Is the powder in The Color Run safe?

Dubbed, "The Happiest 5K on the Planet," The Color Run could cause more coughs than smiles.
Dubbed, "The Happiest 5K on the Planet," The Color Run could cause more coughs than smiles.

 During the past several years, themed races have become extremely popular. Social media is plastered with pictures of people jumping through fire, running through clouds of colored dust, and even drinking a beer at every mile.

Although I thoroughly promote the importance of exercise, especially if you can have fun while doing it, I do question the safety of some of these ideas. In particular, I began to wonder about the race involving colored powder – The Color Run. What exactly is that powder made of and is it safe to breath in? 

Colored powder that gets thrown around during these races is actually cornstarch colored with FDA-approved food dye, according to the Color Run website. It states:

“Our fabulous shine powder is more like make-up and is completely safe and even more precisely thrown on the lower half of your body [sic].“1

Even though the website specifies the powder goes on the lower half of the body, I am sure the cornstarch is getting inhaled as well. Anyway, I began to research the effects of inhaling cornstarch, and I came across some interesting articles. Many touched on concerns related to frequent inhalation of cornstarch that is applied as a lubricant to latex gloves and the push to use powder-free gloves. (I always wondered what that powder was made of but never thought about the dangers of breathing it in while using gloves). 

One particular study mentioned an experiment that placed healthy individuals into a breathing chamber that was pumped full of cornstarch-glove powder. They received an initial bronchoscopy and then again at 2 to 3 weeks after exposure. 

The results demonstrated the powder caused subclinical airway inflammation as well as a large number of eosinophilic granulocytes, which can cause tissue damage.2 In addition to tissue damage, it was found that cornstarch powder may cause adhesions, and your body can have a severe inflammatory reaction to the starch that results in scarring.3

The cornstarch powder used during the themed runs may be different from the cornstarch powder used on latex gloves; therefore, I cannot go ahead and say that colored cornstarch would cause the exact same reaction. However, I am apt to believe that because they are both cornstarch based, there would be a similar consequence to inhaling this powder. 

From what I have seen, the amount of powder inhaled during The Color Run seems to be a lot more than what could be inhaled while using sterile gloves, especially when a person is running and has an increased respiration rate. 

For the time being, I think I will refrain from running in colored-powder races. I also highly recommend that if you do run in one of these races that you use a bandana or other device to help filter the air you are breathing in. 
After doing this research I also recommend wearing a mask if you still use powdered gloves. It is important that we take care of ourselves so that we can take care of others!

Jillian Knowles, MMS, PA-C, is an emergency medicine physician assistant in the Philadelphia area.

References

  1. Frequently asked questions. The Color Run website. https://thecolorrun.com/faq/ Accessed July 8, 2015. 
  2. Grunewald J, Eklund A, Katchar K et al. Lung accumulations of eosinophil granulocytes after exposure to cornstarch glove powder. Eur Respir J. 2003;21(4):646-51.
  3. Deroian E, Moss R, Pfister JI, et al. Surgical gloves: Is it time for a change? Pfiedler Enterprises website. http://www.pfiedler.com/ce/1289/files/assets/basic-html/index.html#2 Accessed July 8, 2015. 


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