Cancer fears lead to ban of popular hair dye ingredient by Canada
Lead acetate, a key ingredient in popular men’s products
to disguise gray hair, has been banned in Canada because of suspicion
it is carcinogenic and a reproductive toxin. Companies that manufacture
the progressive hair dyes must reformulate
their products by the end of the year to remove the lead acetate.
Citing “possible links to carcinogenicity and reproductive
toxicity”, Health Canada prohibited the ongoing use of lead
acetate in progressive hair dyes.
In an article published earlier this year, the a national Canadian
newspaper first revealed the potentially harmful effects of lead
effects that came to light during an investigation into the personal-care
products industry. The European Union previously banned lead acetate
because cosmetics manufacturers there could not prove it was safe
for use, and the state of California has identified lead acetate
as a carcinogen.
Health Canada maintains a Cosmetic Ingredient Hotlist of restricted
and prohibited substances; lead acetate is the newest addition
to this list. The Hotlist is reviewed and updated several times
a year when new scientific data becomes available. The national
investigation earlier in the year revealed that unlike pharmaceutical
drugs, the majority of ingredients in toiletries
and cosmetics have not been rigorously tested as safe for humans.
According to a Washington-based Environmental Working Group,
only 11 percent of the more than 10,000 ingredients that appear
in personal-care products have been assessed by the government
for safety. The remaining 89 percent of unreviewed chemicals are
used in more than 99 percent of the products on the market today.
Studies linking common cosmetic ingredients to long-term health
problems are becoming more common. A disturbing number of studies
reveal links between these products and serious health problems
such as cancer and infertility. Perhaps of even greater concern
is the lack of information concerning the possible effects the
daily layering these products on top of one another.
The newspaper investigative report highlighted several other
problem ingredients, some of which have now joined Health Canada’s
Hotlist: phenol (used in lip-balms), coal tar (used in dandruff
shampoos), and several commonly-used ingredients believed to cause
allergies. Several activists have praised the newspaper for
its work on this issue, and for focusing Health Canada’s
attention on this important issue.
A scientist with California-based non-profit health and environmental
research institute Commonweal, David Baltz, urged Health Canada
to go further. Baltz characterized the global regulatory structure
for chemicals as “grossly inadequate”, and called
for comprehensive testing of chemical ingredients before they
are approved for use in cosmetics and toiletries. Determined to
improve public health, Baltz wants the burden of proof shifted
from the public (who must prove damage) to the manufacturer (who
must prove reasonable safety).
Citizen activist groups have long had concerns about progressive
and traditional hair dyes. The Environmental Working Group claims
that 7 of the 60 common ingredients in the average hair dye pose
cancer risks in humans, 3 are linked to breast cancer, and 21
are untested for their effects on humans. An analysis of 7,500
personal care products last year revealed that 71 hair dyes contain
ingredients derived from coal tar, a known carcinogen. Of the
117 hair dyes analyzed, 62 percent contain ingredients that are
probably or known carcinogens, 79 percent contained ingredients
with impurities linked to breast cancer, 73 percent contained
known allergens, and 96 percent contained penetration enhancers
that increase exposure to those harmful ingredients.
Manufacturers counter these claims by pointing out that the ingredients
have been used for many years in numerous costmetics products
with very few reports of side effects. Many of the ingredients
are used at concentrations much lower than those used in tests
have suggested the ingredients are carcinogenic. At high concentration
many chemcials, including some naturally produced chemicals in
food, are carcinogenic.