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Lead acetate is a white crystalline substance that is sometimes used in the formulation of hair coloring products.
In low concentrations, lead acetate is used as a color additive in "progressive" hair dye products. These products are applied over a period of time to achieve a gradual coloring effect. The exact color obtained will depend on the other ingredients that are used in the preparation and the starting color of the hair. Lead acetate coloring works very gradually so that a color change may not be apparent for several days. After the desired effect is achieved, additional maintenance applications are made to keep the hair colored.
Lead acetate combines with the protein in the hair, and the combination of these substances is a dark, almost black color. The color is very stable and will not diminish quickly, so that maintenance applications are only necessary about once a week. However, the color that is formed will gradually fade as the color combination is washed out or wears off.
Lead acetate is an inorganic salt of lead. Lead is a naturally occurring bluish-gray metal found in small amounts in air, soil and water.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) lists lead acetate as a color additive exempt from certification and it may be safely used in cosmetics intended for coloring hair on the scalp only, subject to the certain restrictions including concentration, usage conditions and labeling requirements. It has been used in the United States as a color additive in progressive hair dyes for over 40 years.
FDA fact sheet on lead acetate use in hair dye products
All color additives used in foods, drugs, medical devices and cosmetics in the United States must be approved before use by FDA. FDA approves colors after extensive review of the safety data and publishes its basis for approval in the Federal Register. In some cases, FDA also requires that each batch of color produced be certified by the agency to meet strict quality specifications. However, FDA has determined that “Certification of this color additive for the prescribed use [lead acetate in progressive hair dyes] is not necessary for the protection of the public health and therefore batches thereof are exempt from the certification requirements of section 721(c) of the act.”
Lead acetate is specifically approved by FDA for hair dye use based on extensive scientific studies. The safety data submitted in support of this included results from trials where people using the product under controlled conditions were monitored for the amount of lead in their bloodstream. No significant increase in blood levels of lead was seen in the trial subjects and the lead was not shown to be absorbed into the body through such use.
These data allowed FDA to determine that safe conditions of use could be established, and a color additive regulation (Title 21 of the Code of Federal Regulations, section 73.2396) allowing the use of lead acetate in hair dyes was established. The regulation requires that the following caution statement appear on the product labels:
"Caution: Contains lead acetate. For external use only. Keep this product out of children's reach. Do not use on cut or abraded scalp. If skin irritation develops, discontinue use. Do not use to color mustaches, eyelashes, eyebrows, or hair on parts of the body other than the scalp. Do not get in eyes. Follow instructions carefully and wash hands thoroughly after use."
To ensure safe use of these products, it is important that consumers follow these directions carefully.
Lead and its compounds, including Lead Acetate, must not form part of the composition of cosmetics and personal care products marketed in Europe (see Annex II). Health Canada prohibits the use of Lead Acetate in cosmetics and personal care products.
The prohibition of use lead acetate in Europe and Canada is based upon the potential reproductive toxicity of lead compounds to the unborn fetus and applies to all cosmetic uses and is not specific to just hair dye use.
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