Is Your Hair Dye Stealing Your Memory?

Hair Dye

Do you ever look at your gray hairs and think about using hair dye to cover them up? Be aware that in some instances, this common personal grooming choice may contain hidden toxic ingredients that lead to unexpected mental health side effects and cognitive consequences. And you may not even realize that the symptoms you’re experiencing are related to that hair dye. That’s what happened to one man who visited Amen Clinics because he was experiencing memory problems.

As part of a comprehensive evaluation to determine the root cause of his memory issues, an Amen Clinics integrative/functional medicine physician, who has been testing for toxic metals for 20-plus years, decided to test this patient’s hair lead levels. The normal hair lead level is less than 0.8. But this patient’s level was 710—meaning that it was about 900 times higher than normal! Our physician had never seen a level this high before—and, on top of that, he detected elevated levels of thallium and cadmium, which also point to potential problems. The alarm bells rang loudly.

Here’s a look at some common environmental toxins, including lead, that may be lurking in products you use and the mental health symptoms, cognitive problems, and physical health issues they may cause.

In addition to its presence in everything from older buildings to small aircraft aviation fuel, lead still exists as an ingredient in many personal care products on the market—including hair dye and cosmetics. Click To Tweet

Lead Exposure Causes Physical and Mental Health Issues in Children and Adults

Lead, though naturally occurring in the earth, is a toxin that’s harmful to your brain—and your entire body. Exposure to this element has been associated with a range of concerns: problems with learning or speech, lower IQ, cancer, cardiovascular issues, arthritis, seizures, headaches, anemia, kidney disease, a metallic taste in the mouth, a host of mental health issues, and even death.

Children are especially at risk. Those who have been exposed to this toxin may experience behavioral problems, such as ADD/ADHD, according to one study. This research explained that most lead exposure (about 70%) in young people is related to lead paint in older buildings, or in surrounding soil and dust, where lead has accumulated over the decades due to airborne pollution. But lead leaching from water pipes, or from imported toys, foods, and other products, are additional hazards.

Children who have been exposed may also show signs like irritability, aggression, fearfulness, and antisocial behavior. As a result, the CDC reports that “no safe blood lead level in children has been identified, and even low levels of lead in blood can cause developmental delays, difficulty learning, behavioral issues, and neurological damage. The effects of lead poisoning can be permanent and disabling.”

Adults, too, can be negatively affected by lead exposure, through the possibility of adult-onset schizophrenia, as well as increased risk of mental health issues like depression and panic disorder. In one study, researchers concluded that even “exposure to lead at levels generally considered safe could result in adverse mental health outcomes.” So, although the U.S. government reports a “safe” lead level at under 10 μg/dL, many experts believe that no level of lead should be considered truly harmless.

Where Is Lead Lurking?

The EPA notes that lead can be found virtually anywhere, both in the home and outdoors. But, in addition to its presence in everything from older buildings (in which lead may be present in paint or pipes) to small aircraft aviation fuel, lead still exists as an ingredient in many personal care products out there on the market—including hair dye and cosmetics.

There is some good news on the hair-dye front: The FDA has made a concrete ruling after several years of consideration that started with a 2017 petition aiming to eliminate the use of lead acetate in hair dyes. The FDA agreed at that time, stating that “new data available since lead acetate was permanently listed demonstrate that there is no longer a reasonable certainty of no harm from the approved use of this color additive.” But this finding was then challenged by manufacturers. After further consideration, in October 2021, the FDA finally banned its use, effective January 2022, giving manufacturers who still include the ingredient 12 months from the effective date to comply by reformulating products and removing from shelves any current stock that still contains lead.

Still, we’re not out of the woods yet when it comes to lead lurking in our personal care products. For example, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (CSC) reports that lead may still be present in many color cosmetics, including lipstick—even though it has been eliminated from gasoline and paint in the United States. Lead’s presence in cosmetics is concerning because the organization points to studies that have linked lead exposure to reduced fertility in both men and women; hormonal changes and menstrual irregularities; and, in pregnant women, danger of crossing the placenta and entering the fetal brain or leading to miscarriage.

The CSC notes that color additives, such as D&C Red 6, may also be contaminated by traces of heavy metals, such as arsenic, lead, and mercury. Therefore, being aware of possible toxins and contaminants isn’t always as easy as looking for toxic ingredients clearly listed on a label. Need more assistance? The Environmental Working Group offers a searchable database with ingredients, brands, and products to help consumers determine safety levels.

Psychiatric and Cognitive Impacts of Environmental Toxins

Thanks to collecting the world’s largest database of brain scans, Amen Clinics has witnessed a clear association between environmental toxins, brain health, and psychiatric and cognitive problems for decades. Unfortunately, we are all exposed to toxins in our everyday environment, but that means we should take extra care to not aggravate the issue by knowingly adding to the toxin load—for example, by using potentially dangerous personal care products on a regular basis.

In addition to some of the problems noted above, those who have been exposed to high levels of toxins like lead will find their entire body under threat, leading to issues like autoimmune diseases, diabetes, cancer, fatigue, numbness, tingling, tremors, allergies, abdominal pain, diarrhea, bad-smelling breath or stools, weight issues, skin rashes, sweats, and more. That’s in addition to mental health concerns, from anxiety and brain fog to memory problems and psychotic episodes. On the other hand, those who already experience mental health issues will find that their symptoms worsen through toxin exposure, so vulnerable populations have to stay especially vigilant to avoid these toxins in their daily lives.

Exposure to toxins can lead to a phenomenon the physicians at Amen Clinics call a toxic brain, which is characterized by a scalloping pattern and overall decreased blood flow on brain SPECT imaging. Processes like these are why toxins steal your mind over time. But the whole body is affected by toxin exposure, including the endocrine and immune systems; the gut’s microbiome; organs like the digestive tract, liver, kidneys, and brain; and even the membranes between our cells. It’s no wonder that toxin exposure has been linked to all kinds of mental illnesses and physical ailments. By keeping a close eye on your surroundings and purchases alike, you’ll help avoid exposure to health destroyers like lead—and protect yourself from a long list of potential dangers.

Mental health and cognitive issues related to exposure to toxins can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.


  1. Excellent article. Lead is a potent neurotoxin which can readily masquerade as depression, dementia or other neurological diseases. After diabetes, it is probably the second commonest cause of peripheral neuropathy.
    Hair testing is an excellent screening test for lead toxicity, however, not everyone is able to transfer lead from the bloodstream into the growing hair root for genetic reasons (Snps in MRP2). Hence, one can have negligible lead in a hair test and still accumulate vast quantities of lead in bone, liver & other tissues. A fecal metals test (Doctor's Data) overcomes this issue, as done a properly performed DMSA Challenge test.

    Comment by Bruce Jones — February 10, 2023 @ 3:24 AM

  2. I’m wondering about the effects of chemotherapy on the brain and. Body. Could you comment on that

    Comment by BETH YBARRA — February 10, 2023 @ 5:14 AM

  3. You have explained the rusks relating to lead exposure but haven't explained what your clinic can do to remove lead from the body. Please elaborate – thank you

    Comment by Atalanta Cazalet — February 10, 2023 @ 7:03 AM

  4. What companies do you suggest for salon color treatments. For example: can you give me 3 color lines to consider? Ex Inoa from Loreal etc

    Comment by Carol Zelnik — February 10, 2023 @ 9:23 AM

  5. I too would like to know what chemo and radiation cancer therapy can do to your brain. I have heard the term “chemo brain” and I would love to know what all that toxic stuff does and can you do anything about it. I have personally experienced a harder time staying focused, short term memory is worse and recall slower.

    Comment by Cynthia Cheatwood — February 10, 2023 @ 6:42 PM

  6. What hair dye brand is safe? Thanks

    Comment by Laura — February 12, 2023 @ 1:41 PM

  7. I am a hairstylist and hair colorist and I would love to know which color products do you recommend it would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

    Comment by Sandy — February 12, 2023 @ 7:36 PM

  8. Will the OTC hair dye list lead acetate in the ingredients? Are there other names it goes by? Thank you.

    Comment by Rose Ezell — February 13, 2023 @ 2:22 PM

  9. PLEASE send me the recommendations for hair color products WITHOUT LEAD!

    Comment by JoAnn Lickel — February 15, 2023 @ 9:31 AM

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