STATEMENT: FDA Bans Toxic Lead Compound from Hair Dyes

Environmental Health Strategy Center

Deputy director at Maine-based public health organization worked on successful FDA petition
to ban toxic lead acetate from popular hair dyes

PORTLAND, October 30, 2018—The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) today announced that it would repeal its approval for lead acetate, a toxic compound, currently used as the active ingredient in so-called “progressive” hair dyes such as Grecian Formula, which slowly darken gray hairs.

The FDA’s announcement came after advocates petitioned the agency in February 2017 to reconsider the 1980 decision that allowed the neurotoxin to continue to be used in hair dyes. Patrick MacRoy, deputy director of the Portland-based Environmental Health Strategy Center, worked with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), the lead petitioner, to draft the successful petition.

MacRoy offered the following statement on the FDA’s decision: 

“Following the tragedy of Flint, Mich., many of us became aware of the dangers of lead in drinking water, in addition to the ongoing poisoning of children from lead in household paint. But shockingly, lead continues to be used in a number of consumer products.  Today’s action by the FDA belatedly closes one more pathway of exposure. This decision will protect adult users of hair dyes such as Grecian Formula from ongoing exposure to lead, which contributes to elevated blood pressures and potential earlier onset of dementia. It will also protect users’ children and grandchildren, who are indirectly exposed to lead acetate residue remaining in hair and on bathroom surfaces after use.

The fact, however, that it took health advocates months of work to develop a petition demanding agency action, followed by over 18 months of deliberation, for the FDA to remove one of the most well-documented toxins in existence from our cosmetics demonstrates just how broken our food and cosmetic regulatory system is. There are many other dangerous chemicals that the FDA still allows in consumer products, and we are long overdue for a serious effort to reform the agency.

In the meantime, until Congress takes action to fix the FDA, the Strategy Center looks forward to working with the next administration and the new Legislature in Maine to implement common-sense policies to help protect Mainers from toxic chemicals.”

[Note: Patrick MacRoy is the former director of the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program for the City of Chicago.  He also served as a consultant to the Environmental Defense Fund, supporting the drafting of the petition to the FDA that resulting in today’s announcement.] 


The Environmental Health Strategy Center works for a world where all people are healthy and thriving in a fair and healthy economy. We protect public health by fighting for safe food and drinking water, toxic-free products, and good green manufacturing jobs.

We bring the best science and authentic voices to the table to achieve collective impact. Working with our advocacy partner, Prevent Harm, we persuade government and industry to embrace common sense solutions. We make a difference in Maine and the nation.