FD&C Yellow #6

What is FD&C Yellow #6?

FD&C Yellow #6 is a synthetic food dye used in food, drugs, and cosmetics in both the US and Europe (1).

It provides a yellow-orange color when used.

Other names for FD&C Yellow #6:

  • Sunset Yellow FCF
  • E110 (European name)

Foods that may contain FD&C Yellow #6:

Products that may contain FD&C Yellow #6:

How is FD&C Yellow #6 metabolized and absorbed?

It appears that a very small amount of intact Yellow #6 (~1.5%) is absorbed by rats and excreted in the urine and bile within 24 hours (2).

Slightly more of the azo-metabolites are absorbed (~8.5%) and 37% of the metabolite sulfanilic acid is absorbed (2).

Is there a maximum amount of FD&C Yellow #6 allowed per day?

The European Unions’ Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) is 4 mg/kg/day (3)

Can people have adverse reactions to FD&C Yellow #6?

Yes, adverse reactions to FD&C Yellow #6 have been reported in humans. Facial itching and swelling occurred in one woman who took an iron supplement containing Yellow #6 (4).

Animal and lab studies on the health effects of Yellow #6 have been mixed.

Mice fed extremely large amounts of Sunset Yellow (2000 mg/kg/bw) for 2 days did not show any evidence of genotoxcity in their colon cells, so large amount, short-term, do not appear to cause harm (in mice) (5).

When high concentrations of FD&C Yellow #6 were mixed with human white blood cells, increased cell damage was detected (compared to similar doses of curcumin, which is often used as a “natural” yellow dye). However, the doses used were much higher than humans would be exposed to through food (6).

FD&C Yellow #6 has also been shown to increase the release of pro-inflammatory mediators from neutrophils when exposed directly (but it is unclear whether the same would happen when consumed orally in small doses) (7).

Interestingly, rats fed diets containing 2.5mg of Sunset Yellow per kg body weight (which is within the human ADI) for 4 weeks showed evidence of worsening liver and kidney function, increased oxidative damage, and lower oxidative status than rats fed plain water (8).

New research is looking at the additive effects of multiple dyes and preservatives. 

Very high doses (200 mg/kg) of Sunset Yellow in combination with 750 mg/kg of sodium benzoate has been linked to a small increase in cell damage/mutations in rats (9).

Natural alternatives for yellow coloring:

Natural alternatives to Yellow #6 include:

  • Annatto
  • Beta-carotene
  • Malt color
  • Turmeric/Curcumin
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