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The Dangers Of Coal Tar Dyes In Food And Cosmetics Explained

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In recent years, many of us have become aware of what we eat and use on our bodies. We try, to the best of our ability, to eat and use the best foods and products for our health. Unfortunately though, if we aren’t careful, we can end up eating and using dangerous substances. In fact, many of the cosmetics and food products that we enjoy regularly are loaded with a wide variety of toxic chemicals.

Try checking the ingredients for your favorite brand of lipstick, foundation or blush. You might notice that the ingredients list is hard to understand, if you aren’t experienced. The same can be said for many of food products. But try entering these hard-to-understand ingredients into a search engine. You’ll soon be able to view their toxic properties and qualities in plain sight.

Understanding the effects that these ingredients have on our bodies is half the battle. The real issue comes in trying to find suitable alternatives. To do this, we have to understand why large-scale companies use these ingredients in the first place. What properties do they provide the product? Do they have any benefits in terms of quality, product shelf-life or effectiveness?

Generally, the answer to this is a lot more simple: toxic and harmful ingredients are cheaper. You’ve probably noticed yourself that organic products tend to be more expensive. Unfortunately, safe and healthy products generally come with a higher price tag. Ultimately though, they should be what you look for if you want to live the healthiest life that you can.

What Are Coal Tar Dyes?

Bowls filled with different colored dyes.

Coal tar dye.

Coal tar dyes are generally formed as a by-product of hydrocarbon solvents. They’re used to dilute bituminous coal – a form of coal that is often used in the steel-making process.

When the coal is diluted with these hydrocarbon solvents, it produces a variety of colors. These are the colors you might recognize in many of your favorite products.

Many of these dyes are considered unsuitable for use in food products, as they aren’t safe to ingest. However, a lot of cosmetics products tend to use them as a color additive in their products. And you’d be surprised to know just how much lipstick you’re actually ingesting over the course of your life! Because of this, you want to make sure that all the ingredients in your cosmetics, particularly in your lip products, are 100% safe.

Coal tar dyes are known to contain small amounts of other heavy metals additives (such as aluminum). Ingesting them over a continuous amount of time can potentially cause brain damage or speed up the progression of brain diseases like Alzheimer’s. Yes, they’re really that bad!

Cosmetics Products That Use Coal Tar Dyes

Woman applying red lipstick.

Coal tar dye in cosmetics.

The two most common cosmetic products that use these harmful chemical colorants are hair dyes and – yes – lipsticks. This is because the quality of coal tar dye also helps to act as a binding agent for liquids. It’s used to help strengthen the ‘hold’ that a color has once it’s been applied to your body. So now you know why your favorite lipstick really lasts so long.

If the product you use does not specifically state that it uses only natural color dyes, it’s safe to assume that there are coal tar dyes in there. You should also pay attention to the specific color stated in the ingredients list. This will give you a good indication of whether it contains coal dyes or not.

Just to give you some idea of how toxic coal tar dyes really are, scientists assume that there are roughly 10,000 chemicals in most coal tar dyes. Doesn’t exactly sound like the kind of thing I want to be putting on my body, let alone ingesting!

Another way to check if the product you’re using contains coal tar dyes or other chemicals is to check for the warning.This will most likely be placed on the label of the product. Don’t ever use hair dyes that don’t have a warning regarding how to use them. There’s a good chance they’re not FDA approved, and will probably contain a larger amount of toxic chemicals.

Food Products Which Use Coal Tar Dyes

Different colored M&Ms.

M&M’s are delicious, but they are far from your healthiest choice of snack, especially where coal tar dyes are concerned.

Generally speaking, the FDA has banned the use of coal tar dyes in food products. However, this doesn’t mean that all products containing this harmful concoction of chemicals have been removed from the shelves. There are a lot of processed foods that still contain these dyes.

Are you a sweet tooth? I hate to say it, but most processed foods like candy, a variety of different chips (corn, potato etc.) and colorful drinks are very likely to have coal tar dyes in their recipes.

The use of coal tar dyes in foods has been known to greatly impede a person’s level of  concentration. Studies showed that cutting out foods known to contain these dyes was pretty effective at reducing symptoms of ADHD. While medication like Ritalin is undoubtedly more effective, not everyone is in a hurry to medicate.

Besides for this, the first approach should always be to remove contributing factors – in this case, foods that contain coal tar dyes. So if you are struggling to concentrate, or have a child that may be suffering from ADHD, it may be worthwhile to reassess their diet and make the necessary changes.

Environmental Dangers Of Coal Tar Dyes

Turtle swimming under water in ocean.

Coal tar dye and the environment.

Due to the fact that coal tar dyes are loaded with chemicals, their effects on the environment are widely considered to be very negative. Not only for us consumers, but also in the way they are manufactured.

Because the dyes contain heavy metals like aluminum and a large number of chemical solvents, they have the ability to bioaccumulate. This means that they build up in aquatic lifeforms over time. I.e, a fish may ingest these harmful chemicals, and is then consumed by another fish which in turn is consumed by a bird, etc.

Obviously, this is threatening for fish and other aquatic life. Not to mention, it might even be harmful to us humans, who may eat fish that have ingested these chemicals.

Because these chemicals build up, rather than break down, it’s incredibly difficult to filter them out of our waste water. Besides for this, we keep adding them back into the ecosystem, which ends up creating a vicious cycle.

How To Avoid Products That Contain Coal Tar Dyes

Now that you’re aware of the dangers to yourself and the environment, you probably want to know what you can do to avoid using products with coal tar dyes. Generally speaking, avoiding many of the harmful chemicals in products that you’re likely to use on a regular basis will mean making a drastic shift in your lifestyle.

You may have to reconsider many of your habits, routines, and of course, the products that you use and foods that you eat. It might be difficult at first, but you’ll find it rewarding in the long-run.

My advice is to go natural. Instead of eating processed foods, switch to whole foods and make your own dishes and products.

This gives you the ability to have more control over what you put in and on your body. As a result, you’ll be living a healthier, happier lifestyle. When it comes to beauty products, try using brands that are known to be more environmentally friendly.

Jane Iredale, Hemp Organics and Laverra are three well-known organic brands, but there’s a home recipe for nearly every cosmetic or beauty product out there. In fact, you can check out our blog for DIY recipes for everything from foundation, to dog shampoo, to hand soap.


Sometimes, it’s as much about what you cut out as it is about what you put in. And nowhere is this rule more applicable than in food and cosmetics products! If you’re concerned about the dangers your products may contain, there’s no need to continue using them. A natural and holistic lifestyle can be so rewarding. After all, you know that you are giving yourself and the planet the best chance at a healthier and better life.