New research has discovered that the red colour of the sindoor might actually be unsafe for those people who wear it as a culturally significant symbol.

The powder used by women (and some men) to be worn as bindis or red dots on their foreheads, contains lead tetroxide, which is a chemical used by manufacturers to give it the brilliant red colour.

The study, conducted in New Jersey, Mumbai and Delhi, tested 118 samples. It found that around 80% of the samples had some amount of lead, and 33% of them contained lead levels above the safe levels set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Study author, Dr. Derek Shendell of Rutgers School of Public Health in Piscataway, New Jersey, said to Reuters Health, “We are diverse here with a lot of individuals who emigrate or travel from many parts of the world through airports on a weekly basis.” He also said that these issues come under the purview of public health, and that there was a possibility that the powder could spread either through ingestion or inhalation.

Dr. Shendell’s team found that around 83% and 78% from the US and Indian samples had at least 1 microgram(mcg) of lead/1 gram of powder. This, in spite of several studies showing that any level of lead in the human body is unsafe.

The study also found that 19% of US samples and 43% of the Indian ones exceeded the FDA’s limit of 20 mcg per gram. In fact, 5 samples even had as much as 10000 mcgs.

The public should be made aware of such health hazards, said the researchers. “Just as we screen kids who live in houses built prior to 1978 with lead-based paint, we should screen children who use sindoor cosmetically,” said Dr. Bill Halperin of the Rutgers School of Public Health campus in Newark, also a study author, told Reuters Health by phone.

It is worrisome that we use products that have so much lead content in them, without even them being monitored. We should indeed respect families and their belief systems, and allow them to follow their practices, but we must be aware of all the health hazards that come with following certain practices.

After all, health comes first above everything. We need to follow health standards, and everyone must be involved in them. Companies who sell these products must also be concerned about their consumers’ well-being and ensure their safety.

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