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Some of us were born with beautiful locks, and some of us attain them through socially acceptable but drastic means. Believe me, I am not passing judgment here. I belong to the latter group. Perhaps knowing there are so many of “my kind” inhabiting the planet makes it easier to reconcile. But are the chemicals we bathe our tresses in exposing us—perhaps unnecessarily—to cancer?
For those of us who choose to alter our hair color for whatever reason (and we all have our own) it’s important to know about our choices. The news isn’t all bad. But to be upfront, some of that is simply because there hasn’t been enough of us using the chemicals in today’s hair dyes for long enough to know for certain if they cause cancer. Time will tell. In the mean time, here’s the scoop about hair dyes and some recommendations for people who are concerned about safety.
For starters, let’s classify modern hair dyes as permanent (the most popular variety because the color lasts until it is replaced by new growth) semi-permanent (the type that generally last for 5-10 washings), and temporary(lasting 1-2 washes).
Concern about cancer risk is largely limited to the semi-permanent dyes and permanent dyes. The darker dyes have higher concentrations of some potential cancer-causing chemicals so these products are of greatest potential concern. As a side note, I’m not sure if this has anything to do with rumors about blondes and the fun factor but it’s worthy of consideration.
Since so many of us use hair dyes—estimated to be one-third of U.S. and European women over age 18 and 10 percent of men over age 40 (this number has been increasing annually) numerous scientific studies have tried to determine if exposure to hair dye chemicals is associated with an increasing risk of cancer in humans. Some of these chemicals have caused cancer in animal studies.
I was surprised to learn the staggering number of chemicals—more than 5,000—that are used in contemporary hair dyes, though not every product contains them all.