Health Risks of Hair Coloring

Health Risks of Hair Coloring

Hair coloring is the latest fashion statement and frequently used by both genders. In recent years, many studies on hair dye alleged it to cause cancer of bladder and increase the chances of other types of cancer too. Here we will discuss the origin and composition of hair dyes and risks associated with its regular use.

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Application of Hair Color

Men and women of all ages use hair coloring for different purposes such as:

  • Enhance attractiveness
  • To alter the appearance
  • Maintain hair in good condition
  • Optimize hair appearance
  • Repair hair damage
  • Cover gray hair

Classification of hair dyes

Hair dyes are classified on the basis of their origin ( and the various dyes are:

1. Natural hair dyes –

These dyes are extracted from the plant like henna, chamomile and cinchona. They can change color without damaging the structure of hair, nourishes it and condition it but it lasts for few weeks only.

2. Mineral or metallic hair dyes –

These dyes contains silver nitrate and lead salts. They can change your hair color by lightening or darkening it. They are incompatible with hydrogen peroxide and potentially toxic in nature. They can last for weeks and months.

3. Synthetic hair dyes –

These dyes are of different types on the basis of wash fastness and degree of permanence. These are:

a) Temporary hair dye –

This dye sticks to the surface of cuticle and lasts for few days.

b) Semi permanent hair dye –

This dye achieves shallow penetration of the cortex and thus persists for weeks.

c) Permanent hair dyes –

This dye deeply penetrates the cortex and thus doesn’t wash out.

d) Bleaches –

This chemical strip off the natural hair color and makes your hair white or yellowish and thus used as color lightening or removing agent.

Potential harmful chemicals found in hair dye

1. PPD (Para-phenylenediamine) –

PPD and its derivatives o-nitro-p-phenylenediamine and para-toluenediamine are highly sensitizing compounds. The derivatives are more harmful because they form complexes with specific amino acids by binding to them and cause sensitization. These compounds cause allergic reactions such as burning and headache. These are also considered as a potential carcinogen.

2. Lead acetate –

it is considered as a carcinogen and banned by European countries. Studies have found a direct connection between lead level and polyneuropathy. It was found that a short term exposure to lead after misusing a hair dye elevated the lead blood level three times more than the normal (

3. Persulfate salts (ammonium Persulfate or potassium Persulfate) –

these salts can cause immediate reactions such as rhinitis, asthma, contact urticaria, and even anaphylaxis.

4. Coal tar –

this compound is commonly found in hair colors and cause allergic reactions.

5. DMDM hydantoin –

it can cause immune related problems.

a) Ammonia –

it is found to be toxic and corrosive. It may cause respiratory problems.

b) Resorcinol –

it is an irritant and a potential carcinogen.

Common side effects of hair coloring

Effects on Fertility

Dermatologists recommend not using hair dyes while pregnant or trying to conceive, while some especially recommend avoiding the hair dyes in the first trimester. The reason for this advice is the dye, a chemical component, can pass through the small pores on the scalp and enter the bloodstream. As they reach the bloodstream, they affect the hormones producing ovum and sperm. This condition is referred to as EDCs (Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals).


Coloring hair requires high maintenance. Generally, hair color needs a re-dyeing after 6 to 8 weeks. Permanent hair dyes leave a residue on the hair, making them lighter in color. To upkeep the charm and glow of the dye, you should redo the process after it starts to fade. Most people color their roots after a short period.


Pink eye or Conjunctivitis can be caused by several factors. Hair coloring might be one of those. Hair color contains chemicals that irritate the eyes. If you are trying to color your lashes or eyelids, it’s a big no. A little hair dye getting in contact with the eye can cause permanent damage to the eye, even leading to blindness.


Studies have proved that those who are susceptible to lung inflammation have more chances to develop asthmatic problem by using commercial hair dye. Hair dyes contain Persulfate which can cause persistent cough, wheezing, throat discomfort, lung inflammation and in some case it can cause full blown asthma attack. Ammonia is also found to have asthma causing property which can aggravate pre-existing breathing problems if high concentration is used in hair dye.

Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma

This is a cancer of lymph tissue which occurs in spleen, lymph nodes and bone marrow and affects the immune system. According to national cancer institute, commercial dye contributes to 30 percent of the Non – Hodgkin’s Lymphoma cases. A compound 4 – ABP which is a hair coloring byproduct and commonly found in blonde, red and black color has found to have carcinogen effects. This is present in the dye but may not be listed on the list of ingredients.

Breast cancer

Studies have demonstrated that women working at salon for minimum 5 years or more have higher incidence rate of breast cancer. Resorcinol which is an endocrine disrupting chemical increases the risk of breast cancer by interfering in the normal hormonal balance. PPD is also found to cause breast cancer.

Multiple Myeloma

This is the cancer of bone marrow and it is shown by the research studies that regular use of hair dye can increase the risk of this condition in Caucasian males.

Allergic reaction

This is a common problem caused by the hair coloring as many people are sensitive to the compounds found in hair dye such as PPD, ammonia etc. it can cause blistering, burning, rash, eczema and other skin related problems. Some components can cause respiratory problems like lung inflammation, coughing, wheezing etc.

How to avoid health risks of hair dye

You can go for natural alternatives of hair dye like henna, chamomile tea, Indian gooseberry, cinchona etc. which are easy to use and readily available in your nearest grocery store. You can achieve different shades like blonde, brown, red and black with these ingredients without any health risks.

Precautions To Take While Dyeing Your Hair

If you want to color your hair by yourself with any kind of boxed hair color products, follow these precautions:

  • Firstly conduct a patch test on your hand’s skin or under the ear regions to check for any allergic reactions.
  • Do not mix two different types of hair colors or brands.
  • Always use gloves to dye your hair.
  • Never attempt to dye your eyebrows or eyelids.
  • Get some help to complete the products instead of spilling them all over your body.
  • Store the dyes away from pets and children.
  • Wash your hair, leaving no residue.
  • Do not keep the dye more than the mentioned time. Wash as soon as it is completely dried.
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