Purple dye banned because of cancer risk

Engineering students will still be purple and proud during O-Week – but their celebrations won’t include a popular body dye after Western recently banned the use of the product linked to cancer by Health Canada.

“Health Canada has completed a safety review of human health products and veterinary drugs containing gentian violet and has found that exposure to these products may increase the risk of cancer. Given the seriousness of this risk, Health Canada is advising Canadians to stop using all human and veterinary drug products containing gentian violet,” the statement read.

It continued, “After completing two safety assessments, the Department concluded that, as with other known cancer causing substances, there is no safe level of exposure, and therefore any exposure to these drug products is a potential cause for concern.”

The manufacturer has stopped marketing the product in Canada and its product licence has been cancelled.

It had been sold primarily as an antiseptic to treat fungal infections. But among engineering students at Western and elsewhere, ‘purpling’ with gentian violet dye has been a long-standing tradition as a signal of the start of studies in their chosen profession.

During Orientation Week, some students place a finger or a hand in the dye, some dip their hair or immerse their faces or bodies, said Chris Alleyne, Associate Vice-President (Housing and Retail Services). But following the Health Canada warning and “out of an abundance of caution,” purpling with gentian violet will not take place this year. Any existing supplies have been removed from the inventory.

Other engineering schools across Canada have taken a similar step.

Western’s Faculty of Engineering, Occupational Health and Safety and the Orientation committee are now working to find a safe solution that would still honour the purpling tradition, without the health risk, Alleyne said.