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June Russell's Health Facts

Chemical Sensitivities and Hair Dyes

Conventional hair dyes have been under scrutiny since a number of studies found that these products - especially permanent color - contain potentially carcinogenic, mutagenic, and at the very least, allergenic ingredients. One recent study suggests that women who use dark, especially black, hair dyes for prolonged periods might have increased risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and multiple myeloma (malignant tumors formed by bone marrow cells).
(Journal of the National Cancer Institute, February 1994, in Delicious! magazine-- April 1998)

Just like your digestive tract, your scalp is home to good and bad bacteria, and recent research has shown that a commonly used ingredient in brown hair dye, p-phenylenediamine, can knock out your scalp’s good bacteria, which in turn could encourage the growth of the bacteria that can cause infection and the fungi that cause dandruff. This study was from the University of Memphis in Tennessee.
(“Can Hair Dye cause Dandruff?” Natural Health magazine, October 1999)

Progressive hair dyes pose a potential health threat, says Howard Mielke, Ph.D., associate professor of environmental toxicology at Xavier University of Louisiana College of Pharmacy in New Orleans. Unlike most dyes (permanent, semipermanent, and temporary) progressives usually contain lead acetate, and contain up to 10 times the limit allowed in house paint. Lead was found on everything that the product touched - even phones, and remained even after washing. Just passing a hand through dry, dyed hair picked up 286 mcg of lead. Herbert Needleman, M.D., lead-poisoning expert and professor of pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, adds, “The more we study lead, the more we find harmful effects at lower doses that previously suspected.” Although the FDA maintains that lead acetate - containing hair dye products can be used safely by following the directions, Dr. Mielke has stopped such tests on humans. “If it’s too hazardous for my lab, I say it’s too hazardous for your bathroom.”
(Journal of the American Pharmaceutical Association, Jan/Feb 1997, in Prevention magazine, Sept. 1998)

People who use permanent or semi-permanent dark hair dyes regularly for over 20 years are four times more likely than normal to develop certain types of cancer. Known as non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and multiple myeloma, the cancers involve the body’s immune defense system. The darker the dye, and the longer it is used, the more likely it is that one of these malignancies may occur. This should come as no surprise since the pigments in dark hair dyes are chemically similar to coal tar (a known carcinogen) and are absorbed through the skin. Those who use such dyes might consider switching to a lighter color or to gray, or allowing their hair to resume its natural color. Furthermore, regular checkups would be advisable.
(Science News, in Health Gazette, April 1994)

Three out of every five American women aged 18 to 55 now tint their locks, according to the Cosmetic Toiletry and Fragrance Association (CTFA). But recent studies linking hair color with an increase in certain cancers are making women rethink this rite of passage. A study done by the University of Washington and published in the American Journal of Public Health (July 1994) reported that women who dye their hair have a 50 percent greater risk of developing non-Hodgkins lymphoma. A 1994 study conducted by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the American Cancer Society suggested an association between prolonged use (20 years or more) of darker dyes and cancer. What makes the hair dyes harmful? Chemicals.
(“Hair Color to Dye For: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly on Natural Cover-Ups,” Vegetarian Times, Sept. 1998)

Evidence supports a causal link between hair dye use and bladder cancer risk, and the more slowly the carcinogen is eliminated, the greater the risk. Although the USDA typically requires safety testing of all coloring agents used in cosmetics and food, hair dyes have historically been exempt from this requirement. Frequency and duration of permanent hair dye use are positively associated with increased bladder cancer risk, as is cumulative total times of lifetime use.
(93rd Annual Meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research, April 2002, on Betty Kamen and Michael Rosenbaum, M.D.’s "Nutrition Hints" - no. #828: Hair Dye and Bladder Cancer Risk, 2002). To encourage elimination of carcinogens Betty Kamen suggests that the use of fiber supplementation, dehydrated sprouted grass drinks, and the algae chlorella can be beneficial.

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