There aren’t many compliments to pay processed food, but even I’ll admit ~ the stuff sure can be colorful. Give the food industry a dull block of ice, and voila ~~ they’ll give you back an azure popsicle.

Unfortunately, a blockbuster new study published in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology finds that blue dye used in edible products might be doing more to our bodies than we thought.

The research team, out of the Slovak University of Technology, studied two blue dyes, Patent Blue and Brilliant Blue. The former is banned from food products in the United States, but Brilliant Blue (also known as FD&C Blue #1) is used in candy, cereal, drinks, pet food, textiles, leathers, and cosmetics in several countries including the U.S.  However, Blue #1 (and #2) is banned in Norway, Finland and France

“[Brilliant Blue or Blue #1] is one of the most commonly used blue dyes,” says study co-author Jarmila Hojerová, an associate professor at the Slovak University of Technology and president of the Slovak Society of Cosmetology.

So it must be safe, right?

Experts thought so, but Hojerová and her colleagues have shown that the dyes can actually enter the bloodstream via the skin or through the digestive tract. That’s a major surprise, because it was believed that the skin blocked the dye from seeping into the body, and that ingested dyes were destroyed by the gastrointestinal system.

The team reached their conclusions by studying pig tongues coated with human saliva: Brilliant Blue and Patent Blue dye were placed on the tongues for 20 minutes, in an effort to mimic licking a lollipop. One day later, the team found that both dyes had actually been absorbed through the tongue and into the bloodstream, with Patent Blue penetrating to a greater extent.

The finding is troubling because several studies show that these dyes might inhibit cell respiration, Hojerová says.

“If the process of creating energy and respiration does not take place properly, there are many failures,” she notes. Both dyes, for instance, have been linked to ADHD, allergies, and asthma. In 2003, when Brilliant Blue was used as a dye in feeding tubes, the FDA issued a public health advisory because of side effects like blue-tinged skin, urine, and feces, as well as hypotension and death.

In particular, the team found, the blue dyes can seep into the bloodstream when the skin’s barrier is impaired, like after shaving, or when the dyes are exposed to the mucous membrane of the tongue. They recommend that the dyes be banned in hard candies and certain cosmetic products to reduce consumer risk.

The International Association of Color Manufacturers disagrees with the study findings. In response to the study, a press release stated that the amount of dye permeating the skin is negligible when compared to safety limits.

Concerned about synthetic dyes? You should be! Here are three quick tips to cut your exposure:

  1. Choose clean cosmetics. Ditch the shaving cream, facial cleanser, and anything else containing dye in your medicine cabinet, especially because blue dye can sneak in through damaged skin. (Wondering what to replace it with? I use olive oil on my skin and even on my furniture.)
  2. Read your labels to look out for artificial dyes and synthetic chemicals. Artificial dyes appear on all kinds of labels, from cosmetics and food to medication. Watch out for these: Blue #1, Blue #2, Citrus Red, Green #3, Orange B, Red #3, Red #40, Yellow # 5, and Yellow #6. Yellow #5 is banned in Norway and Austria. Besides, food dyes, there are other chemicals to avoid like brominated vegetable oil commonly found in soda and sports drinks. It’s banned in more than 100 countries because it is toxic. Azodicarbonamide used to bleach flour is banned in Australia, the U.K. and many European countries. Bromated flour is common in U.S. bread products but is banned by regulatory bodies in Europe, Canada and China. California requires a warning label.
  3. Eat naturally. To add some visual zing to your food, reach into your spice cabinet instead of reaching for packaged products. Try bright pink beetroot, yellow turmeric, and golden paprika extract and stick to organic products. Organic products do not contain synthetic dyes or chemical additives.

For more information about safe foods and ingredients to avoid read my book Beyond The Mediterranean Diet: European Secrets Of The Super-Healthy.