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Why Is Red 33 Bad For You?

Why To Avoid Red 33 In OTC Medicines

Dr. Regina Hardin Profile Photo

Written by Dr. Regina Hardin on September 24, 2021

Medically reviewed by Camille Freking, MS Pharmacology

Even though synthetic dyes are commonly used in a multitude of products, they can actually pose some significant health risks. From cosmetics to food to over the counter medicine, synthetic dyes are in plenty of the products you use every day, and you might not even know unless you have built a strong understanding of what kinds of dyes appear in which products.

So, what risks are associated with synthetic dyes, and why is Red 33 specifically important to avoid? This is your complete guide to synthetic red dyes and why you might want to proceed with caution.

The World of Synthetic Dyes: What Are the Risks?

Artificial and synthetic dyes are extremely common and have long been used to add color to things like snacks, sweets, beverages, foods, and even medicine. In the last 50 years, the amount of synthetic dye used in foods has increased by 500%, and this increase may raise some red flags when it comes to safety.

With synthetic dyes in general, a link has been found between ADHD in children and consumption of synthetic dyes. In fact, a 41% increase in the likelihood of an ADHD diagnosis in high-school aged boys may be linked to the increased use of synthetic dyes. One study showed that the more synthetic dyes a child consumes, the more behavioral issues the child ends up experiencing.

The chemicals used to create synthetic and artificial dyes may also be linked to mutations or damaged chromosomes, and this is believed to cause cancer.

Allergic reactions and organ damage have also been connected to consumption of synthetic dyes, and many more studies are underway to further investigate the impact that synthetic dyes can have on human health.

Generally, very small amounts of dyes are not believed to pose significant risks, but with dyes becoming used for more and more products, it is becoming increasingly difficult to avoid them, and this has the potential to cause a problem. As little as 30 mg of synthetic dyes may be linked to adverse effects, and in the average breakfast and lunch of a child there might be as much as 189 mg.

So, if you are concerned about the amount of synthetic dyes in the foods you and your family consume each day, you have good reason.

Are Red Dyes Safe?

Synthetic dyes are available in all shades of all colors, and different colors may pose different health risks with varying severity.

Red dyes specifically are highly controversial because of the frequency of adverse effects that can be linked back to consumption of red dyes. Red 33 is one example of a commonly used synthetic red dye, and it is often used in cosmetic products and personal care products.

While it has been approved for use in a multitude of products, the amount of this dye that is safe in any given product is quite small, which means that if you consume multiple different products containing this dye, you could easily end up exceeding the recommended safe amount.

Certain red dyes, including red 3, have been shown to cause cancer in animals, which raises red flags for humans, too. There is also evidence that other dyes may be carcinogenic, and some dyes have been found to be contaminated with benzidine and other carcinogens.

On a larger scale, synthetic dyes as a whole are known to cause hypersensitivity reactions in some people, and sometimes allergic reactions can take you by surprise.

Although Red 33 is approved for use in ingested drugs, this usage is limited to 0.75 mg per day. It can be hard to make sure you do not consume more than this recommended amount when synthetic dyes are now used in so many different products, and this is part of the reason why you might want to consider limiting the amount of synthetic dye-containing products in your day to day life.

Do I Really Need to Avoid Synthetic Dyes?

There is definitely a correlation between certain synthetic dyes and adverse reactions, but more research still needs to be done to confirm just how serious the risks of synthetic dyes really are.

There is still a lot that is unknown, and testing thus far has been inadequate. That said, the fact that there is already evidence that synthetic dyes can be carcinogenic, toxic, or may cause allergic reactions could be reason enough for you to start looking at ingredient lists with a little bit more scrutiny. Plus, synthetic dyes do not improve the safety or quality of products, and are only there for appearance-related purposes.

It all comes down to your personal risk assessments and whether or not certain products are worth the potential health risks. In any event, you should always consult your doctor before trying a new medicine with ingredients that you do not recognize or trust. Your doctor will be able to answer any questions you may have as well as put your concerns to rest.

Switching to Clean Medicine: Where to Start

If you decide that the potential health risks of synthetic dyes are not worth it for you and your family, you do have the option of choosing clean medicine over more conventional products.

Many over the counter medicines do contain synthetic dyes like Red 33 that have been linked to adverse effects, and switching to clean products may help you avoid these.

When choosing a medicine, you should read the ingredient list carefully and make sure you know what you will be putting into your body. Especially if you have experienced allergic reactions to certain ingredients in the past, taking care to read through the ingredients list can help you avoid your allergens.

Even more, researching brands before you begin to use their products can allow you to get a more complete understanding of what kinds of ingredients the brand tends to use, and whether or not they take care to avoid potentially harmful inactive ingredients.

Earlier on, it was mentioned that it can be very difficult to limit your consumption of synthetic dyes, because they are included in such a wide variety of different foods and products today. Thus, taking care to avoid synthetic dyes in products you use less often, like over the counter medicines, can be an easy way to start transitioning away from potentially harmful substances.

If you are consuming several different food products with Red 33 for example, and then you also start to use a medicine containing this dye, you might very quickly end up with more than 0.75 mg in your system, and this is when your risk of experiencing adverse effects really starts to increase.

Clean medicine generally means that the products are made with these kinds of harmful ingredients in mind, but the term “clean” may not be as regulated as you expect. Thus, doing your research before starting to use products from a certain brand can help keep you in the loop about what, exactly, clean medicine means to them.

Your doctor is a great resource for you, too, so you should always make sure to consult them when doubts arise.

The Bottom Line

Red 33 is just one example of a synthetic dye that has been linked to adverse effects and allergic reactions. As a whole, synthetic dyes pose some potential health risks, and they are increasingly being used in many common products ranging from foods and beverages to cosmetics and medicine.

Though most synthetic dyes are not harmful in very small amounts, the amount of synthetic dyes that you consume can add up very quickly when you consider all the different products containing this kind of ingredient.

When deciding whether or not you should start taking care to avoid products containing synthetic dyes, you should do a risk assessment for yourself and weigh the pros and cons of your options. In some cases, the risk posed by a synthetic dye may be worth it if the product containing the dye is extremely necessary.

If you do wish to avoid dyes, clean medicine may be a great way to start cutting down the amount of dye that you and your loved ones ingest regularly, but you should keep in mind that “clean” is a largely unregulated term, and doing your research before selecting a medicine brand can help you figure out what clean medicine really is.

The bottom line is that there is still a lot that is unknown about synthetic dyes, and more research is needed in order to draw concrete conclusions about their safety.