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Some Hair Raising Information About the Dangers of Hair Dye


Many of us know the feeling of leaving the hairdresser on a cloud of happiness, our hair shining and bouncing like we’ve just filmed one of those ads. But, it is worrying that the chemicals used in these dyes can make us sick, not to mention the hairdressers who work with these substances on a daily basis.

There are three types of hair dyes:

  • Temporary – they don’t penetrate the hair shaft and last one to two washes, 
  • Semi-permanent – they do penetrate the hair shaft and last around ten washes and,
  • Permanent – they penetrate the hair shaft and cause permanent changes to the chemical structure of the hair.

It is no surprise then, that the semi permanent and permanent dyes are the ones that contain the most harmful ingredients. Some of the dangerous chemicals in hair dyes (including the do-it-yourself supermarket ones) are:

  • p-Phenylenediamine (PPD)- skin allergen
  • Ammonia - a skin, eye and lung irritant that is fatal in large enough doses.
  • Hydrogen peroxide- highly dangerous when the fumes are inhaled- can cause death in high concentrations
  • Ethoxydiglycol - has potential for organ system toxicity. 

Testing of these products is not comprehensive, which is also very worrisome. Check out this ‘material safety data sheet’ for Clairol hair dye, it’s enough to make you angry. They even admit that part of the product has not undergone human testing, and that it had a negative impact on animal organs. 

If you want further proof that hair dyes are potentially a danger to your health, another study by The Scientific Committee on Cosmetic Products and Non-Food Products Intended for Consumers noted that, “Hair dye allergic contact dermatitis is not infrequent and often leads to very severe bouts of oozing scalp dermatitis requiring specialist care,” (2002, p. 9), hmm, I hope I don’t get oozing scalp dermatitis, yuck and not so pretty.

This website has some great information and links to many scientific studies that have been undertaken into the potential increase in cancer rates among hair dye users and hairdressers. Some studies produce conflicting information, which has led the National Cancer Institute in America to state there is no cancer risk from using dyes, although one branch of study seems to prove that there is an increase in the instances of bladder cancer for hairdressers - in particular men. What I take from the inconclusiveness is that it is wise to be wary, as one study says, “In summary, our results showed an increased and statistically significant risk for bladder cancer among hairdressers, in particular for hairdressers in jobs held for around 10 years.” (Harling et al, 2010 abstract). 

So what does all this mean? Regularly dyeing your hair with chemical laden products or working as a hairdresser, may have a negative impact on your health, but is it enough to stop my bi-annual trip to the hairdresser - probably not. There are natural alternatives, such as henna for red colouring and lemon juice for bleaching, however these methods produce subtle or short lasting results. A good product we have found, which lasts for quite a few washes, is Herbatint , this product contains no Ammonia and no Resorcinol - although there is not a list of ingredients on the website, so there are probably still some icky chemicals in there. Eco Hair Colour is another one that gave reasonable results - check out our road test.

Some hair salons are trying to source safer products but they still have a long way to go. All I can say is, until they create safer dyeing products that work well, it might be sensible to spend less time with fabulous hair so we can spend more time, period.

Sources and other info:

What do you think?