Are Color Runs Safe?

By Nicole Sheffer (her 1st assignment as new co-admin, and I think you’ll agree she did a superb job of gathering info for this topic!)

The Color Run; everyone has either participated or know someone that has. Images of people young and old, covered in vibrant colors, pop into my mind every time I hear about this 5k paint race. It has grown to be one of the largest participated events on the planet spanning more than fifty countries. People join in this race that celebrates health, individualism and joy. Due to its popularity some people have come to question as to the safety of the ingredients in the colors used. When asked about the ingredients of the color dust used; a common response from The Color Run people is:

“The color is a cornstarch base and is dyed with food grade dyes. It is even Gluten free. 🙂

Here is a list of the ingredients in our color: Blue Thank – FD and C Blue 1 Lake Low, Melojel Starch. Green – FD and C Blue 1 Lake Low, FD and C Yellow Lake 36-42 PCT, Melojel Starch. Pink – FD and C Red 40 Lake 36-42PCT, Melojel Starch. Yellow – FD and C Yellow 5 lake 36-42 PC, Melojel Starch. Our color has gone through extensive testing. In the Material Safety Data it says there could be some irritation since the color can form dust, but in all of the testing it states that there is nothing harmful…”

Yes, smiley face included! In fact, most instances I encountered within my research of the companies responses, lead me to believe it is a classic case of copy and paste. Most of the time regurgitated statements such as this, just make me even more inquisitive. Naturally, I needed to know more about each of these ingredients and here is what I found:

Melojel Starch, is cornstarch. It is a frequently used cooking ingredient as a thickening agent. It is a food-grade product, as that is its intended use, in food. I took the liberty of highlighting the areas of concern regarding the airborne use of it on one of its Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) here:



In my opinion, based simply on the Cornstarch Material Safety Data Sheet, is that potential inhalation of cornstarch should be avoided. Inhalation is something that is, without a doubt, happening at any of The Color Run events, or any other run that is known to toss “color” at you as you run through.

If breathing in cornstarch wasn’t enough, the colorants mixed with the cornstarch has me a bit concerned as well. I think it is important to note that most modern color additives are synthesized mainly from raw materials acquired from petroleum. I don’t know about you but most artificial colors alert me to stay away from fake foods; I personally wouldn’t want them being breathed in by myself or my children.

Let’s look closer at some of the terms used in those color ingredients and what they mean.

FD&C – Is an abbreviation of Food, Drug and Cosmetics. FD&C colors are the colors that have been certified/approved for use, by the FDA (U.S), within those stated industries. Although, the allotted amount of each varies on use and purpose.

Straight – This is a term giving to the dye that is approved for use (as stated above) before it is changed or processed into something more stable for certain purposes.

Lake – When a Straight color is transformed it is called a Lake. It is made by reacting straight dyes (FD&C Red No. 40 or FD&C Blue No.1) with precipitants and salts; aluminum can be a constituent. Due to their stability, Lakes are more commonly used as color additives for tablet coatings and within cosmetics.

If you’d like to know more about the complex role the FDA has in all this click this link.

Now on to inspect the specific colors used in the “color” of The Color Run. Note that even though all of these dyes have been approved for food use (thus, food grade), they have never been tested or studied for inhalation; nor, have they been approved by the FDA for that purpose.

Blue: The dye used in the colored dust is Blue No. 1 is also known as “brilliant blue”. As with most modern dyes Blue No. 1, was formerly a derivative of coal tar, now most producers, at present, make it from an oil base. This straight dye is then processed in the same “Lake” method mentioned above. Which means, the Blue Thank FD&C Blue 1 Lake Low used in the colored dust potentially contains aluminum particulates.

Yellow: Specifically FD&C Yellow 5 Lake is derived from coal tar. It has a rating on the EWG as a 4 which is moderately hazardous. It has this rating because it is a known neurotoxin and causes reproductive problems. Another common name for it is tartrazine (As most dyes have many names. I told you it was complex; what the FDA does!). Tartrazine is suspect in causing inflammatory responses, dermatitis, asthma and true topical allergic reactions (and possible reactions due to metabolic disorders).

Green: This Green is a combination of the Blue Thank FD&C Blue 1 Lake Low in the Blue above and FD&C Yellow Lake 36-42 PCT another Lake. Here you will find the link to a Material Safety Data Sheet from one manufacturer of that specific yellow.

Pink: I am a bit perplexed by this one. From what I can see this is a patented “lake” process of FD&C Red No. 40. This Patent is owned by Dow. FD&C Red 40 replaced FD&C Red No. 2 in 1976 and FD&C No. 3 in 1990 because both were found to be cancer causing. Here is a link to the Material safety Data sheet of straight FD&C Red No. 40 (which has also been shown to cause health problems in children).

Even though these artificial colorings are all considered relatively safe (or moderately hazardous, depending on how you see it), the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and other advocacy organizations have disputed for a lengthy time that they may, in fact, be linked to attention deficit disorder (ADD). If you or a family member has a sensitivity to any of the above mentioned ingredients in the “color”, please consider glasses/goggles, a mask, ear protection and possibly full skin coverage, depending on the severity and type of reaction.

In conclusion, I would be hard pressed to allow my child to run in a color run, as inhalation seems inevitable. Is it safe? That for me is a, no! As much as they state that they aim low on the body we have all seen the pictures of airborne color at one of these races. I am certain there have been many well-meaning, fun loving, happy runners that have fared well within these types of runs despite breathing in some of the clouds of colored dust. However, we won’t be participating without proper protection.


Some links to what I found to be well written and supportive articles regarding The Color Run.

If you’d like to know more about the complex role the FDA has in all this click this link.

Link to the CSPI “Food Dyes and the Rainbow of Risks”.



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