Don’t Use Foods or Products Made with Coal Tar Dyes

Don’t Use Foods or Products Made with Coal Tar Dyes

March 27, 2023

Coal tar dyes are artificial coloring agents made by combining various aromatic hydrocarbons like toluene, xylene, benzene, which are obtained from the distillation of bituminous coal. Coal tars are also made from petroleum distillates.

These dyes are used in foods, over-the-counter and prescription drugs, textiles, cosmetics, and personal care products like hair dyes, shampoos, and deodorants. Their use in products that go on or in the human body is regulated by the FDA, which labels each dye type with a letter indicating its approved uses. “F” means approved for food. “D” means approved for drugs. “C” means approved for cosmetics. In this system, for example, FD&C Blue #1 is a blue dye permitted in food, drugs, and cosmetics.

Coal tars are also used therapeutically in products said to control dandruff, eczema, psoriasis, seborrheic dermatitis, and other skin disorders.

Hair dye manufacturers must label any product containing coal tar hair dyes with a warning that the product may cause skin reactions in certain allergic individuals. There’s also evidence that artificial colors increase hyperactivity, ADHD and learning difficulties in children. Other studies have implicated coal tars in lung and skin cancers (though a direct relationship remains unproved).

To avoid coal tars, check the ingredients listed on cosmetic and personal care products. Synonyms for coal tar include naphtha, high solvent naphtha, naphtha distillate, benzin B70, or petroleum benzin. Look out for these. For more details on ingredients in personal care products, check the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep cosmetic safety database. To avoid coal tars in food, choose those made without artificial colors.