We know, we know. If it’s not one thing, it’s another. But we just can’t turn a blind eye to all the buzz we’ve been hearing about the nastiness of artificial food dyes. So we turned to our Eco Expert, Honest Company co-founder (and the former CEO of Healthy Child, Healthy World) Christopher Gavigan, for some answers about how bad they really are. And the short answer is: they suck.

StrollerTraffic: Okay, give it to us straight. What’s the deal with artificial food dyes?
Christopher Gavigan: Artificial food dyes are made from petroleum and are linked to everything from cancer to ADHD. [For details about specific risks, click here.] The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continues to drag its feet on banning these unnecessary, risky additives, but they’re bad enough that in the EU, manufacturers have to use a warning label on most foods that contain them. Even this small labeling requirement has prompted most companies to switch to natural dyes for products they sell abroad (while still using the synthetic junk for those of us here in the U.S.).

ST: Ugh. Are certain food dyes worse than others?
CG: It’s pretty much like picking between poisons when it comes to artificial food dyes. Would you rather be exposed to a carcinogen or a neurotoxin? Skip the artificial dyes altogether.

ST: Got it. Are there special considerations for exposing babies and kids to food dyes?
CG: Just as with most chemical exposures, infants and children are more vulnerable to adverse impacts because of their small size and developing bodies. In the case of artificial food coloring, it’s especially worrisome because so many foods marketed to kids use them.

ST: So infuriating. Where should we be watching for them?
CG: Unfortunately, they’re used in almost all conventional processed foods. I haven’t seen any of the worst offenders used in infant and first foods, although you should check your labels to make sure. But any parent can attest to the crazy colors used for foods aimed at toddlers and elementary-age children. You have to be very diligent about reading labels. Unexpected and often overlooked sources of artificial food dyes include medicine and vitamins.

ST: Vitamins? Jeez. Is an occasional treat that contains food dye okay, or do we have to be crazy diligent about avoiding them completely?
CG: For most children, an occasional treat isn’t anything to worry about. But some children are especially sensitive to artificial food dyes, so you should watch closely for any adverse effects. Common reactions can include anything from wheezing to hyperactivity.

ST: Well, that will make it a little easier to get through birthday parties without tantrums. Anything else parents should know?
CG: Parents have been petitioning big food companies to get them to stop using artificial food dyes, but even with hundreds of thousands of signatures, most still aren’t listening. I encourage everyone to keep up the pressure by calling and emailing manufacturers to let them know they don’t want their kids’ foods to have these toxic food dyes in them.
ST: Consider it done.