Welcome back to Freak-Out Fridays, where wellness experts weigh in on just how much you should worry about modern health saboteurs. Struggling with your own quandary? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: I’ve been dyeing my hair for years. Should I be worried about the chemicals that are sitting on my scalp, or the fumes I’m breathing in?
A: The European Commission on Health recently labeled 22 hair dye chemicals as dangerous to humans and banned them for good. So if you’re a hair dye enthusiast, you might want to take a closer look at your favorite brand.
Research suggests that chemicals in some hair dyes can be dangerous—that's why doctors often suggest avoiding it while you're pregnant. The most worrisome is Arylamine. It may be absorbed through your scalp or even inhaled during application of the hair dye. Arylamines have been established as risk factors for bladder cancer by several clinical studies, including one conducted at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Arylamines are used because they help hair dyes to resist fading during washing. However, I'd argue that hair dyes really don’t need them, and many companies are producing Arylamine-free dyes.
Artificial colors—like Red 73 and Orange 24—may also be problematic. They may absorb through your scalp and into your bloodstream where they can attack healthy cells and tissues. Artificial colors can damage your cell’s DNA and increase your risk for cancer.
Personally, I suggest using vegetable-based dyes. These work by coating the hair shaft with botanical extracts such as annatto, blackberry, boysenberry, saffron, paprika, red sorrel, black walnut, and other natural colors.
These substances do not penetrate the hair shaft or your scalp, plus some women claim that they actually give the hair more shine. The coating action of natural pigments can also aid in protecting the hair from environmental toxins, salts, chlorine and assorted pollutants. And here’s the best news of all: Safety tests have found that these vegetable-based, natural dyes are completely safe and effective for dyeing hair.
If you’ve been dyeing your hair for years and now you’re worried about the harm that’s already been done, I suggest increasing your dietary intake of cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and kale. They contain a known cancer fighter called sulforaphane, which protects cellular DNA and promotes healthy cell growth throughout your body.
Michael A. Smith, M.D. is senior health sciences director for Life Extension Foundation of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He can be seen this fall as a recurring guest on the Suzanne Somers Show on the Lifetime Network.