Is Your Hair Dye Killing You?

A couple of months ago, one of my clients, Holly (not her real name), broke out in what looked like a full body allergic reaction.  She had swollen blotches on her upper chest, back, and arms.  Eventually her face swelled up so much that it looked as if she had been beaten.  Every attempt to help her with the homeopathic remedies I create to promote health and wellness didn’t seem to work; the selling continued to be a problem.  Eventually she began to connect her reaction to recently getting her hair dyed, which she did on a regular basis.  We created a remedy against her hair dye and she almost immediately cleared up.  Since then, I have noticed a number of women in my practice who have also been having reactions to hair dye – including scalp rashes and psoriasis type of skin lesions. 

When Holly was in the middle of this reaction, she bought a bottle of hair color and we went through the ingredients. The major offender is a chemical called para-phenylenediamine (PPD).  PPD is an industrial, poisonous chemical not only used in hair dyes and cosmetics, but also in fabric dyes, printing and photocopying inks, and photo developing chemicals.  It is responsible for severe and even fatal reactions.

A full-blown reaction does not occur immediately after use. In many cases, a negative reaction is mild and will sometimes start with an itchy scalp or body, but as the days move on, it can begin to escalate. Sensitization is what triggers the allergic reaction. This can lead to swelling, and an intensely burning, itching sensation spreading across the skin.  An allergic reaction has been known to put individuals into a coma; on rare occasions it has proven fatal.  In addition, exposure to PPD can leave people with permanent scars and permanent sensitivity to chemicals. But, more importantly, is the link that PPD has to cancer.

The Cancer Connection

Both human and animal studies show that the body rapidly absorbs the chemicals in permanent and semi-permanent dyes through the skin during the more than 30 minutes the dyes remain on the scalp.  If you use permanent, semi-permanent, shampoo-in, or temporary hair colors, you are increasing your risk of developing cancer:

  • A 1976 study reported that 87% of breast cancer patients had been long term hair dye users. 
  • In 1979 another study found a significant relationship between the frequency and duration of hair dye use and breast cancer.  Women who started dying their hair at age 20 had twice the risk of 40 year olds. Those at greatest risk were the 50 to 79 year olds who had been dying their hair for years.
  • A 2001 study found that hairdressers who worked for 10 or more years had a five fold risk of bladder cancer compared to the general population.
  • Japanese studies have also linked hair dye use to leukemia and ovarian cancer.
  • A study from Harvard suggested that women who dyed their hair one to four times a year had a 70% increase in the risk for developing ovarian cancer. 
  • A study published in January 2013 found an alarming correlation with hair dye use in pregnancy and the development of several childhood malignancies in offspring.
  • In 1992 The National Cancer Institute published data linking hair dye use to a 50% increase in the risk of developing non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and an 80% risk of developing Multiple Myeloma.

Men are at risk as well.  The National Cancer Institute says that there is a 90% increase in the risk of multiple myeloma in men using hair-coloring agents. 

Clearly there is an apparent danger in using hair dye and loss of health.  As I began noticing the skin problems some women in my practice were having, I found every one of them had been coloring their hair on a regular basis.  When I asked about hair dye, some of them said that they were using dyes listed as “Natural” and “Organic”.  Unfortunately, there is no regulation on the word “natural” – it can be put on anything with a green box to make the consumer think that they are buying good stuff.   The same holds true for the word “organic” as PPD is technically an organic compound that you can read about in an organic chemistry book, but it is not plant based as the word implies.

Looking for truly safe hair dyes is difficult.  Using products that are made entirely from plant-based products are few and far between.  Pure herbal products will not dramatically change the color of your hair, they are not permanent and don’t cover grey well.  But aside from going naturally grey, which really isn’t that bad, here are some recipes for hair color that may help:

  • Brunettes can use a mixture of cocoa powder, yogurt, honey, and apple cider vinegar to enrich natural color and cover the grey.
  • Blondes can use chamomile tea, lemon, and potato.
  • Redheads will find that carrots, honey, yogurt and cranberries are an effective mixture.

The recipes for these home made dyes can be found the Whole Living website 


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