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Is the Perfect Hair Color Worth ‘Dyeing’ for? [Update]

By Lee Euler / September 20, 2017

Many of us remember the famous advertising slogan from years gone by… “Does she… or doesn’t she? Hair color so natural only her hairdresser knows for sure!”

Another one of my favorites was “Is it true blondes have more fun? Be a blonde and see!”

You can guess my age. . . without looking at my grey hair. In the decades since those ancient ad campaigns, the rage for hair coloring has only grown.

These days, three out of four women dye their hair to some degree. And men and teens are jumping on the bandwagon like never before. The #1 reason is to chase away the grey, although many also do it just to experiment with their looks.

But everyone knows this is a chemical treatment and probably anything but natural.

Once you hear the risks of dyeing your hair, you may change your mind about it. And if you think you’re using an organic hair dye with zero or limited health risks, I’ve got a surprise…

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All dyes are not created equal

Your exposure to hair dyes includes both skin exposure and breathing in the fumes they emit. Not surprisingly, hairdressers, stylists, and barbers who apply dyes several times per day are at greater risk than consumers who get their hair colored once a month.

What’s more, the risks vary according to what kind of dye you use. There are three types. . .

  1. Temporary – Covers hair surface but doesn’t penetrate the hair shaft. Lasts 1 to 2 washings. Safe by comparison with the other two options. . . I still wouldn’t.
  2. Semi-permanent – Penetrates the hair shaft and lasts 5 to 10 washings.
  3. Permanent (oxidative) – Chemically changes the hair shaft. Lasts till hair is replaced by new growth, making it highly popular. Sometimes called coal-tar dye due to its aromatic amines and phenols originating from petroleum. Creates toxic reactions when combined with hydrogen peroxide. Darker dyes use more coloring agents.

Cancer worries largely focus on semi-permanent and permanent dyes. Even among those, the playing field isn’t level, because hair dyes can contain thousands of different chemicals.

Researchers have been trying to determine for years whether you can get cancer from dyeing your hair. Most studies focus on the risk of blood cancers like leukemia and lymphoma, plus bladder, prostate, and breast cancers.

Some studies show an association, others don’t. It can be confusing, and keep in mind that different types of dye differ greatly. Here are some telling facts:

  • Hair dye use among men was linked with a more than doubled risk of developing prostate cancer, said a 2016 study.1
  • The Copenhagen City Heart Study evaluated the results of personal hair dye use for 7,684 women over an average follow-up period of 27 years. Hair dye use resulted in double the risk ratio for malignant melanoma, compared to no hair dye use.2
  • Using hair dye for 15 years or more was linked to a higher risk of lymphoma among women, in a population-based case control study in Italy published in 2016.3
  • A 2015 study examined the toxicity of hair dye ingredient p-phenylenediamine (PPD). Scientists found that when combined with hydrogen peroxide, it was toxic in humans, even below amounts deemed allowable by the cosmetic industry. It increased the formation of free radicals, leading to oxidative stress and DNA damage.4
  • Studies linking hair dye to breast cancer have had mixed conclusions. But a 2015 study of 28,165 Finnish women ages 22 to 60 found that women who dyed their hair had a 23 percent higher risk of breast cancer compared to women who did not. In women born prior to 1950, the difference was even greater – 28 percent. The researchers also observed a significant link between risk and cumulative hair dye use.5
  • A 2004 report in the American Journal of Epidemiology links hair dye (especially dark shades) to blood cancers. They found: (1) An increased risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma for those using hair dyes before 1980, (2) Using dark shade dyes for over 25 years doubled the risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and (3) More than 200 applications doubled risk. Semi-permanent dyes don’t appear to carry the same risk.6
  • Despite much research, the issue of bladder cancer and hair dyes is still unresolved.
  • The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) – a UN outfit — concluded that workplace exposure for hairdressers and barbers is “probably carcinogenic to humans,” based on data for bladder cancer. But they don’t consider personal use carcinogenic.7 Anecdotally, I’ve known a couple of hairdressers who got really sick and had to quit their profession.

One thing is clear: the greatest risks are associated with long-term use, which does appear to be dangerous. It’s also worth a mention that hair dye has been linked to severe allergies. And it makes your hair brittle and can even make it fall out.8

EU hair dyes may be safer than those in the US

The European Union has banned 22 hair color ingredients that are still frequently used in products sold in the US. And they’re investigating 115 more potentially unsafe ingredients.

So far, US authorities haven’t followed suit, though there is some talk of new legislation.

Why were these ingredients banned in Europe? Because of concerns about cancer of the bladder, rheumatoid arthritis, severe allergies, and skin, eye, throat, and lung irritation.

The most dangerous culprits include:

  • PPD. Used for dark color dye shades. PPD is a petroleum (coal-tar) chemical containing benzene, naphthalene, phenols, and more. Combined with Hydrogen Peroxide, PPD is highly toxic and linked to cancer.
  • Hydrogen Peroxide, when combined with PPD. Strips natural color away before applying hair color. Makes hair structures brittle and dull – even when not combined with PPD.
  • Ammonia. Opens outer layer of hair for dye penetration. Linked to caustic burns and lung irritation.
  • Parabens. Linked to severe allergies and skin irritation. Also spur the growth of certain types of breast cancer cells.9
  • DMDM Hydantoin. Breaks down into toxic formaldehyde. Predisposes you to asthma, cancer, tissue irritation… wallops your immune system, and more.10 Also used in herbicides, floor waxes, polymers, paints, adhesives, and more.
  • Lead acetate. Color additive for dark shades, linked to anemia and neurological problems. Listed as a probable carcinogen.11
  • Resorcinol. Toxic dye leading to scalp irritation, respiratory problems, organ system toxicity, and endocrine disruption.12

Be aware that these can all go by multiple names.

Don’t be duped by the allure of organic…

There is no such thing as organic permanent hair color, for either do-it-yourselfers or professionals. Yet salon professionals are being misled into promoting products that claim to be organic. When you read the ingredient lists, it turns out most of the items aren’t even close to organic.

If there’s no such thing as organic hair color, why do so many people think there is?

First, most don’t know that the organic standard was set for agricultural food products, not for chemical processes like coloring your hair.

The US Department of Agriculture regulates the term organic for foods. But a different cabinet department and a different agency — the FDA — regulates cosmetics. And they do not define or regulate the term organic for cosmetics, body care, or personal care products. A company can use the word “organic” just about any way it pleases.

The most lax US organic standard requires 70 percent organic ingredients, which allows a marketer to say “Made with Organic Ingredients.”

To date, no hair color has met this 70 percent standard.

How can you say it’s organic when it’s not?

There are a number of ways to get around the rules when it comes to labeling a product organic:

  • Use the word organic in the company name.
  • Claim the product has been around longer than the standard, so it escapes regulation.
  • Claim that another country’s certifications are stronger than America’s (even if the product doesn’t qualify for either one).
  • Get a certification for one product, but claim it for everything. Or use a few individual ingredients that are certified, along with other ingredients that aren’t.
  • Hope no one complains loudly enough to get the company into trouble.

Don’t let dye marketers bamboozle you based on EU standards either.

Europe is similar to the US. Neither actually has a government standard for organic cosmetics. Private certifying agents certify products, for which they charge a fee. The process is often dubious.

For example, EcoCert is a private outfit – a for-profit company, as far as I can see — that certifies products. It requires that a mere five to ten percent of the product (excluding water) be organic. They also say the finished product should have 95 percent natural ingredients. But — again, as far as I can see – they don’t define “natural” and the term really doesn’t mean much. Mercury, lead, arsenic and poison ivy are natural.

In short, self-regulation by the cosmetics industry is not very effective. Take a look at this. . .

Your trust in hair color ads is sorely misplaced

Ads in salon industry and consumer magazines are misleading, to say the least.13

A glaring example is “From Farm to Chair,” which claims to be the “world’s preeminent All Natural Organic Salon Color Line.” It is a big name supplier used by countless “safer” salons. A close look at its ads and products suggest it may not be so safe. . .

  • One ad calls it “The world’s first-ever color, care, and styling line with certified biodynamic, organic, and fair trade ingredients grown on 50,000 square meters of chemical free farmland in Bologna, Italy.”
  • The ad suggests avoiding six harmful ingredients.
  • There’s no mention of dye in the ad. Images of farm-fresh herbs are prominent. In fact, you’re led to believe that’s all the product contains. The ad lists four specific organic items. Yet industry insiders say there’s no way you can make hair color with just those four ingredients.
  • There’s no claim of organic certification on packaging or ads. Nor do ads contain a complete ingredient list.
  • Their Facebook page lists 26 organic ingredients. But those don’t line up with the actual ingredients listed on the bottle… Not even close.
  • Only five ingredients are actually certified organic. One with EcoCert certification and four with Soil Association certification.

The information is incomplete, confusing and contradictory. It’s not clear what is in the product or whether all the ingredients are safe. It seems rather likely they aren’t.

How to find a safe alternative

There are a few tricks to finding a “less bad” option:

  1. Accept the fact that there’s no organic hair dye.
  2. Do your own research. Don’t take a friend’s or stylist’s word for it. Go to EWG’s Skin Deep site (www.ewg.org) for its rating of ingredients and products.
  3. Use henna, a natural dye that’s been around for millennia. The downside is that the results can be inconsistent. And it can be messy to apply when you do it yourself, but there are some salons that have perfected this process.
  4. Use temporary dyes. They won’t last as long, but they also don’t contain the chemical cocktails permanent dyes do.
  5. Take a stab at naturally turning your hair back to its original color. Some suggest taking 1 tablespoon of unsulphured blackstrap molasses daily with water, for its iron and potassium. Or apply it to your roots and leave it on as long as possible. It’ll melt with body heat, so protect your clothes and furniture by wrapping your hair in Saran wrap.
  6. Or embrace your grey and your age for what it is. A hair stylist can help you make the transition to natural.

Whether or not to dye your hair is a personal choice. But you should carefully weigh the risks vs. the rewards, so you avoid nasty consequences. Dying to Dye? No Thanks, I’ll Live with the Grey…

Best regards,

Lee Euler,
Publisher

References:
1 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26996776 (accessed on September 6, 2017)
2 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26986063 (accessed on September 6, 2017)
3 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26759332 (accessed on September 6, 2017)
4 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26456176 (accessed on September 6, 2017)
5 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26263013 (accessed on September 6, 2017)
6 http://www.webmd.com/healthy-beauty/news/20040126/hair-dye-linked-to-blood-cancer
7 https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/hair-dyes.html
8 https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/hair-dyes.html
9 http://www.webmd.com/breast-cancer/news/20151027/parabens-breast-cancer#1
10 https://www.naturaveda.com/pages/the-danger-of-dmdm-hydantoin-and-imidazolindinyl-urea
11 https://toxnet.nlm.nih.gov/cgi-bin/sis/search/a?dbs+hsdb:@[email protected]+1404
12 http://www.safecosmetics.org/get-the-facts/chemicals-of-concern/resorcinol/
13 http://www.mastey.com/organic-hair-color-organic-hair-dye/
About the author

Lee Euler

Hi I'm Lee Euler, I’ve spent over a decade investigating every possible way a person can beat cancer. In fact, our commitment to defeating cancer has made us the world’s #1 publisher of information about Alternative Cancer Treatments -- with over 20 books and 700 newsletters on the subject. If you haven't heard about all your cancer options, or if you want to make sure you don’t miss even one answer to this terrible disease, then join our newsletter. When you do, I'll keep you informed each week about the hundreds of alternative cancer treatments that people are using to cure cancer all over the world.

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