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Red Dye #40: A Hazardous Food Additive

Cleo Addams has an M.S. Degree in Natural Health & Nutrition. She enjoys researching and writing in her free time.

Red Sugar Candies

Red Sugar Candies

About two years ago, I started to develop an intolerance to Red Dye #40. I battled a severe migraine (at least one a week) until someone pointed out that the red-colored, cinnamon candy that I ate often was likely the culprit. After keeping track of what I was eating, I did in fact discover that the problem was Allura Red AC—most commonly known as FD&C Red Dye #40.

So Where Does Red #40 Come From?

It all starts with crude oil, which is processed to become gasoline. During the process of turning the oil into gasoline, petroleum distillates are left behind. These are then collected and shipped to labs where they use them to make azo dyes. Simply put, azo dyes are dyes made from the distillates. These dyes can easily be identified because they start with a color name and end with a number: Red #40, Blue #1, Yellow #6, etc.

Side Effects and Other Potential Health Hazards

Some of the common side effects to this artificial coloring are severe migraines, dizziness, and vomiting. I personally experienced all these symptoms, including trouble breathing at times. (It's important to note that some people's intolerance to something can eventually turn into a full-blown allergy in which the response may or may not be life threatening.)

Research also shows that Red #40 is associated to problems in children such as hyperactivity, learning impairment, allergies, etc. (EatingWell) It also contains p-Cresidine, which is "anticipated" by the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services to be a carcinogen. (Healthline)

Red #40 in Food and Makeup

What kind of foods contain Red #40? The answer is lots.

I think I was most surprised to find out that Red #40 is in Blueberry Pop-Tarts and many different kinds of chocolate. You would think since these foods are darker in color that they wouldn't contain red dye, but they do. I quickly learned that you can't go by the color of the food alone.

At this point, I knew that I had to change my eating habits. I started looking at all food labels before I made a purchase.

The next thing that I quickly realized was that the red lipstick that I wore sometimes made my lips break out. It's not uncommon that different makeups react differently to each person's skin. However, it didn't cross my mind to check it for red dye until later on.

As I pulled the lipstick out of my makeup bag and flipped it over to read the ingredients on the bottom label, I quickly discovered that it did contain Red #40.

Luckily, I found an organic red lipstick that does not contain this color dye. Instead, it gets its color from natural pigments. (FYI...You can get organic lipsticks from Burt's Bees and Dr. Hauschka.)

Say "No" to Azo Dyes

This experience has taught me a lot about what's really in our food. I tell everyone about where these dyes come from whenever the opportunity presents itself. Not only did I cut out Red #40 completely from my diet, I stay away from all azo dyes.

Additional Names for FD&C Red #40

Allura Red (AC)

Red 40 Lake or Red 40 Aluminum Lake

Food Red 17

C.I. 16035


Some countries don't specifically list this dye on the label and just use the terms "color added" or "contains synthetic colors".

The Red Flag: Red 40

© 2017 Cleo Addams