Is Grecian Formula Safe?
Grecian formula is one of several progressive hair colorants that rely on lead acetate and sulphur as their principal active ingredients. Other similar products include Youthair and GreyBan. These products are mainly popular among male customers. They colour the hair gradually so the colour change is not as noticeable as with regular hair dyes. They are not messy, one does not need plastic gloves to apply them and they can be used to colour hair selectively. The applied substance both coats and penetrates the hair shaft and the lead acetate reacts with the sulphur to produce a dark pigment. If applied correctly you get good results, especially for people with fine hair and a light hair colour.
Many consumers complain about the weird smell of these products but the main drawback is their toxicity. The prime culprit is lead acetate. Lead acetate has a sweet taste, which has led to its use as a sugar substitute throughout history. However, it is toxic if digested and is now suspected of being a carcinogen. In low concentrations (under 0.4%), it is allowed to be used in hair lotions and creams such as Grecian formula. Grecian and other lead acetate-based products are available in pharmacies in the US, Australia and in many European countries but some doctors warn about the risks associated with the potential absorption of lead acetate through the skin. In the trials conducted in the US, people using a lead acetate-containing hair product were monitored for the amount of lead in their bloodstream. No significant increase in the levels of lead in their blood was registered in the trial subjects and the lead was not shown to be absorbed into the body through such use. Lead acetate is poorly soluble in water (only 0.02%) and, hence, once the substance dries up the risk of absorption through the skin largely disappears. These data allowed the FDA to determine that safe conditions of use could be established, allowing the use of lead acetate in hair lotions.
Lead acetate-containing products must not be applied on facial hair or used on a cut scalp; and, if irritation or redness develop, the use must be discontinued. In addition, it is important to wash your hands, not only after use but, since it is difficult to avoid your hands coming into contact with your hair, it is advisable to wash your hands more often, e.g. every time before touching food. Consumers have to decide for themselves whether they are willing to accept the potential health risk and put up with the inconvenience of using these products safely.
Some grey hair colorants, such as Grecian formula and Restoria, are experimenting with bismuth citrate replacing lead acetate in order to avoid the suspicion of using a carcinogenic ingredient. The new formula is expected to work by the same mode of action. However, bismuth citrate is also toxic and should be handled with the same care as lead acetate-based products.