As men and women age, many choose to dye their hair to hide their graying locks.
It may seem like an insignificant habit, but the chemicals used in hair dye aren’t harmless.
The Daily Mail reported that permanent hair color interacts with pollutants like cigarette smoke to create one of the most carcinogenic compounds known to man (1).
This was discovered by Green Chemical, a company that conducted the review and ‘connected the dots’ between previous research to examine the true safety of hair dye.
The company discovered that secondary amines, which are present in all permanent hair dye, create N-nitrosamines when exposed to airborne pollutants. The extremely toxic compound can stay on the scalp and hair shaft for weeks or even years.
This may explain why hair dye has been linked to cancers of the breast, bladder, ovaries, and brain as well as leukemia, although it’s far from the only dangerous chemical in hair products (2).
“At this stage, we can’t be sure of the amount of N-nitrosamines produced or the level of risk these compounds pose but it is clear a potential hazard exists,” explains Professor David Lewis, one of the authors of the study. “In the interest of consumer safety, it is imperative that a thorough and independent investigation is conducted to establish the levels of toxicity of these compounds and the potential risks.”
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This isn’t the first time that hair dye has come under fire.
In 2013 the European Union’s scientific committee on consumer safety announced that 36 do-it-yourself hair dyes “may not be safe” to use.
The study came about after 2 women died as a direct result of using hair dye.
Hair dye boxes are required by law to warn consumers that there is a risk that they may react negatively to dye. That’s why they recommended that the dye should be tested on a small patch of skin 48 hours before full applications. This should be done before every application, even if you’ve used the product hundreds of times before (3).
Allergies symptoms range from a mild burning sensation itchy scalp, flaking, and rashes to more serious problems like facial swellings, hair loss, and breathing difficulty. Roughly one in fifty to one in a hundred hair dye users experience allergic symptoms.
Dr. Ian White, a dermatologist at St Thomas’ Hospital in London says that these warnings aren’t obvious enough: “It doesn’t hit you in the face like a cigarette warning does. We need to make the warnings explicit. Consumers are not as effectively protected as they should be.” (4).
The main chemical that causes this reaction is suspected to be para-phenylenediamine (PPD). It’s been linked to bladder cancer, but the European Union allows it to make up to 6% of the total volume of a bottle of hair dye. The colorless agent helps color bind to the hair (5).
It’s impossible to know whether or not you have an allergy until you experience the symptoms.
Allergy Case #1
For Julie McCabe, 38, this meant breathing problems, heart failure, and brain damage. After being in a coma for 1 year, she finally passed away.
Allergy Case #2
Tabatha McCourt, 17, was just as unlucky when she started vomiting and collapsed 20 minutes after applying hair dye. She later died in hospital.
Allergy Case #3
Another woman is lucky to be alive after suffering a terrible reaction to Garnier Nutrisse black hair dye.
Within hours of applying the dye to her hair, 29 year old Mariade Kelly’s scalp started to itch, but that was just the beginning. She says:
“There was yellow pus oozing from my scalp and it had the most horrific smell of burning flesh. I knew straightaway that was from the dye but at that point I didn’t panic, I just took some anti-histamines and put some Sudocrem on my hairline, where it was starting to blister, before I went to sleep.” (6)
Mariade ended up spending 3 days in the hospital being pumped with anti-histamines and steroids.
DIY Natural Hair Dye
For brown hair: To get a luscious brown color and boost hair growth, look no further than you good old cup ‘O Joe. It contains nutrients that nourish your scalp and antioxidants that protect the hair shaft (6).
To use, brew a cup of extra-strong coffee, let it cool, and set aside. In a glass bowl, combine 2 cups of natural leave-in conditioner with 2 tablespoons of coffee grounds and your cup of coffee. Apply evenly to the scalp and hair. Let it sit for an hour and rinse out.
You can also simply shampoo, rinse, and pour cold extra-strong coffee over your scalp and wait 20 minutes. Rinse with apple cider vinegar to lock in the color and rinse with water to finish off. Repeat every few days as needed.
You can also substitute coffee for black tea.
Blond hair: To lighten your hair and add natural highlights, apply lemon juice to your hair and spend some time in the sun. The juice will act like a natural bleach, but it’s best to keep it away from your scalp.
You can also use chamomile by steeping a few tea bags for at least 30 minutes. Shampoo your hair and towel dry before applying the cold tea all over your hair. Leave it in for 20 minutes and rinse away with vinegar and again with water. Reapply as many times as necessary to get your desired color.
Red hair: To give your hair a reddish hue, apply beet and/or carrot juice to clean damp hair and massage it into the shaft. Leave the mixture on your hair for an hour. Like all other natural dyes, rinse it once with vinegar and again with water.
For Black, Red, or Brown hair: Dye your hair by using henna, a powder made from the dried leaves of an Indian plant. Depending on the type of henna you use and how long you apply it, you get a red, brown, maroon, or black hair color.
Henna is messy to prepare and will stain your skin, so apply an all-natural balm to protect your ears, forehead, and neck. The color will take hours to set, so be prepared to wait around. You can buy Henna in natural health food stores and some natural beauty product stores. The dye should only be used according to package instructions.