article archive

Note: the information on this page originally appeared on its own website, but I have decided to bring it together with my other work. I started the original page in the year 2000 after a negative personal experience with tartrazine and was overwhelmed by the positive response from Internet users all over the world. I continue to get email thanking me for this information almost every day. The experience was the beginning of my own journey into an awareness of health and social issues which has led me down a path (and a passion) for information activism.

Tartrazine: A Real Yellow Menace

Tartrazine (also known as "FD&C Yellow Number 5" or "E-102" in Europe) is a coal-tar derivative that is used to color foods, cosmetics, and other products. It is literally industrial waste. I have a strong sensitivity to this substance, and believe there are many others out there as well who (perhaps unknowingly) have the same problem. If you get mysterious hives or sometimes wake up with swollen eyelids, this could be the culprit.

Tartrazine is also reputed to be a catalyst in hyperactivity/ADD, other behavioral problems, asthma, migranes, thyroid cancer, and lupus!

Have you noticed how many children are being diagnosed as "hyperactive" these days? There is research that shows there might be a link (and that dietary changes can help.) Many of the children on Ritalin or other behavioral drugs are probably just eating a diet rich in toxic food additives that are approved by the government as safe. Some schools have noticed a major difference in pupils' behavior after banning snacks with tartrazine.

Ironically enough, some of the drugs for these conditions contain tartrazine and are probably just making the problem worse! I stop just short of declaring it a conspiracy on the drug companies' part, but it's something to think about.

Why do food companies use it? It's simply cheaper than natural alternatives. The important nutrient beta carotene can be used to achieve a similar color, but it costs more for the manufacturer. Can you imagine having the idea to put coal tar waste into food as a coloring? As with many of the evils in this world, it all comes down to "the bottom line" (aka greed.)

What products contain tartrazine?

Here is a list of some of the things that often (but not always!) contain tartrazine:

  • prescription and non-prescription pharmaceutical drugs
  • skim milk
  • yogurt
  • butter/margarine
  • orange colored cheeses
  • Kraft Macaroni and Cheese ("Kraft Dinner")
  • Orange colored snacks (cheezies, Doritos, etc.)
  • Candy
  • Gelatin and pudding desserts
  • Ice Cream
  • Mountain Dew
  • Tang
  • other artificially colored drinks
  • boxed breakfast cereals
  • shrimp
  • canned fruits and vegetables
  • pastas
  • breads, cakes, and other baked goods (especially ones that contain "candied fruit")
  • wasabi
  • alcoholic drinks (especially mixed drinks like sours but also some beer!)
  • shampoo
  • cosmetics
  • lotions
  • toothpaste
  • vitamins
  • birth control pills
  • aspirin
This is only a partial list of things to look out for tartrazine in. It's hiding in all kinds of places you wouldn't expect such as chocolate pudding and even caviar, so watch out and check those labels!

In the United States, manufacturers are required to indicate that a product contains tartrazine on the label. In Canada, labels are only required to say "colour." In the United Kingdom and Europe, tartrazine is referred to as "E-102" though it has been banned in Norway and Austria.

There is currently a petition at the FDA to have tartrazine BANNED in the USA! Please email your comments and experiences with this toxic substance to the US government (no matter what country you live in!)

Sometimes products (especially those imported from Asia) have tartrazine that isn't declared on the label! This example of an FDA enforcement report mentions several labeling violations.

My Story

For about 10 years, I had mild eczema on one of my hands which came and went. I used a prescription cortizone cream which helped the itching some, but never got rid of the skin problem completely. When the condition started appearing on my face and neck, I started to worry. Every few weeks, I would get red circles and swelling around my eyes and mouth, as well as spots on my neck. These red spots would appear in the same places every time, and take up to 5 days to heal. After a few months, the redness never healed completely, it just varied in severity.

The first doctor I saw gave me a weaker cortizone to put on my face which burned my skin and did not help the healing. The second doctor I saw told me I had "idiopathic" hives, which meant there was no discernable cause. He offered to give me a pill regimen to "suppress my immune system." I decided I needed my immune system more than ever and declined. The third doctor I saw gave me allergy tests which came up negative. He gave me a long list of food items to avoid and said to re-introduce them one at a time so I would know which had been the problem. I realized that it had been the vitamins I was taking, which contain tartrazine. The time period I had been ill matched up perfectly with the amount of time I'd been taking the pills.

When I started avoiding tartrazine my face finally cleared up and my hand healed completely for the first time in several years!

I am happy that I now know what the problem is, but the prolonged daily exposure from the vitamins has made me extra-sensitive to tartrazine. I have learned which foods to avoid in general, but every once in awhile something sneaks through and the symptoms come back. Unfortunately, now even a small amount of tartrazine triggers a painful (and unattractive) reaction that lasts for five days.

In many ways, I am glad this happened to me, because it has made me adopt a much more natural diet, which has had a profound influence on my health. I have also become an almost-vegetarian (I eat fish once in awhile) after learning about the additives and hormones put into animal feed. Chickens are often fed dyes to make the eggs and flesh look nicer! I encourage everyone to eat less meat, consider giving up red meat and poultry, or eat organic meats and free-range eggs. (I do not believe that eating meat is morally wrong, but I do believe that the way most modern farm animals are treated and drugged up is.)

Look into it and educate yourself, then make up your own mind.


How Hazardous are food dyes? (cached)
an article from Dr. Weil, who maintains that artificial dyes are bad for everyone, not just the allergic.

Our Food Supply - A Chemical Cuisine
an article by Mary Bateman, one of the other crusaders against tartrazine. It includes information on how her husband suffers from a severe reaction to which inhibits his ability to breathe!

Number is up for Pupils' Tuck (cached)
an English article about how much behavior improved in students after they stopped giving them artificially colored food (& encouraged parents to participate at home.)

The Feingold Diet (cached)
this newsletter from the Feingold diet (used to combat hyperactivity) contains some very interesting information about tartrazine, such as the fact that its chemical composition often doesn't meet government regulations. Visit the Feingold Association's Homepage for more information about the popular alternative to giving psychoactive drugs to kids.

Tartrazine and Vitamins (cached)
this article says that tartrazine causes problems because it interferes with the body's absorption of Zinc and Vitamin B6. I take supplements of these vitamins when I feel the symptoms coming on. The rest of the time I avoid synthetic supplements and try to eat foods rich in these nutrients.

Tartrazine Terrors (cached)
a description of tartrazine from a British medical site.

Food Allergies, Rare but Risky (cached)
an article from the FDA about food allergies in general which mentions tartrazine.

Food Color Facts (cached)
another FDA article, with general information about food colorings.

Curries could damage your health (cached)
as this British article shows, you have to be extra careful at restaurants.

"Inactive" Ingredients in Pharmaceutical Products (cached)
an article from the American Academy of Pediatrics that mentions tartrazine.

Women's Health and the Environment (cached)
this site identifies tartrazine as a possible catalyst in the disease Lupus! Definitely another reason to avoid it.

Food Intolerance and Eczema (cached)
if you have eczema, you may be able to get rid of it through dietary changes.

Alternative Medicine and Health: Hives (cached)
presents alternative treatments for dealing with hives, naming tartrazine as a common cause.

Adverse Effects of "Inactive" Ingredients (cached)
this page lists other affects that tartrazine can have, including thyroid tumors!

Food Additives Guide
this site lists a large number of food additives and their uses and effects. There are many other evil chemicals in our food besides the dyes! Tartrazine is E102.

Don't OverDew It
information about the FALSE urban legends that the tartrazine in Mountain Dew causes male sexual dysfunction. I don't really recommend drinking it however.

Google Scholar
results from Google's academic database with scientific studies related to tartrazine.

Guestbook and Tartrazine Email List

My tartrazine guestbook has been running for several years and contains many additional anecdotes about tartrazine from around the world. Please sign it if you have something to add. Your words can contribute to the value of this site and help get the word out about tartrazine.

I have also started an email list for those interested in staying in touch on the subject.