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Is Hair Colour Worth Dying For?

Monday, May 12, 2008 by: Katherine East
Tags: 5316, news, trends

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(NewsTarget) If you use permanent hair dye you are likely to be familiar with the burning sensation, irritation on the scalp and strong distinctive smell during the application of the dye. Have you ever wondered what the long term effects are on your body?

We may try to overlook the chemicals that we place on our hair and focus instead on the glamorous results, but as consumers we should be more sceptical about industry safety claims and become more knowledgeable about the products. In fact we should be demanding to know just how safe, or unsafe, hair dye really is.

Historically hair dye was made from natural ingredients, usually vegetable. Modern hair dyes are made mostly of chemicals.

Market research indicates that an increasing number of people are dying their hair and are doing so at a younger age. In some countries up to 60% of women and up to 10% of men regularly dye their hair.

According to the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association (CTPA) in the U.K., hair dyes can be safely used as recommended in their instructions and consumers can use them with confidence. But there is an ongoing safety investigation by the European Commission (Scientific Committee on Consumer Products - SCCP) because of studies linking hair dye usage to bladder cancer. The research was published in the International Journal of Cancer in 2001. It concluded that "after adjustment for cigarette smoking, a major risk factor for bladder cancer, women who use permanent hair dyes at least once a month experience a 2.1 fold risk of bladder cancer relative to non-users.

A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology in 2004, suggests that the proportion of lymphomas in the female population that could be attributable to hair dyes is about 10%. Another study across European countries, found an increased risk of lymphoma associated with the use of hair dye. (Lymphoma is a broad term encompassing a variety of cancers of the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system helps filter out bacteria and is important in fighting disease.)

Many other studies have been published, some giving evidence of dangers to using hair dye and others proving inconclusive but is it something we as consumers should ignore?

What experts do agree on is that common chemical ingredients used to facilitate the permanent colouring process such as ammonia, resorcinol, paraben and PDD (p-phenylenediamine) are allergens -- substances that can cause an allergic reaction when in contact with the body -- although sensitivities will differ from person to person.

One of the biggest toxins is ammonia. This is the same ingredient used in many household cleaning products and also the reason why hair dye burns the scalp and smells so strong.

Another toxin is PPD. Researchers from the St John's Institute of dermatology in London warned that PPD and related agents, found in most hair dyes, can trigger allergic reactions, such as facial dermatitis and even facial swelling.

The good old FDA, the organisation supposedly responsible for overseeing the safety of cosmetics sold in the USA, is not able to prohibit the sale of hair dye, even though hair straighteners and hair dyes are among the FDA's top consumer complaint areas. According to the FDA, this is due to an extraordinary situation where hair colouring made from coal tar was given special exemptions from bans when the Food, Drink and Cosmetic Act was passed in 1938, due to lobbying pressure from the coal tar hair dye manufacturing industry at the time. The most they can do is insist that product labels include a skin irritation/allergy warning.

Although many modern hair dyes derive their ingredients from petroleum sources, they are considered coal tar dyes by the FDA because they contain some of the same compounds found in the older dyes. So as long as hair dye packaging carries skin irritation/allergy warnings, most hair dyes sold in the USA and exported to the rest of the world, do not have to go through the pre-market safety testing that other cosmetic colour additives do, before hitting the shelves.

Many consumers are not ashamed to want to look their best and know all too well the value of the right hair colour and the effect it has on their self-esteem. It is vital however that we know what the risks are in using chemicals on our bodies and that we make an effort to be informed so that decisions we make now will not be damaging to our health in the future.


1. Commission bans 22 hair dye substances to increase consumer safety.

2. Allergy to hair dye increasing. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/6319875.st...)

3. Safety of hair colourants. (www.ctpa.org.uk/home.asp)

4. International Journal of Cancer 2001; 91:575-579

5. American Journal of Epidemiology 2006; 64(1): 47-55

6. (www.fda.gov/fdac/features/2001/101_hair.html)

About the author

Katherine Oosthuis is completing a Diploma in Nutritional Therapy. She researches and writes for a health and nutrition website Detox For Life . Her passion is to make research available to those who are looking to improve their well-being and revolutionise their health through better nutrition and alternative medicines.

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