition to ban with the FDA. This has been linked to severe allergic reactions (especially in asthmatics) as well as hyperactivity in children.
FD&C Yellow #6 - This has been banned in some country and is under voluntary ban in Britain. It has been linked to allergic reactions and hyperactivity in children.
Aluminum Lake Red #4 and #6 - Believed to cause several different adverse reactions.
That's just a few.
If they're so bad, why are they used? Coal tar dyes and other dyes are used because they're cheap, easy to acquire, and make it easy for cosmetic companies, food companies, etc. to create products that are appealing color-wise. It is easy to attain a nice red or blue using dyes for example, but much more challenging to do so naturally.
The Verdict: That's really for you to decide. If none of this bothers you or you simply can't imagine saying "no" to certain products because they contain dyes then that's completely your choice. If you're starting to rethink limiting dyes in the products you use, it's completely doable. There are so many companies that are refraining from using dyes in foods, cosmetics, skincare, etc. You probably already know that B.Koi Cosmetics is a dye-free company. I chose to go this route because I really feel that the risk just isn't worth the benefit of making it easier for me to create vividly colored cosmetics. I do a great deal of extra research to find ingredients to assist me in attaining vibrant hues without touching dyes. Does it take me longer to formulate? Absolutely. Is it worth it? 100% to me!
Regardless of what you choose, I think that it's only fair that individuals are able to determine what's best for them with as much knowledge of both sides as possible. Good luck and have a fabulous weekend ;)