HEALTH – Hair dye can cause cancer

haircoloursScientists at British company Green Chemicals have found that chemicals in many common hair dye products can cause cancer.

The chemicals called secondary amines, can penetrate the skin and stay on hair for years. When they react to tobacco smoke and exhaust fumes, they create a poisonous chemical called N-nitrosamines which are known to cause cancer and are banned from being used in cosmetics.

Home and salon dyes form or contain secondary amines, and hair dye has been linked to a range of cancers, including the formation of tumours in the brain, ovaries, bladder and breasts.

Professor David Lewis told the Daily Mail “At this stage, we can’t be sure of the amount of N-nitrosamines produced or the level of risk these compounds pose but it is clear a potential hazard exists. In the interest of consumer safety, it is imperative that a thorough and independent investigation is conducted to establish the levels of toxicity of these compounds and the potential risks.”

Despite previous warnings about hair dye, manufacturers dispute the claims, even when the European Commission banned 22 dyes which had been linked to bladder cancer.


One thought on “HEALTH – Hair dye can cause cancer

  1. While N-nitrosos are super nasty, it is interesting that many hair dyes use aromatic amines. These are toxic even without the nitrogen oxides needed to make N-nitrosos. I checked one hair dye maker and in their US product they use a small amount of para phenylenediamine (para aminoaniline).

    I also checked the safety advice given by a company which sells para phenylene diamine to lab chemists, they say it has the following risk phrases (23/24/25-36-43-50/53)

    This means
    23/24/25, toxic if swallowed, inhaled or by skin contact
    36 Eye irritant
    43 May cause sensitization by skin contact
    50 Very Toxic to aquatic organisms
    53 May cause long-term adverse effects in the aquatic environment

    While a dilute solution of phenylene diamine will be less able to exert a harmful effect than a strong solution, as a chemist I ask why I should be happy about rubbing into my head a chemical which I would handle in the lab while wearing eye protection, a lab coat, nitrile (chemically resistant) gloves. I would also be likely to working in a fume hood with any aromatic amine.

    I checked the academic literature and reports exist of phenylene diamine being found in the urine of hairdressers and people who use hair dye on their heads. While I can not prove that the phenylene diamine is able to cause disease it is a worrying to find it in urine samples. What is needed is research to work out if exposure at that level is a serious threat to health.

    It is important to understand that it is possible to find almost anything in anyone, below a key concentration the risk of harm caused by the substance is far too low to be of real concern. For example beer bottle glass contains a tiny trace of uranium, but while the tiny trace of uranium which leaches into beer can be measured it is too small to cause kidney damage (uranium poisoning).

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