Avoid These 6 Toxic Chemicals Found in Most Hair Dyes–Some May Cause Cancer

April 9, 2019 Updated: April 9, 2019

After writing an article about organic DIY shampoos for healthy hair and preventing hair loss, I was curious to investigate the health hazards of using commercial hair dyes.

According to a European Commission report, the EU Commission has already banned 22 ingredients that may still be found in many products sold outside of Europe, and the commission is in the process of investigating another 115 potentially harmful ingredients. The side effects of those banned-in-Europe chemicals range from severe allergies, skin, eye, throat and lung irritation, and rheumatoid arthritis to cancer of the bladder.

To compare, the EU law bans 1,328 chemicals from cosmetics that are known or suspected to cause cancer, genetic mutation, reproductive harm or birth defects. But, the U.S. FDA has only banned or restricted 11 chemicals from cosmetics.

The good news is we are making progress. In Oct 2018, the U.S. FDA banned lead acetate from hair coloring products after being petitioned by consumer watchdog groups. While there are still work to be done on restricting more harmful chemicals in the market, we will introduce to you some of the most dangerous chemicals here so that you as a consumer know about which ones that are not good for your health:

1. PPD

PPD is short for para-phenylenediamine. It is used as a dye for dark color shades and is made from coal tar, a petroleum-derived chemical that includes benzene, naphthalene, phenols, aniline, and other chemicals. It is also used as a wood preservative, and contact with skin is best to be avoided. Research states PPD in combination with Hydrogene Peroxide is very toxic and can lead to cancer.

2. Hydrogene Peroxide

Hydrogene Peroxide is mostly used to strip the natural color away, before applying the hair dye color. It is said to change the hair structure and make it brittle stripping it off its natural luster.

3. Ammonia

Ammonia is used to open up the hair’s cuticle (the outer layer of the hair) so the dyes can come into the shaft (the inside of the hair). It may produce caustic burns and lung irritation.

4. DMDM Hydantoin

DMDM Hydantoin is a preservative that slowly releases the toxic formaldehyde chemical, the longer it sits on the shelves. It may cause tissue irritation and affect the immune system. DMDM Hydantoin kills off fungi, yeasts and bacteria and it’s also used in herbicides, floor waxes, polymers, color photography, latex paints, cutting oils, adhesives, copying paper, and inks.

5. Parabens

The two most common parabens preservatives are Methylparabens and Propylparabens. They are widely used in hair care products and can produce severe allergies and skin irritation.

6. Resorcinol

Resorcinol is a toxic dye that can cause scalp irritation, and is an allergen affecting the endocrine system.

The Safe Hair Dyes

The best way to avoid these harmful chemicals is to buy brands that use 100% natural hair dyes. One needs to read the label carefully though, as some brands may still mix natural dyes with chemical preservatives and other chemical dyes for a faster and longer permanence.

Natulique organic hair dye
Natulique organic hair dye (Pinterest)

You can also make your own using herbs and other products found at home. But this requires time and you may need to apply it frequently before achieving a darker shade of color.

Henna powder natural hair dye
Henna powder natural hair dye (Mirzamlk/Shutterstock)

The third best option is to buy semi-permanent hair dyes, as those only coat the cuticle and will not penetrate the hair shaft.

One good tip I heard of for reversing grey hair is to eat 1 tablespoon of unsulphured blackstrap molasses every day with a glass of water in the mornings. Molasses are full of iron and potassium, which also helps hair growth.

You can also apply it directly to your hair starting from the roots, and leave it on as long as possible. It is quite messy as it will melt with your body heat, so it is recommended to wrap your hair in cling film and put a shower cap on.

As for myself, I have decided to venture into the alchemical world of natural hair dyes when I need it, so stay tuned.

Here is the list of 22 hair dye chemicals banned by the European Commission.
6-Methoxy-2,3-Pyridinediamine and its HCl salt
4,5-Diamino-1-Methylpyrazole and its HCl salt
4,5-Diamino-1-((4-Chlorophenyl)Methyl)-1H-Pyrazole Sulfate
4-Methoxytoluene-2,5-Diamine and its HCl salt
5-Amino-4-Fluoro-2-Methylphenol Sulfate
N,N-Dimethyl-2,6-Pyridinediamine and its HCl salt
N-(2-Methoxyethyl)-p-phenylenediamine and its HCl salt
2,4-Diamino-5-methylphenetol and its HCl salt
3,4-Diaminobenzoic acid
2-Aminomethyl-p-aminophenol and its HCl salt
Solvent Red 1 (CI 12150)
Acid Orange 24 (CI 20170)
Acid Red 73 (CI 27290)

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

Olga Martinez contributed to this article