Hazardous hair products

By: Jul 18, 2011
hair product dangers

From asthma to cancer, some hair treatments can be detrimental to your health.

Summertime means hot summer looks. In fact, it means a whole new summer you. You probably find yourself combing through fashion magazines looking for an example of the makeover you want. An integral part of “out with the old and in with the new,” is undoubtedly your hair, isn’t it? You may also find yourself with the inexplicable but unshakable desire to change the way you wear your hair, whether it be its color, its length or its texture. Maybe this is the year you finally straighten those unruly locks of yours.

Be careful on your quest for total hair transformation. While you know that “transformation-in-a-box” can leave your hair dry and over processed, they may also be extremely dangerous to your health.

Most of us don’t think to ask the beautician to show us the package the straightener or hair dye came in, which like everything that goes on or in our bodies, would have a list of ingredients. We trust that he or she is only using safe products on our hair. If you are considering straightening, dying or even just holding your hair in place, it’s time to look more closely at those ingredients.

Hair Straighteners/Smoothers/Relaxers/Texturizers

For women who have long wished for their curly and highly texturized hair to be straight, up until about 2003, the option to do so was found only in a box and mostly marketed to men and women of African descent. Containing lye as its active ingredient, many Caucasian found this to be too strong on their hair. In truth, it isn’t healthful for anyone’s hair. It seemed like a revolution of sorts when the Brazilian Blowout Smoothing Solution made its way to salons catering to Caucasian and Asian women. Finally a product that could safely take curly hair and smooth out its texture! Indeed so brilliant was it that women by the scores ran to their nearest salons to dunk their heads in this solution that promised to rid her of having to straighten her hair using a blow dryer and straightening iron each morning. Other companies soon followed suit and eventually some two dozen smoothing products were being manufactured.

Careful as most of us are not to ingest products that we know can compromise our breathing, burn our eyes, skin, cause a rash or perhaps cause cancer, we’re quite trusting when it comes to what is being put on our hair. Perhaps you have heard of the chemical formaldehyde. While you assumed that strong smell you inhaled whilst the beautician applied this miracle straightener to your hair was ammonia, it was in fact formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is a very dangerous chemical, often found in the following:

  • Commercial glues and adhesives
  • Particleboard
  • Insulation materials
  • Fungicides
  • Germicides

And if you had that eerie sense that it was the same preservative used in mortuaries, you would be correct. Although the Canadian and US governments permit cosmetic companies to use up to .02% of it in their beauty products, the product you almost used – or perhaps have already used once or twice – contains between .035% to 8.4%! Many US states and Canada have banned the use of the company whose straightener contains the highest levels of formaldehyde – Brazillion Blowout Smoothing Solution. Other Smoothing Products are on the Canadian Government’s advisory list and unless they are unable to minimize their use of formaldehyde, they too will be banned.

Does formaldehyde cause cancer? The National Institutes of Health only says that it was known to do so in laboratory rats. Given this information, perhaps you might reconsider using your blow dryer and flat iron just a little longer.

Hair Dyes and Bleaching

Up there with changing the texture of one’s hair is dying it. Dissatisfied with its color, starting as young as 10 years old, girls and women repeatedly use peroxide, bleach, ammonia and other lesser known ingredients to take hair from jet black to blonde to red with highlights and back to black all within one year. How many men and women dye their hair each year? It is a $12 billion industry worldwide, so that’s a whole lot of people exposing themselves to potentially dangerous ingredients. But how dangerous is dangerous?

Hair dyes and their ingredients (both known and those considered to be trade secrets and therefore unknown), have been linked to everything from asthma, skin rashes, allergies (both skin and upper respiratory) and cancer. A paper authored by Yawel Zhang et al was published in the American Journal of Epidemiology in 2008 looked at retroprospective data (1988-2003) of more than 4400 people who had been diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. In this controlled study, the researches looked at women who used hair dye over the course of their lifetimes. The results indicated to them that women who began using hair dye in 1980 or shortly thereafter, showed increased risk for Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma over those who didn’t.

The study cited above is just one of many that have looked for links between hair dye and cancer.

Why Does My Hair Spray Make Me Cough?

While the two most serious carcenogenics – vinyl chloride and methol chloride, both of which are linked to causing liver cancer – have been banned from use in hairsprays, their predecessor doesn’t appear to be any safer. All hairsprays contain an ingredient called propylene glycol, which has, according to the Centers for Disease Control, “cancer causing properties.”

From asthma to cancer, please ask yourself, is there any other way to transform your look? Indeed, as the actress Catherine Deneuve once so famously said, “L’un doit souffrir pour être beau,” which means, “One must suffer to be beautiful,” our guess was she didn’t mean quite in this fashion.