The literature on lead toxicology has been critically reviewed to provide a safety assessment of lead acetate as a hair colouring. The main objectives were: (i) to determine the additional lead contribution from hair-colouring use to the total daily environmental lead intake; and (ii) to assess the toxicological significance of this additional contribution. The review also focuses attention on newer issues of concern over the effects of environmental lead on human health. Data available in animals and humans (including occupational exposure), mainly on lead acetate and other inorganic lead salts, have been presented and evaluated in respect of the following: absorption, distribution and excretion following ingestion; percutaneous absorption; carcinogenicity; genotoxicity; reproductive toxicity; neurological/behavioural status with particular reference to neuropsychological effects in children; and effects on other systems (e.g. cardiovascular). It is concluded that the absorption of lead from hair-colouring use represents about 0.5% of the lead absorption from the current average daily environmental lead intake. No convincing evidence could be found of any deleterious effect of current environmental lead levels on human health and thus the tiny contribution of lead acetate exposure from hair-colouring use can be regarded unequivocally as being toxicologically insignificant.