A lot of us choose to dye our hair to get a new look or cover grey hairs, but according to the American Cancer Society, some studies suggest that being exposed to hair dye could cause cancer. The problem seems to be more common among hair stylists, who are frequently in touch with the dyes. It is not as common for customers who have their hair done. But it could still be harmful to breath in the fumes from a chemical dye.
Different Hair Dyes
There are a few distinctions to keep in mind. There are three types of hair dyes that are commonly used; temporary dyes, semi-permanent dyes, and permanent ones. The temporary ones are not strong enough to completely penetrate the hair shaft, but the other two types do. It is the permanent hair dye that will cause a lasting chemical change in your hair. But they are also the most used, as the color will last until new hair grows out.
These types of hair dyes officially go under the name coal-tar hair dyes. That is hailing back to the days when the ingredients actually came from the coal industry. Today, many hair dyes are mainly made from petroleum, but the name is still used. Hair dyes like these do not need FDA approval to be used, unless it lacks the necessary caution label or it contains an ingredient other than the coal-tar dye that is harmful.
When it comes to cancer, the FDA issued a special warning regarding two ingredients that were found to cause cancer in animals in the 1980s. Since then, those ingredients are no longer used in hair dyes.
Studies Show Links Between Hair Dye and Cancer
However, some studies do show that hair dyes can cause cancer. These studies are typically made in one of two ways. One is in a lab where animals are exposed to the substance being researched. Another is by looking at cancer rates in different groups of people. Some studies use both ways to be sure of the results.
Most of the studies looking into cancer in humans are focusing on certain types of cancer. The most commonly researched are bladder cancer, breast cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma or leukemia. It is important to point out that the people that run the highest risk of getting sick are those who regularly dye their hair, or hair stylists who are exposed to these chemicals at work.
There have been mixed results from the studies, but according to the American Cancer Society, these are the main points.
- Studies focusing on people who get in contact with hair dyes at work show a small, but consistent, increased risk of getting bladder cancer.
- Some studies focusing on links between people who dye their hair and leukemia or lymphomas show a higher risk. That is especially if the people started using hair dyes before 1980 and/or use darker colors. However, some other studies have not seen an increased risk. That means the risk of getting a blood cancer like the types mentioned is probably low, but in general, older types of hair dye are worse than modern ones.
- Studies looking into breast cancer have not found any consistent results of an increased risk.
- For other types of cancer, there are yet too few studies to draw conclusions.
Hair Dyes Can Cause Other Irritations
It is important to remember that being exposed to hair dyes can also cause other irritations, like allergic reactions or hair loss. If possible, it is always a better idea to choose a hair dye with as many natural ingredients as possible. Back in the days, many hair dyes used formaldehyde, which has been classed as a carcinogen since 1987. Considering it is the same liquid that is used to embalm people and turn them into mummies, it is probably good news that it is no longer used.
Hair dyes are not that good for our hair no matter how much you try to have it done in a risk-free way. So make sure to go to a colorist who knows what he or she is doing. This is especially important if you have very dark hair that requires many stages of bleaching and coloring, or if your hair is thin and sensitive.
Text by Emma von Zeipel