Hair Apparent

Allergies, hair loss, breathing problems and cancer - you have them all. Yet, colouring hair remains a ritual for millions worldwide

Hair careWith appearance linked to women’s self-esteem, the role of cosmetics has assumed psychological immensity. So, there are more colours to play with, more variety, and more choices. Also, more voices of caution.

Every hair colour user has heard the debate: is colouring your hair risky or not? And, yet this hasn’t stopped even one of us from buying the dye that adds magic to our hair.

For those who are health-conscious, the choice is to buy the best in the market; for others, anything on the shelf would do, or the more economical, the better. We cannot be blamed. While some studies have linked hair colouring with an increased risk of contracting certain cancers, other studies do not support such findings. As for allergies, they can occur with almost any substance including foods and natural substances. However, hair dyes affect only a small percentage of people. This is, of course, statistics.

Research on the Internet gives an equally confusing picture. Experts do not give a clear verdict against or for the colours.

Says a quote attributed to Mary Gospodarowicz, Professor and Chair, Department of Radiation Oncology, University of Toronto and Regional Vice-President, Cancer Care, Ontario, Canada: “In the 1970s, the National Cancer Institute, US, and others concluded that there was no association between dyes and bladder cancer. We revisited this years later. The earlier studies didn’t separate different classes of hair dye – permanent, semi-permanent, all of which contain aromatic amines [like PPD]. But, all dyes don’t contain the same amines. There was a clear increase in the incidence of bladder cancer among women who used permanent hair dye. The association was apparent with one particular form of dye. It could be that the earlier bladder cancer studies were conducted before the hair-colouring social trend became so widespread.”

To colour or not colour

Says Kim Erickson, author of Drop-Dead Gorgeous: Protecting Yourself from the Hidden Dangers of Cosmetics: “Evidence is weak in literature on the association of hair dyes with an increased risk of lymphoma and bladder cancer. There is conflicting evidence and no recommendation at this time to stop using hair dyes. [What’s more, cancer] prevention recommendations focus on [avoiding] tobacco, a major source of environmentally-caused cancers, maintaining a healthy diet and exercising.” Not so much on hair dyes.

Should or should not

The yes or no of hair dyes depends on media, friends, beauticians, and dermatologists. At long last, we are on our own when it comes to decide whether or not hair dyes are safe for us.

Most of us believe that the chemicals in cosmetics and body products have been adequately tested and approved by governments. This, therefore, would be just fine on us like they are on a lot of other people. However, among those who use hair colour, there are people who are known to be sensitive to chemicals like ammonia used in colour treatments. Ammonia is hard on the hair cuticles. It also damages the amino acid or protein called tyrosine, which is found inside the hair shaft. Tyrosine is responsible for producing melanin [the natural pigment in the hair shaft]. When tyrosine is damaged, the ability of hair to hold on to colour is greatly reduced.

Of course, the degree of damage also depends on the amount of colour change. For instance, going from a dark to a light shade is supposed to be more dangerous because the colouring agent is stronger or is left on longer. Next, the frequency with which the hair is coloured is a major factor in the amount of damage sustained. Any chemical process reduces the hair’s elasticity and increases the prospect of hair breakage.

In the dye of the norm

The London Hazards Centre has declared that permanent dyes can enter the bloodstream from the scalp, and can be found in the urine, 40 minutes after the hair is dyed. The Foresight Association for the Promotion of Pre-Conceptual Care, UK, warns, “Because the dye enters the blood, we advise people very strongly to avoid hair dyes while the ova is ripening, and during pregnancy and breast-feeding. It is really only sensible to keep away from all avoidable causes of cancer.”

Researchers continue with their work, but manufacturers are only known to stay one step ahead of them by changing the dyes ever so often. According to Minnesota Cancer Center, US, they “just shift an atom here or there, and so it’s considered a totally new substance and no one can say it causes cancer…” So, while the debate whether a dye can cause eventual death, or if hair colours need to be banned or bettered continues, we can, on our own, take precautions.

Greying prematurely is stressful. Fortunately, today, with the awakening of the world to the potential of nature to overcome every health problem you will also belong to the cool crowd when you insist on “Organic Only.” Add with a panache that you also prefer your henna with indigo or a dash of mandur.

What’s that? Check it out. It’s well worth a try!

7 Safe Steps to Colouring Hair

  1. Be sure to do a patch test for allergic reactions before applying the dye on your hair. Almost all hair dye products include instructions for conducting a patch test, and it’s important to perform the test each time you dye your hair
  2. A person’s allergy is related to specific ingredients in a colour, not a particular brand. So, merely changing a brand, or changing the shade of the colour, will not help
  3. Permanent hair colour uses both ammonia and peroxide, which enter the hair’s cortex to create a change that cannot be washed away easily. However, the end result is always a combination of the added pigment and the original pigment of your hair, so the dye may look different on you than on your friend or the model in a magazine
  4. Never mix different hair dye products, because you can induce potentially harmful reactions, if not an unappealing hair colour
  5. Colouring and perming, or any other chemical treatment, at the same time, are best avoided at any cost. While in salons professional beauticians would never advise having them together, bouts of creativity, an insane desire to reinvent oneself or something similar, goad a lot of us do this at home
  6. You’ve already coloured your hair, messed it up and now want to fix it. Don’t try to correct your own mistake. The more chemicals you put into your hair, the worse it’s going to get
  7. Never dye your eyebrows or eyelashes. An allergic reaction to dye could prompt swelling, inflammation and susceptibility to infection in the eye area. These reactions can severely harm the eye and even cause blindness. Inadvertently spilling dye into eye could also cause permanent damage.
Gayatri Pagdi
Gayatri Pagdi is a Mumbai-based health journalist. Her areas of interest include emotional, mental and spiritual health.


  1. Figures!
    What does weak risk mean? Risk is risk. That’s why gloves are used. It’s carcinogenic. Use prevention, like a cap.


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