It's enough to make you go grey!
A few days ago a reader posted a really interesting comment on a hair dye article I published a while back. She shared how her #vitiligo started around the same time as she had begun regularly using permanent #hair- dyes containing the usual harsh ingredients (PPD, ammonia, Hydrogen peroxide, etc.) Her experience supports the known evidence that these substances can cause skin de-pigmentation.
Even more worrying than her vitiligo (as if that wasn't bad enough) was the fact that she was also diagnosed with bladder cancer, which is the particular cancer that has most often been linked to the regular use of permanent hair dyes.
The most damning study on the dangers of these ingredients, conducted in California and published in 2001, found that women who used permanent hair dye at least once a month were twice as likely to develop bladder cancer, as women who did not use permanent hair dye. The research also concluded that those who reported regular use of the hair dye for at least 15 years were more than three times as likely to develop bladder cancer as non-dye users, with hairdressers sharing high levels of risk due to occupational exposure.
Since publication of these results, scientific opinion has differed considerably as to their validity. For example. in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) May 2005, some research was published that looked into all the studies on hair dyes causing cancer. This found that there was unlikely to be any link between dyeing your hair and bladder cancer.
Cancer Research UK points out that a lot of hair dyes made before 1980 contained chemicals that were known to cause cancer in mice but that, since 1980, hair dyes have changed dramatically and many no longer contain these cancer causing chemicals (I'm not sure I am comfortable with the word “many” there! - especially as the article goes on to say that recent studies in China and the USA have pointed to an increased risk for women with certain gene types of developing lymphoma if they use hair dyes).
The website of the Cancer Council of Western Australia provides a potted history of the argument, referring to studies carried out in 2002, 2008 and 2011, and concludes with the following opinion:
“These studies should give reassurance that the link between using modern hair dyes and cancer is, at most, very minimal. Further research is needed to investigate whether certain subgroups may be at increased risk, such as those with a genetic predisposition. People who colour their hair are unlikely to have an increased risk of cancer, even if they have been colouring their hair regularly for many years. If you are still concerned, ensure that you colour your hair in a well ventilated room or salon, so as to minimise exposure to the fumes from hair dyes. Otherwise, embrace your natural colour.“
Whilst I find some of these counter-arguments a tiny-weeny bit more reassuring than I had expected (given the drastic reactions these controversial ingredients can cause), I remain very firmly in the Why On Earth Risk It? camp.
The advice offered in the paragraph quoted above to use permanent hair dyes "in a well ventilated room" strikes me as faintly ridiculous, since most hair salons I have ever visited are far from well ventilated and, more to the point, what we are talking about is actually painting these chemicals onto our skin and leaving them there for a considerable time, not just breathing them in.
But it is the point raised about increased risk for those with a genetic predisposition that is really the clincher for me. If the consensus of opinion is – to paraphrase the Cancer Council of Western Australia - that permanent hair dyes are probably a bit toxic and a bit carcinogenic but probably only really potentially lethal for people who have very regular, long-term exposure and/or have a genetic predisposition, then I am certainly not going to be rushing off back to the colourist any time soon!
I am all for reducing my risk of cancer as much as I possibly can, especially as - like most people - I have no idea if I am genetically predisposed to developing it or not. And, as someone who does know she has the vitiligo gene, I feel the same way about avoiding known de-pigmentation triggers, which is why I no longer use permanent dyes, opting instead for pure (no added nasties) henna or the only brand of (semi-permanent) colour I have come across that is free from all of the following: ammonia, peroxide, PPD, DTA, phenoxyethanol, resorcinol, propylene glycol, heavy metals, parabens, mineral oils, GMOs, gluten and artificial fragrances.
Anyway, to come back to the blog comment that started this post, it really got me thinking again about this whole subject of grey hair and how to combat it safely and I have a feeling I will be returning to the topic again soon...
A vitiligo blogger since 2011. My name is Caroline. I had vitiligo for nearly 50 years before finding an effective treatment. I created this blog to share my experiences with others affected by this skin condition.