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Ingredients Truths: Artificial Dyes – Green Light or Red Flag?

by kelly / February, 17 2016 01:30

Picture of colored crayonsLemuel Cantos

Life is better in color. Now I would say that's true for many things except when it comes to artificial dyes.

In this post, as part of our on-going Ingredient Truths series, we'll break down why brighter isn't always better.

What Are Artificial Dyes?

Dyes are one of a group of things that the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) considers a color additive. Specifically, the FDA defines a color additive as:

"...any dye, pigment, or other substance that can impart color to a food, drug, or cosmetic or to the human body."

Our concern is over a subset of dyes known as artificial/synthetic dyes or artificial colors. These are derived from petroleum and coal tar sources and are used to make products look appealing, vibrant and colorful.

The potential issue is that many food, medical, household and personal care products use artificial colors.

Does the FDA Regulate Artificial Dyes?

Yes, the FDA must approve all color additives of which artificial dyes are subset before they are permitted for use. Specifically:

"The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) provides that a substance that imparts color is a color additive and is subject to premarket approval requirements unless the substance is used solely for a purpose other than coloring."

Should I Be Concerned?

That depends on how you feel about history. Synthetic dyes were developed at the turn of the century and first regulated in 1906 by the Pure Food and Drugs Act (a.k.a. the "Wiley Act"). This act banned artificial color additives that were "injurious to health". By 1938 only 15 colors were legal for food and today only nine remain.

So the concern is that over the last hundred years artificial colors that were once thought of as safe were eventually deemed dangerous. For example, Orange No. 1 was banned in 1950 after many children became sick from eating an orange Halloween candy. In the 1970s Red No. 2 was banned due to its potential carcinogenic properties. Eventually Yellow No. 1, 2, 3 and 4 were prohibited. Today Yellow No. 5 is not permitted in many European countries. In the United States it's being investigated in food due to its potential correlation with hyperactivity, anxiety, migraines and cancer.

Artificial colors in food are also on the Environment Working Group's "Dirty Dozen" of food additives.

Most of the issues around these ingredients are in regards to food. There are limited studies on whether these dyes are harmful when applied on the skin.

Does Block Island Organics Use Artificial Dyes?

Even though there is little data on the effects of applying artificial dyes topically - at Block Island Organics we err on the side of safety. None of our products include synthetic dyes.

How Do I Look Out For Artificial Dyes?

I know I sound like a broken record but the number one way to avoid purchasing a product with an ingredient you don't want is to read the label.

In regards to finding out the exact names of artificial colors - you can find a full list of the ingredients on the FDA's "Summary of Color Additives for Use in the United States in Foods, Drugs, Cosmetics, and Medical Devices".

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