I’ve been coloring my hair for as long as I can remember, first starting with leave-in mousse in the 1980s, then turning to boxes and eventually, getting it professionally done. I joke that I must have looked like a calico cat at work the year I decided to let my dyed, red-blondish hues grow out from my dark brown natural color. However, all kidding aside, hair dye is serious business.
There are tons of articles on the topic, and on ever-changing color trends. Not only are many people interested in changing their hair color in order to maintain a youthful appearance or just for the sake of having fun, but they’re often lured in by the latest beauty industry happenings.
Exciting as it may be to step out with a new hair color, could it be harmful to your health? Unfortunately, it would appear that the short answer is “yes.” Here’s why you might want to consider dying your hair less often, or may even want to leave the dye behind altogether.
The hair dye-cancer connection
The American Cancer Society points to studies that urge caution when dying hair, especially if you’re using a dark shade. Darker colors contain more cancer-causing chemicals, and when these chemicals seep into your skin (whether through your scalp or some lingering traces on your neck or hands), it’s possible for these harsh toxins to get into your system.
In addition to skin absorption, inhalation of the fumes generated by the chemicals in hair dyes may also be a factor making people more prone to developing certain cancers. Those working in hair salons are thought to be a higher risk, but still, why risk it? Even if you just dye your hair once a month, you may be increasing your future likelihood of cancer.
Headaches and allergic reactions
No one likes dealing with pounding headaches or experiencing other allergic reactions. However, hair dye is often viewed as a big culprit behind the onset of such problems.
Something called para-phenylenediamine (PPD) is found in many hair dye chemicals, as well as coal tar—a possible carcinogen. They’re both associated with allergic reactions such as skin burning and headaches.
Possible mental and physical problems
The United States still permits the sale of many items that are banned in other countries. Sadly, lead acetate—which is found in many hair coloring products and considered a possible carcinogen—exists in some U.S. hair dyes. It’s not allowed in European countries because it may cause debilitating neurological problems.
Hair dyes also contain preservatives and ammonia, which can be toxic to the system and create breathing complications and immune system disruptions.
While not as detrimental as the possible negative impacts on your health, it’s still worth noting that hair dye can wreak havoc on your tresses. Repeatedly exposing your hair to toxic chemicals and harsh processes takes its toll on hair condition. It may take years, but down the road, you might observe that your once-healthy strands are dull, dry and very brittle.
Beyond human health: hair dye and animal testing
A host of products are tested on animals to better gauge their safety for human use. Everything from lipstick to face creams are often tested to ensure reduced risk of allergic reactions as well as a product’s lasting power. Hair dye is not any different.
Although the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t mandate that animal tests be conducted to demonstrate cosmetic safety, many companies opt to do such tests in order to provide more product certainty to consumers. However, this means that animals are often treated in unpleasant manners; from being shaved and exposed to chemicals without pain relief to being given lethal doses of chemicals, many are treated in ways considered to be inhumane.
If this is a concern, it’s best to avoid hair dyes or research vegan hair dyes, since many companies engage in animal testing.
How to stay healthy
To circumvent all of these issues, of course it’s best to refrain from coloring your hair entirely.
However, everyone has different beauty desires, so it’s understandable that some will want to continue using dye. To be as safe as possible, consider reducing the frequency with which you visit salons or buy box colors, and try to color less frequently. Even better, look for dyes that specifically state they don’t test on animals, and be sure to check out health stores that have more natural alternatives so you’re not exposed to toxic fumes and potentially dangerous chemicals.