We love to change and update our appearance, don’t we? And what easier way than to dye our hair? A different color can make you feel renewed, young, and energetic. However, depending on the type of dye you use, it can also put your health at risk.
Let’s review some of the evidence. According to the National Cancer Institute, over 5,000 different chemicals are used in hair-dye products, some of which are reported to be carcinogenic in animals. Some population studies have found an increased risk of bladder cancer in hairdressers and barbers, and a 2008 report concluded that some of the chemicals these workers are exposed to were probably carcinogenic to humans.
Other studies have been conflicting, but researchers have found increased risk of follicular lymphoma in women who use dark-colored dyes. They’ve also found links between prolonged use of dyes (for 15 or more years) and increased risk of leukemia. Some scientists feel the improved formulations that came about after 1980 have reduced risk, since some harmful ingredients were removed, but recent studies are inconclusive, particularly concerning dark hair dyes.
Samuel Epstein, author of Toxic Beauty and chairman of the Cancer Prevention Coalition, feels these study discrepancies are the result of shortcomings in the studies themselves. A well-designed study in Nebraska in the 1990s found that hair-dye use would account for about 20 percent of all non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma deaths in women, he says, and points out that U.S. rates for this cancer have increased more than 100 percent since 1950: “There is substantial evidence on the carcinogenic hazards of petro-chemical hair dyes. Their use represents a major class of avoidable cancer risks to some 50 million United States women.” The Harvard School of Public Health’s epidemiology department, for example, found that women who use hair coloring five times or more annually are twice as likely to develop ovarian cancer than women who never use hair dye.
Some of the toxic chemicals in hair dyes include quaternium-15, which can release formaldehyde; phenylenediamine (PPD), which was shown to be carcinogenic to the breast; and alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs), some of which are suspected hormone disruptors. PPD, which is present in over 2/3 of chemical hair dyes, is known to be toxic to the immune system, skin, nervous system, respiratory system, liver, and kidneys, and has been classified in the European Union as a toxin and irritant dangerous to the environment. France, Germany and Sweden have banned the use of PPD in cosmetics.
Do you have to go gray or stick with your natural color to avoid risk? Not necessarily. Your best option-choose some of the newer, more natural dye alternatives. Epstein recommends a new German product called “Logona,” which makes dyes containing only 100 percent natural botanical coloring and conditioning ingredients. Naturtint and Herbatint are other options. Also, try using dye less frequently, and avoid very dark shades. If you dye your hair yourself, be sure to wear gloves, try not to rub the dye into your scalp, leave the dye on your hair only as long as necessary, and rinse thoroughly.
Have you switched hair dyes as a result of health risks? Please share any product recommendations you may have.
Photo courtesy Aurora Feizul via Flickr.com.