When it comes to marketing, color sells.  Most kids wouldn't suck on a gray Popsicle, and a brown hotdog isn't near as appetizing as a red one, but making products colorful comes at a price.  Up to 25 synthetic chemicals go into the production of just one artificial dye.  While many people try to limit artificial colors when it comes to food, they fall short with skin care products like lotions, creams, and sunscreen.  Artificial dyes in personal care products absorb into the skin and enter the bloodstream, causing skin issues and other health problems.

Finding Artificial Dyes on Product Labels

Synthetic dyes are listed on product labels as FD&C or D&C colors, such as FD&C Red 6 or D&C Yellow 8.  FD&C colors are certified safe from the FDA for food, cosmetics, and pharmaceuticals.  D&C colors are certified safe for cosmetics and pharmaceuticals only, but if added to skin care products they have a very good chance of making it into the blood stream. Curiously, the FDA warns against the use of all artificial colors in cosmetic eye products, including creams, mascara, eye shadow, eye liners, and foundations.  It stands to reason that this warning should apply to the rest of the body as well.

Coal tar is one harmful ingredient that often goes into the mix when making artificial colors.  It contains heavy metal salts like arsenic and lead.  Deposits of these toxins on the surface of the skin can block pores and create skin issues like acne breakouts and rash.

Related: What are the Dangers of Food Dyes?

Research links specific artificial dyes to a variety of health problems:

  • After it was associated with the development of thyroid tumors, Red 3 was banned from cosmetic and pharmaceutical products
  • Blue 1 may affect neurons and cause allergic reactions like skin rash
  • Yellow 5 is linked to allergic reactions and hyperactivity in children
  • Researchers have found an association between Yellow 6 and tumors of the kidneys and adrenal glands

While manufacturers point to the small amounts of dye that go into skin care products as justification for adding them, researchers have yet to determine the risks of daily use over the long term.  In the meantime, people can avoid artificial dyes by reading product labels and purchasing organic sunscreen, lotions, and creams.