Everything You Need to Know About Dye Allergies

If you’re like most people in the world, you consume or come into contact with dye on a daily basis. Food, drugs, personal care products and textiles all make use of dye to change product appearance and help with identification. In the manufacturing world, dye is a critical component of a product — but it can have significant ramifications for specific customers.

People with dye allergies must be extra careful with the products they use and the food they consume. Let’s take a closer look at allergies to food dyes and what they mean for a product.

What Is Dye?

Dyes come from a wide variety of natural and synthetic sources. Each dye has its own properties and associated regulations. People have been dyeing products for centuries and have developed a range of styles and types of dyes. Food, drugs and textiles may all use different dyes to get their final colors.

One distinguishing characteristic of a dye is that it chemically bonds to the material, as opposed to pigments that do not bind to the substance. Its qualities become part of the item and can have effects on people who consume or come into contact with it.

What Are Dyes Used For?

Dyes are essential for a wide array of purposes, including:

  • They make products look better. If your ketchup were a sickly brown color, it probably wouldn’t look very appealing. Dye can improve the visual appearance of various products, attracting customers and making their experience more enjoyable. In products like cosmetics, the dye is essential to give them the right color.
  • They can help identify variations. Different flavors or options can benefit from various colors to help distinguish them from each other. In the world of pharmaceuticals, the right color can be critical in the proper identification of a drug.
  • They improve consistency. Whether you buy a product in New York or Los Angeles, you expect similar levels of quality from the same manufacturer. During production, natural products can appear quite different. When you ensure the same colors and appearances are present consistently, customers retain confidence in your product each time they buy.

One of the most significant uses of dyes is in the food and beverage industry. You can also find dyes in cosmetic products, personal care items and drugs. Some products that frequently use dye include the following:

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What Are the Hazards of Dyes?

Despite the wide-reaching benefits of dyes, some people have natural, adverse reactions to them. Symptoms of a dye allergy range from typical contact dermatitis, like rashes and itchiness, to potentially life-threatening anaphylactic shock.

Different dyes will pose different risks. Things like hair dye or textile dye typically cause skin-related conditions and irritation, while food dyes tend to cause reactions like swelling, hives, headaches and flushing. Other food dye allergy symptoms may include itchiness, difficulty breathing and dizziness.

In extreme cases, a dye can cause anaphylactic shock, which includes a sudden drop in blood pressure and difficulty breathing. Anaphylaxis can also include a weak pulse, nausea and vomiting.

Dyes That Cause Allergic Reactions

Dye allergies can be challenging to pin down, and they can cause a variety of symptoms. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) tells us that the three most popular dyes are Red 40, Yellow 5 and Yellow 6, which make up 90% of all dyes used today. Here are some of the most commonly used dyes and their associated symptoms and products:

  • Red 40: Also known as Allure Red, this color comes from coal tars and petroleum distillates. According to the CSPI, some reactions associated with it include hives, swelling, other allergy-like responses and hyperactivity in children. In addition to many food items, it is present in cosmetics. Foods to avoid if you have a red dye allergy include some cereals, beverages, fruit snacks and candies. Some people are allergic to the red dye in makeup as well.
  • Yellow 5: Yellow 5 is also called tartrazine and is associated with hyperactivity in children and various other allergic reactions. It is present in many different food items.
  • Yellow 6: Also called Sunset Yellow, this color is associated with carcinogenic qualities and various allergy symptoms, including anaphylactic shock. You can find it in drugs and cosmetics, as well as food items.
  • Carmine: Carmine is also called Red 4 or cochineal extract and it comes from dried bugs. Its red color is common in burgers, sausages, drinks and candies. Red dye allergy symptoms can include hypersensitivity reactions that range from swelling and rashes to wheezing and anaphylactic shock.
  • Annatto: Yet another yellow dye common in food items, annatto reactions covers a wide range of severity. Mild allergic reactions like hives and itchiness can occur, along with severe symptoms such as anaphylaxis.
  • Blue 1: Blue 1 is also called Brilliant Blue and is relatively common in food items, drugs and cosmetics. Blue food dye allergy symptoms include hypersensitivity.
  • Blue 2: Blue 2, also called indigo blue, is a synthetic dye from petroleum products. You’ll find it in products like baked goods, cereals, candies and various snacks. One Blue Dye 2 allergy symptom includes possible hyperactivity in kids. Other health problems like cancer have made some entities outside of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) deem it unsafe, though subsequent opinions are mixed.
  • Para-phenylenediamine (PPD): PPD is not a food colorant, but appears in hair dye products. It often works alongside a developer or oxidizer that causes a reaction. During that reaction, allergy symptoms can appear, mainly contact dermatitis.
  • Textile dyes: There are a variety of textile dyes that can cause reactions such as contact dermatitis. They may be especially prevalent in areas where rubbing or sweating occur, such as the waistband and inner thighs.
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Signs You’re Having an Allergic Reaction to Dye

While allergic reactions can vary significantly, some of the more common symptoms include:

  • Headaches
  • Flushing
  • Itchy skin or eyes
  • Hives
  • Dermatitis, which includes red skin, rashes, blisters and irritation

In extreme situations, some severe symptoms include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Swelling of the face or lips
  • Dizziness
  • Low blood pressure
  • Fainting
  • Anaphylactic shock

Treatment for these reactions can include creams, like topical steroids, to control redness and irritation. For the extreme instances of anaphylaxis, epinephrine auto-injectors can manage the sudden allergic response.


Dye Regulations and Precautions

Due to their prevalence, the FDA has strict product and food dye regulations. They regulate certification on colors and require manufacturers to declare artificial colors on labeling. FDA testing analyzes and considers dye aspects such as the cumulative effects in a diet and the methods used to determine purity.

The FDA generally considers color additives to be unsafe if they lack an authorizing regulation or exemption. Many synthetic additives must be certified, while some naturally derived substances from plant, mineral or animal sources may be exempt. When creating a product, a color additive must be used for the same purpose for which is was petitioned with the FDA.

If the FDA approves a product, it may not be dangerous to most people, but some can still have significant allergic reactions. If someone is allergic to these dyes, they will need to avoid products that use it and possibly carry an epinephrine auto-injector if their symptoms are severe. To prevent problems, manufacturers can avoid additives where unnecessary, or opt for products that have less serious effects.

HunterLab Color Measurement

If you work with color additives, taking accurate color measurements is a must. With the help of a specialized tool like a spectrophotometer, you can identify appropriate color levels and ensure your products meet regulations. Whether you need to select how much additive to use or identify differences in color for consumer studies, our collection of color measurement tools can help.

We’ve developed our tools with a focus on accuracy and the search for truth. When it comes to spectrophotometers, we are your top-tier supplier, with products designed for a wide variety of materials and manufacturing processes. Contact us today to learn more about how color measurement can help you make the most of product dyes.