Azo dyes

Azo dyes are synthetic dyes used in a variety of consumer goods including foods, cosmetics, carpets, clothes, leather and textiles.

Risks & injuries

A small proportion of azo dyes contain, or can break down to form, aromatic amines. Some aromatic amines, such as benzidine, 3,3’-dimethylbensidine and p-aminoazobenzene are suspected carcinogens.

Aromatic amines can migrate from clothing and leather articles and be absorbed through the skin where there is direct and prolonged contact. The amount of aromatic amines released can increase with body heat, sweat and saliva.

It is only certain azo dyes that are problematic – the majority don't lead to exposure to hazardous aromatic amines.

ACCC market surveys

The ACCC tested a range clothing and manchester for hazardous aromatic amines in 2013 and 2015. The results for both surveys were similar, indicating that more than 97 per cent of the products tested were compliant with the acceptable limit of 30mg/kg for hazardous aromatic amines. Where items were found to contain aromatic amines above the acceptable limit, the suppliers removed the product from the market.

The available evidence indicates that the use of problematic azo dyes isn't widespread. Many Australian suppliers already have systems in place to manage the risk of overseas manufacturers using the wrong dyes.

Safe use

  • Stop using recalled products that contain azo dyes.  Contact the retail outlet you bought the product from and advise them that you have purchased a recalled product. Ask the retailer how you should return the recalled product and get a refund or other acceptable remedy.
  • Washing the item may not decrease the concentration of hazardous aromatic amines. Pre- and post-wash test results commissioned by the ACCC didn’t indicate a consistent decrease in the concentrations of hazardous aromatic amines after a single wash. In some cases the results after a single wash were slightly higher than the pre-wash test results.