For years, Peter Lamas was the man responsible for the coiffure of one of the most photographed and emulated women in the world, Jackie Onassis. He cut, conditioned and styled her famous tresses, and when the gray hairs started appearing, zapped them with hair dye. So when Lamas discovered that the dye he had routinely applied to Onassis? hair might have contributed to the Hodgkin?s lymphoma that killed her, he was understandably upset.
Lamas began researching the connection between personal care ingredients and disease. The evidence he found disturbed him so much that he decided to launch his own line of natural hair care products.
There have been several studies linking hair dye with cancer, including:
- A 2004 study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology compared 769 acute leukemia patients to 623 adults without the disease, and found that men and women who used permanent hair dyes one to five times a year for 15 years or longer were more than twice as likely to develop leukemia than people who had never dyed their hair. The same risk was not found in people who began dyeing their hair after 1980, which was when many companies changed their hair color formulations after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration required warning labels linking certain coal tar-based ingredients with cancer.
- A 2000 University of Southern California study published in International Journal of Cancer found that women who used permanent hair dyes at least once a month for a year or longer had twice the risk of bladder cancer as nonusers.
- A 1994 study conducted by the FDA and the American Cancer Society, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, analyzed 573,000 women and found that those who had never used permanent hair dye had decreased risk of all fatal cancers.
- An April 1993 article in FDA Consumer noted, ?Most hair dyes also don?t have to go through the premarket testing for safety that other cosmetic color additives do before hitting store shelves. Consumers are often on their own, consequently, when deciding whether hair dyes are safe.?
Lamas isn?t the only natural hair-product formulator concerned about hair dye and cancer. A handful of companies, many of them European, have been producing dyes that use natural or organic ingredients. However, warns Eileen Sheets, director of regulatory affairs and product management for Bioforce, which imports the Herbatint natural hair dye line from Italy, even ?natural? permanent hair colors have some synthetic ingredients.
?To have a really good color that is going to last, you have to have some chemicals,? she says. ?You have to make up your mindâdo you want to color your hair and have a good-quality color or not??
Gee, your color looks terrific
Hair dyes basically work like a paint that covers each strand of hair. Permanent dyes remain in the hair until it grows out, while semi-permanent and temporary dyes fade as the hair is washed.
Many permanent hair dyes rely on ammonia and hydrogen peroxide, which are mixed together and applied to the hair shaft, swelling and opening the cuticle to allow the dye to penetrate the hair and change its color from the inside out.
Synthetic ingredients in permanent hair dyes include PPD (phenylenediamine) and aminophenol, which serve as precursors, creating dye through a chemical reaction with hydrogen peroxide. The Environmental Working Group links both ingredients to cancer and allergies. And although some coal-tar pigments in hair dye have been replaced with lead acetate, which the FDA deems safe, EWG links lead acetate to cancer, allergies and pregnancy concerns. Other ingredients found in permanent hair dyes include resorcinol, a resin that helps develop the color, and nonoxynol, a foaming agent also used in spermicides. EWG says both ingredients may be carcinogenic.
Semi-permanent dyes use less hydrogen peroxide, so they don?t penetrate the hair shaft as deeply as permanent dyes. Temporary dyes don?t contain any hydrogen peroxide and only coat the surface of the hair. These dyes may be synthetic or natural. Henna is an example of this type of hair dye (see sidebar). Chamomile flowers, lemon juice, saffron, indigo leaves, cloves, black tea and walnut husks have also been used as hair coloring agents for centuries.
Most so-called natural permanent hair colors use some non-natural ingredients, particularly PPD. ?You need PPD to color hair and have a good-quality color,? says Herbatint?s Sheets. However, she adds, Herbatint uses less PPD than some of its synthetic counterparts. ?The European Community standards [for PPD] are up to 6 percent in a product. We use less than 1 percentâ.08 percent.?
Herbatint contains a 3 percent hydrogen peroxide solution, compared with as much as 6 percent in non-natural hair dyes. ?We also blend it with oil to keep the hair from drying out,? Sheets says. Tints of Nature, a natural hair color manufactured in England, uses pharmaceutical-grade peroxide, which the company claims is the mildest peroxide solution available.
Rather than creating color through synthetic pigments or ammonia, many natural hair color brands rely on plant-based ingredients. Herbatint?s brown tones are produced by varying amounts of walnut extract; rhubarb and cinchona are used for yellow tones.
?Herbs have smaller color molecules, so less damage is done in forcing them through the hair shaft,? Sheets says.
Natural hair dyes also rely on plant-based materials to condition hair as it?s being colored. Tints of Nature adds certified organic comfrey, chamomile, orange and grapefruit extracts, along with aloe vera and vitamins E and C, to its dye formula to protect and moisturize hair.
Because many natural hair dyes contain fewer chemicals, they won?t allow you to transform your tresses from Janis Joplin brown to Gwen Stefani platinum in one easy step. ?Because of the low level of peroxide, you?re not going to get a drastic change. You can only go about two steps lighter,? Sheets says.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVI/number 9/p. 92