Hair dying has its roots (no pun intended) going back to ancient Egypt and the Roman Empire, where natural plant extracts like henna were used. Fast forward to today, the hair dye industry is booming and estimated to be around USD7 billion worldwide, reaching out to a market ranging from youngsters in their early teens to mature citizens.

For mature citizens, aging is part of a natural process and with it comes some physical changes. Your knees start giving way, you lose flexibility, and horror of all horrors … was that a grey hair or two that just appeared out of nowhere when you brushed your hair this morning?

Many people, no offence but the majority are women in this case, find the need to cover up grey hair absolutely essential to make themselves look young.

Youngsters eager to keep up with the latest hair fashion trends highlighted by catwalk models, don’t think twice about the effects of bleaching, darkening or lightening their natural hair colour.

There are some young adults who are affected by premature greying of their hair, and must dye their hair to look their age. This condition could be related to their genes, where one parent had the same condition and so did the generations before that.

According to the US National Cancer Institute, there can be as many as 5,000 chemicals in hair dye. The US Environmental Working Group (EWG) researched 117 personal care hair dyes and found nearly 80 of them contained chemicals that could cause cancer.

There are primarily 4 types of hair dyes.

Permanent hair dyes:

About 80% of consumers worldwide use permanent hair dyes, which contain a myriad of chemicals. A point to note is the darker the hair dye, the higher the chemical concentration that may cause cancer.

Permanent hair dyes contain:

*Para-phenylenediamine (PPD) – this chemical creates dramatic colour changes (e.g., when going from blonde to brunette) but has been found to cause cancer in animals, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates some hair dyes.

*Coal tar – is a chemical combination that will make colours last longer than natural hair dyes. According to the FDA, the down side of coal tar is it has been proven to cause cancer in laboratory animals

*Hydrogen peroxide – is a key ingredient in permanent dyes. Its purpose is to strip your hair of its natural colour and prepares it for a new shade. The chemical’s sulphuric smell may cause eye irritation.

*Ammonia – this chemical makes your hair colour last, but over-exposure can cause skin irritation. There are brands that are ammonia-free, but they are more expensive.

Semi- and demi-permanent hair dyes both contain peroxide.

Semi-permanent dyes add colour but hair cannot be lightened, and they last for around 12 shampoos.

Demi-permanent hair dyes last longer – about 24-26 shampoos.

Temporary hair dye:

Temporary hair dyes are made up of organic solvents and other chemicals. They usually last 1-2 shampoos only.

Natural hair dye:

Henna – is chemical-free. It doesn’t do a great job of covering grey hair, however, and needs to be refreshed every 2-4 weeks.


Your risk of getting cancer increases with how often you colour your hair. Do you know that if you use a permanent dye once a month, you double your risk of developing bladder cancer than a person who does not colour his or her hair? This finding was observed in a study conducted by the University of Southern California in 2001.

People who use permanent hair dyes for more than 15 years, triple their chances of developing bladder cancer. Shockingly, a professional stylist who comes into daily contact with hair dye has a 50% risk of getting the same disease.

Another disease closely linked to the usage of dark permanent hair dye is non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). Surprisingly those who chose a blonde permanent hair dye colour were not affected.


Though considered safe due use during pregnancy, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists advise pregnant women to ensure they do not use permanent hair dyes containing coal-tar products.


Even with many health risks associated with hair dyes, especially cancer, it is evident people are not going to stop colouring their hair.

If you must use hair dyes, never to combine different hair dye brands, as they may have very harmful effects resulting in severe hair damage or even hair loss.

Check with your stylist or if you colour your own hair using permanent hair dye, read the ingredients used to check if the chemicals PPD, resorcinol or triethanolamine, are listed. These strong chemicals are commonly used in permanent hair dyes and have been found to be toxic.

Women who are worried about cancer risk of hair dyes should “decrease their frequency of permanent hair dye use or use non-chemical-based or natural hair dye [without PPD],” advises Manuela Gago-Dominguez, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor at the Keck School of Medicine and USC/Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center in Los Angeles.

Lastly, consider switching to natural hair dyes like henna, even though it takes much longer for the colour to set in. As Sonya Lunder, MPH, senior analyst at EWG says, “Natural hair dye is safer” than chemical dyes.

By Aaron
3rd June 22:30

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