Engineers' purple dye increases risk of cancer

Engineering Society seeking alternatives after Health Canada warning

Health Canada warns against purple dye due to cancer risk.
Journal File Photo
Every homecoming, first-year engineering students lie in kiddie pools full of purple dye that—according to a recent Health Canada advisory—increases the risk of cancer.
Following two safety assessments, Health Canada found exposure to gentian violet, the substance found in the dye engineering students use for ‘purpling’, increases the risk of cancer. The agency issued its warning on June 12 and advised Canadians to cease all use of the chemical given the “seriousness of the risk.”
Engineering Society President Delaney Benoit said the Society is aware of Health Canada’s warning against exposure to gentian violet.
“Given the clear health warning issued by the government, the University cannot endorse the use of gentian violet going forward. As a result, the Engineering Society is currently researching alternatives,” Delaney wrote in a statement after declining The Journal’s request for an interview.
Health Canada’s individual review of gentian violet was prompted by the World Health Organization’s Codex Alimentarius Commission, which recommended regulatory authorities prevent exposure to gentian violet in food because of its potential to cause cancer.
While the World Health study focused on food, Health Canada’s individual assessments reviewed the safety of human non-prescription drugs, veterinary drugs, and medical devices containing gentian violet.
Following the safety assessments, the Agency found there’s no safe level of exposure to the dye and that “any exposure to these drug products is a potential cause for concern.”
The manufacturer of Gentian Violet Liquid Topical voluntarily discontinued marketing of their products in Canada, and all licensed products containing the substance have been removed from the market.
The safety review also stated that in studies “cases of cancer in animals following oral exposure of gentian violet were noted,” although there have been no reported cases of cancer in humans associated with gentian violet in Canada or internationally.
The assessment concluded that most medical devices containing gentian violet do not pose an increased risk of cancer when used for a short period of time as long as they do not come into direct contact with the skin, but engineering students have been known to dye their entire bodies purple during Orientation week and Homecoming.
Traditionally, second year engineering students leading incoming frosh during Orientation Week dye themselves purple, and the first-year students follow their lead a couple months later during Homecoming.
As a rite of passage, first-year engineering students also dye their leather jackets purple during the exam period in the fall.

All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.