Roughly 75 % of all women and men in the United States, Europe and Japan color their hair in some form, and the majority do it on a regular basis for years. In fact, hair coloring is a practice that humans have been participating in since ancient times! While in the past, natural substances like Henna were used in many cultures, modern hair colors, from do-it-yourself boxes to professional do’s, contain harsh chemicals that come with some pretty serious side effects, including risks for bladder, kidney, breast and blood-based cancers.
The “Official Word” on Hair Color Chemicals
The “official word” on hair color chemicals is little word at all. The main chemical used in hair colors worldwide (as well as many commercial shampoos and other sundry products) is p-Phenylenediamin (PDD). Here’s what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says about PDD:
“Acute (short-term) exposure to high levels of p-phenylenediamine may cause severe dermatitis, eye irritation and tearing, asthma, gastritis, renal failure, vertigo, tremors, convulsions, and coma in humans.”
This list of nasty side effects alone should be enough to classify PDD as a “known health hazard.” But there is more. In the EPA’s official “Hazards Summary” (revised in 2000), they go on to describe that long-term exposure to PDD may result in “eczematoidal” (i.e. eczema-like) effects and explain that in vivo studies on PDD have shown that rats and mice exposed to p-phenylenediamine displayed depressed body weight (but no other signs of toxicity, according to the report).
To date, the Environmental Protection Agency still has not classified PDD as a carcinogen, citing that “no information is available on the reproductive, developmental, or carcinogenic effects of p-phenylenediamine in humans.”
Several Studies Link Hair Coloring to Cancer
PDD is not the only chemical that can be found in modern-day hair colors. To get to the “root” of why and how hair colorings can be so dangerous, one must first understand how PDD and other chemicals interact with the substances found in human hair and each other to produce their effects. There are over 5,000 chemicals that are used to some extent in hair coloring products. Besides PDD, other common substances include ammonia and lead acetate.
The way modern hairstylists (and you, if you use an at-home solution) change hair color is not really through dying but by combining external substances in order to change color via chemical reaction. Modern hair colors are usually classified as “temporary” (these may be straight dyes), “semi-permanent,” and “permanent”; eighty percent of the coloring market is made up of permanent colors which use “intermediates and couplers” (such as PDD) that react with the hydrogen peroxide in the solution.
Although many dangerous ingredients were banned in the 1970’s after several cancer-related rat studies were published, hair colors — especially dark colors– still contain high concentrations of potentially dangerous ingredients. Here is just a sampling of studies from all over the world that link hair coloring and cancer:
- A 1994 National Cancer Institute report stated that dark dyes used over long periods of time seem to increase the risk of cancers such as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and multiple myeloma.
- A study conducted by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) found a “consistent risk” for hairdressers and barbers of bladder cancer as well as lymphoma and leukemia.
- A study on breast cancer and hair colors conducted almost thirty years ago and published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that “aromatic amines contained in permanenthair dyes can be absorbed percutaneously and are mutagenic and carcinogenic in some laboratory studies.”
- Canada and the European Union banned the use of lead acetate (used mostly in men’s hair coloring) in the early 2000’s, and the state of California currently deems it as a carcinogen. Dozens of studies have linked lead to neurological complications as well as cancers of the kidney and lungs. Lead acetate is also found in nail polish and some face creams.
- The Environmental Working Group found that 69% of hair-dye products they tested for their Skin Deep database may pose cancer risks.
- A 2001 International Journal of Cancer study found people who use permanent hair dye are twice as likely to develop bladder cancer as those who don’t dye.
- Ammonia is used in hair color products in order for coloring compounds to penetrate the hair shaft and change the natural melanin pigment of a person’s hair. Ammonia has not been categorized as a carcinogen by the US Environmental Protection Agency, but the Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety deems it a “very toxic“chemical that can cause death. Ammonia can also lead to severe damage to the respiratory system and is corrosive to the skin upon contact. This is one of the reasons why many chemically-sensitive people will experience scabbing and blistering of the skin when applying hair coloring.
The connection between harmful chemicals used on the head area and certain cancers makes perfect sense (even if the EPA does not acknowledge it). The scalp area contains a very rich blood supply; if you have ever gotten a cut on your head, you may have been surprised about how much you bled! Chemicals such as p-phenylenediamine, ammonia, and lead acetate used on the scalp and left on for 30 minutes or more will inevitably soak into the skin, wind up in the blood supply and spread their toxic effects throughout the body.
There ARE Alternatives to Dangerous Chemical Hair Coloring
It is important to remember that alternatives to chemically-derived hair coloring products do exist. Brands such as Herbatint, Light Mountain, and Aubrey all offer chemical-free alternatives. For more information, be sure to visit the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Database, which rates on a scale of one to ten the relative level of concern posed by exposure to the ingredients in certain personal care products compared with other product formulations.This is a vital resource which offers over 62,000 products for maintaining a toxin-free and cancer-free lifestyle.
Dr. Veronique Desaulniers (“Dr. V”) is a best-selling author and founder of breastcancerconqueror.com. She specializes in Chiropractic, Bio-Energetics, Meridian Stress Analysis, Homeopathy and Digital Thermography. After 30 years in active practice, she decided to “retire” and devote her time to sharing her personal, non-toxic Breast Cancer healing journey with others. Her years of experience and research have culminated in “The 7 Essentials™ “, a step-by-step coaching program that unravels the mystery of healing the body. Her website and personal healing journey have touched the lives of thousands of women around the globe.