According to one survey from the U.K., women change their hairstyles about 150 times over the course of a lifetime. However many times you make the change, it’s likely that coloring is a part of the process.
It’s not required, of course. The New York Daily News states that going gray is in vogue, with celebrities like Helen Mirren, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Meryl Streep embracing their natural silver.
Still, about 65 percent of women alter their natural hair color, about a 7 percent increase from the 1950s. We like playing with color. It makes us feel good…Until we open the bottle and smell all the fumes.
Traditional hair dyes are full of potentially harmful chemicals that at high exposures, have been linked with skin and respiratory irritation, a suppressed immune system, and even cancer.
Is there a way to cover the gray—or just enjoy a nice color—without exposing ourselves to these toxins?
The Concern About Regular Hair Dyes
The National Cancer Institute (NCI) states that over 5,000 different chemicals are used in hair dye products, some of which are reported to be carcinogenic in animals. Though manufacturers have improved dye products to eliminate some of the more dangerous chemicals that were used in the 1970s, most still contain things like:
- Quaternium-15, which can release formaldehyde, a known carcinogen);
- Alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs), which may be hormone disruptors;
- Phenylenediamine (PPD), which is a skin and respiratory irritant and has been classified in the European Union as toxic and dangerous to the environment.
The NCI notes that some studies have found that hairdressers and barbers are at an increased risk of bladder cancer, potentially because of coloring chemicals. Other studies have found personal use of hair dyes could potentially increase the risk of leukemia and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, but results have been mixed.
When we review the research, we can see that we don’t have enough studies yet to know how coloring our hair maybe 6-10 times a year really affects our health. Most likely—unless we’re hairdressers who deal with high exposures or we color more frequently than usual—the effects will be negligible. Still, it’s not comforting to imagine all those chemicals seeping into our scalps (not to mention the toll the creation and disposal of these chemicals takes on the environment).
Fortunately, there are other alternatives.
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