Red 33: Is It Dangerous?

by Gio
dye red 33

Ever wondered why natural lipstick shades come only in boring nudes or unassuming pale pinks?

It’s not lack of creativity. Or customer demand. It’s luck of dyes. There are some colours you simply can’t achieve with natural dyes.

Red is the main one. Natural red dyes are usually too sheer, don’t adhere well to the skin, or aren’t cruelty-free. So brands resort to synthetic dyes instead. Like Red 33.

But is it safe? Here’s all you need to know about it:

What Is Red 33?

Red 33, also called Acid Red 33, is a synthetic red dye (I guess the name kinda gave that away, huh?). Like most colour additives, Red 33 is available as a “dye” or “lake”. Here’s what it means:

  • Red 33: It’s a dye that dissolves in water.
  • Red 33 Lake: It’s a dye that doesn’t dissolve in water. It’s more stable than its dye form.

You can find both types in your makeup and skincare products.

What Does Red 33 Do In Skincare And Makeup Products?

I’m sure you know this already. I mean, it’s a red dye. What do you think it’s in your lipstick for?

Yep. Red 33 gives a red colour to makeup & co. It does this better than natural dyes. Really. Here’s why:

  • Better colour uniformity: It’s less patchy and provides an even, uniform colour.
  • Blends easily: It works well with other dyes to create a wider range of colours and hues.
  • More intense: You need only a tiny amount to create a bright red hue.
  • More stable: It doesn’t go bad as quickly as natural dyes.
  • No smell: Unlike dyes derived from foods (think beets), it doesn’t have any undesirable smell or flavour.

In other words, Red 33 is easier to formulate with than natural dyes. It gives you a wider range of colours, a more intense colour payoff, and no smelly odours. Phew!


Want to know what ingredients you really need to avoid in your skincare products? Sign up to the newsletter below to receive the “Skincare Ingredients To Avoid” cheatsheet:


Is Red 33 Dyes Safe In Cosmetics?

It depends on how you use it. This is why we have regulations, ladies (yes, cosmetic ingredients ARE regulated).

Red 33 is safe for use in most makeup and personal care products, including mouthwashes and breath fresheners. The exceptions:

  • Eye products: Red 33 CAN’T be used in any eye products at all. If you see this in your eyeshadows, DON’T use them. Sometimes, brands will sneak it in there for the cool factor (that intense bright shade looks cool on IG). But it’s dangerous. Always read the labels!
  • Lipsticks: It can be used only at a 3% or lower concentrations (that’s more than enough to create beautiful shades without harming anyone).

The Bottom Line

Red 33 is a red dye that gives you a wide range of beautiful, pigmented shades – when used right. Always check the labels to make sure brands aren’t sneaking it in eye products to create buzz on IG!

What are your thoughts on Red 33? Let me know in the comments below.

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39 comments

Amy November 27, 2010 - 3:12 pm

Is there a reason it can only be used in certain concentrations? Fascinating!

beautifulwithbrains November 29, 2010 - 11:24 am

Amy, that’s because red 33 is one of those dyes that can contain small amounts of lead. However, if used in concentrations up to 3%, the concentrations of lead are so minuscule that lead won’t pose a threat to human health as our body will just get rid of it. For more info on lead in lipstick, you can check out this post: http://beautifulwithbrains.com/2010/10/19/whats-the-truth-about-lead-in-lipsticks/

Marguerite November 28, 2010 - 4:23 am

Mi piace troppo questa rubrica Gio, è molto utile. 😉

beautifulwithbrains November 29, 2010 - 12:52 pm

Marguerite, grazie. Sono contenta che trovi questi post utili. 🙂

Kris Dickinson March 7, 2011 - 4:20 pm

Do you know if red dye 33 contains iodine? I recently had abdominal surgery and my skin is really dry cause of the tape on the bandages and itched so much I was using hydrocortisone cream. Well that dried my skin more so I was using Johnson’s Baby lotion. Well, my skin is still dry after repeated uses and itches for awhile after I apply it. I am allergic to iodine so Im wondering if iodine is in the dye? Ive looked all over online but cant get any answers. Thanks so much!!

beautifulwithbrains March 7, 2011 - 9:24 pm

Kris, I did a search but unfortunately I couldn’t find any information about it. I am personally inclined to believe it doesn’t because it would have been mentioned somewhere if it did, but I could be wrong. I’m sorry I couldn’t be of more help and I hope you get better soon.

Kris Dickinson March 7, 2011 - 10:28 pm

Thanks for trying! My surgery was 2 wks ago yesterday so Im doing pretty well. More healing to do inside but the incisions look great. (I had a laparoscopic removal of my ovaries so I have 3 small incisions and one a few inches long)

beautifulwithbrains March 8, 2011 - 11:55 am

Kris, you’re welcome. That sounds awful but I’m glad you’re doing better and I wish you a speedy recovery!

Cindy Pytlinski February 16, 2013 - 9:22 pm

i believe that I am allergic to red dye 33 because for a few years I have had problems with severe redness, dryness, and itching of my eyes and eyelids. I went to the dermatologist and he told me to stop using all cosmetics and lotions except cetaphil. I
was given a cortisone shot and my eyes cleared up completely after a few weeks. When the steroid was out of my system then the redness and dryness came back. I realized that the liquid hand soap and bar soap both had red dye 33 in them. I have stopped using both and my eyes have since cleared up again. Have you heard of anyone having this problem?

beautifulwithbrains February 16, 2013 - 10:21 pm

Cindy, no I hadn’t heard of it. But unfortunately every ingredient in cosmetics can potentially cause an allergic reaction. I’m sorry it happened to you. It must have been an awful experience.

Kirsten June 6, 2015 - 7:33 pm

My daughter was just diagnosed with a contact allergy to Red #33. She had a horrible reaction to Mr. Bubble.

Gio June 7, 2015 - 4:35 pm

Kirsten, how awful! I’m really sorry to hear that.

kirsten June 7, 2015 - 9:32 pm

Thank you! I’m just glad now we know.

Gio June 8, 2015 - 1:23 pm

Must be a huge relief. At least now you know how to prevent it from happening again.

Troy Vincent July 27, 2015 - 9:37 pm

Through mixing and matching different soaps from bath and body works, I was able to figure out that I too am allergic to Red33. When I used any kind of soap, shampoo, washes, or even when I painted a house that was an off green that. I know now had Red 33 in it I break out in severe hives and turn all red swollen and itchy. One time I ate something that had some in it and became ill.

Gio July 28, 2015 - 6:22 am

Troy, how awful! I’m sorry it makes you so sick. But at least now you know what to avoid.

Ana December 11, 2017 - 7:21 am

I have the same issues with Red 33. My skin gets irritated, swollen and very painful. I cannot use any lipstick, lip liner, gloss, shampoo, conditioner, etc because it will burn my skin. Every product I buy cannot have Red 33. It’s amazing how many things have this dye.

Gio December 23, 2017 - 7:50 pm

Ana, oh no, that’s awful!

venny May 9, 2013 - 7:05 pm

Hi..I just bought a raspberry body butter from the body shop last night and I just noticed that it actually contains red 33 and red 4. Somehow, those number just hit me so I looked for the information over the internet. Articles I read all mentioning abt how dangerous these chemicals can be when applied to the skin as it may caused cancer just like paraben. Is it true? Since none of you guys mention about it in here.

beautifulwithbrains May 10, 2013 - 7:40 am

Venny, I have never come across any evidence yet that suggests that these dyes can cause cancer in the small concentrations used in cosmetics (and there’s none that parabens are harmful either). I’ve seen a lot of websites claiming they are harmful, but so far none that has shared a link to their sources. It could very well be one of those cases where someone has misinterpreted a study and, in good faith, shared that information. For instance, sometimes people use studies where an animal got cancer for having been injected with high quantities of a substance to claim it is harmful to humans. But ingredients in cosmetics aren’t injected and they aren’t used in high amounts, so the same findings don’t apply to humans. But I will do some research and see if some new study has shed some new evidence on how these dyes work. Should I find anything new, I’ll let you know.

Cathy September 10, 2013 - 4:48 pm

After reading this site my question is should red dye #33 be used in liquid stool softeners which are ingested?

beautifulwithbrains September 10, 2013 - 9:33 pm

Cathy, yes. Red dye #33 is safe when ingested in very small amounts.

Tammy Gabriel June 22, 2014 - 12:19 am

I am Kosher and don’t want to use anything with red dye from the cochineal / carmine insect. Can you tell me if Red dye 33 is derived from them?

Gio June 22, 2014 - 9:06 pm

Tammy, Red 33 is derived from coal tar sources.

Lisa Bentley May 25, 2017 - 4:05 pm

Red 33 is derived from carmine/cochineal – I had an anaphylactic reaction to the dye. I can not use any products with any of these dyes in them.

Gio May 27, 2017 - 5:48 pm

Lisa, how horrific! So sorry you went through that.

Kelly Kemp December 21, 2015 - 5:28 am

So when a bath bomb is labeled to have FD&C colorant in it can it also be labeled “no artificial colors or dyes”

Gio December 21, 2015 - 4:31 pm

Kelly, if it contains dye, these must be added to the ingredient list.

Kelly Kemp December 22, 2015 - 1:24 am

Thank you for responding! Well my question is about your honesty. She states “no artificial colors or dyes.” She does have her ingredients listed but she has listed “FD&C colorants.” Can she claim the no artificial colors or dyes if she actually does have them in there? That is what I am boggled about unless I am not understanding the chemicals involved. I am just learning. Thank you so much!

Kelly Kemp December 22, 2015 - 1:25 am

I am sorry !!! My question is about HER honesty not yours!! 🙂

Gio December 26, 2015 - 7:58 pm

Kelly, no worries, I get you. I guess she may be using natural dyes?

cici May 7, 2016 - 7:24 pm

Is this blog still active? I want to assure everyone that an allergy to red dye 33 is very possible. I just learned from a patch test- in addition to hearse reactions to it- that I am very allergic to it. It is in the new Caress bath soap, “Love Forever.” Your allergist can check for many of these ingredients and that is listed on the container..

Gio May 9, 2016 - 8:08 pm

Cici, yes, it is still active. Thanks for your comment. I’m sorry you are allergic to this ingredient, but thank you for taking the time to warn others about it.

Barb Hays July 23, 2016 - 12:20 pm

It is many meds and used in Red and Violet Color Correctors made in many Color Correctors. This specified one is for taking Yellow brassyness from hair. I am allergic to this also D&C Red #33 . Horrible itching and made me ill in meds.
Now I watch many things.
Be careful. Thank you for helping.

Gio July 23, 2016 - 10:48 pm

Barb, thank you for your comment. I’m sorry it makes you so ill. Allergies are the worst.

Maree April 28, 2017 - 4:52 am

Red 33 is a listed ingredient in Mario Badescu’s rosewater facial spray. Red 33 not permitted for application near the eye, yet in the facial spray it goes on and in my eyes… I can’t find anywhere on the internet that says why Red 33 is not permitted in applications for the eye. Do you know why?

Gio April 29, 2017 - 1:02 pm

Maree, I couldn’t find a straight answer either but you can find more information here: http://www.cosmeticsinfo.org/ingredient/red-33-and-red-33-lake

And make sure you close your eyes shut when you use the spray!

Rebekah Nutter November 27, 2018 - 5:17 pm

Red 33 is in a Soft & Dri deodorant only formulation, and my daughter lost the skin in her underarm area. UGGGGGH! I told her to stop using the product and switched to one that had virtually the same ingredients but no Red 33. Her armpits cleared up. She tried the pretty pink deodorant again, the next day her armpits were irritated and becoming raw. Yes, it’s a thing!

Gio December 7, 2018 - 10:13 am

Rebekah, sorry to hear that. I wish brands stopped putting stuff in just to give products a certain colour. We need safe cosmetics, not pretty gimmicks.

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