Truth or scare? Could your hair dye be critically damaging your health?

Up to 75% of women today, dye their hair in one form of another. Since the 1970’s, the debate continues to rage as to whether or not semi-permanent and permanent hair dye is detrimental to your health, or even carcinogenic.Could your hair dye be critically damaging your health?

With so much conflicting information available, what really is the safest approach for individuals to take?

A basic search on the internet will return a multitude of references from highly respected sources, citing the known and potential dangers of formaldehyde, ammonia, hydrogen peroxide, PPD (Paraphenylenediamine) and other harmful chemicals that are found in hair dye and hair straightening products.

Whether studies are focused on hair stylists or the individuals having their hair coloured – cancer; allergies; respiratory illnesses; neurological and reproductive disorders are all identified as major health risks associated with the use of hair dye.

Though many studies carry conclusive evidence, some claims are not only inaccurate, but are written in ways that amount to downright scare-mongering. It is important to cut through the sensationalism and take a logical, realistic view of how we as individuals can protect our health, while still achieving the cosmetic results that we seek.

You can’t avoid chemicals…

It is important to note that everything, whether it is found in nature or is man-made, is in fact a chemical. No cosmetics are therefore, ‘chemical-free’ and the natural personal care industry is doing incredible damage to itself by touting products to be such.
What we need to try and avoid however, are those chemicals, and specifically the synthetic chemicals, which we know will pose a risk to our health.

Why hair dye potentially poses a threat to health

Hair dyes are applied directly to the hair shaft and scalp. The head is the location in the human body where the blood supply is the richest, which means that the potential for harmful chemicals to enter the bloodstream via the use of hair dye is greater.

When we learned from OCS in the UK, where our range of permanent hair colour, styling and hair care products is made, that 25% of the standard synthetic hair colour that most salons use, actually goes through your bloodstream and can be found in your stools – we were shocked!” says Carlyn, Head Training Consultant for Organic Colour Systems in South Africa.

Though the skin is a complex organ, which is for the most part able to successfully prevent harmful substances from entering the bloodstream, the fact that over 5000 chemicals are found in varying formulations within hair dyes, means that scientists are not able to practically identify which chemicals and combinations of certain chemicals, are indeed safe.

As one ingredient is identified as a risk factor, it is often replaced by another chemical with either a known or unknown risk factor.

In the defense of the manufacturers of hair dye, many known carcinogenic substances have been removed from formulations. In fact studies have shown that women who started using hair dye after 1980, are at far lower risk that those who began using hair dye before that time.

But the fact that the risk of using hair dye is potentially lower today than it used to be, does not mean that the use of hair dye is in any way risk free. It is the inherent risk factor that has fueled numerous and ongoing studies both locally and internationally.

Hair professionals at the highest risk

A 1991 study which was published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, found that hairstylists had triple the risk of developing breast cancer when they worked with hair dyes of any sort for five years or more, while a 2001 study from the Keck School of Medicine of USC was able to determine that hairdressers who had worked with hair dye for 10 years or more, had faced a risk of bladder cancer five times greater than the general populace.

Once absorbed into the body, dyes tend to become concentrated in the bladder which is the reason why cancer of the bladder is one of the top cancers that affect stylists.

If you can eat it, you can safely put it on your skin

The savvy consumer, who is unwilling to risk their long term health for the sake of a short term fashion statement, will arm themselves with some basic knowledge of what they should avoid, and will seek out cosmetic options which contain the least number of harmful chemicals and synthetics.

They know that as a rule of thumb, the more ingredients in a product that you would be willing to put in your mouth, the safer the product will be for you to use on your hair and skin!

Your basic bodily reactions to the use of any product, should never be uncomfortable. Burning skin, tears and respiratory issues should never be the result of your using, or working with hair dye.

So although your hair dye may not actually kill you outright, the bottom line is that most hair dyes do present a risk to your health.

Safer, gentler hair dyes are the way of the future…

Forward thinking South African salons and stylists are following the international move to using gentler, more natural, yet highly effective products.

Amanda, a hair stylist from a popular salon in Johannesburg says “For 15 years I had been using a leading brand in my salon, but I found my health deteriorating and this was a concern to me. I also have many clients who have cancer and so I decided to go the natural route to avoid all the negative, unhealthy ingredients found in mainstream hair salon products”.

And there are many more stylists in South Africa who, like Amanda, are neither willing to jeopardise their long term health, nor suffer the immediate side effects of using hair dye.

Gabriel, another highly successful stylist, suffered terrible sinus problems which disappeared when he started working at a salon which uses only the most gentle, natural hair dyes, hair straighteners, and styling products.

One such product range is of course our very own, internationally renowned ‘Organic Colour Systems’ collection of salon exclusive hair colour, hair care and styling products. OCS was introduced to South Africa in 2013 and this outstanding range has provided salons with an affordable, yet professional, trusted, gentler alternative to standard salon ranges.

Local client feedback to the OCS range mirrors it’s the popularity overseas and the salons that stock the range tell us that their clients just love the rich diversity of long-lasting, fade-resistant colours available in the colour range and the ability of the products to return their hair to its original, natural, healthy state.

With the least amount of harmful chemicals and maximum number of certified organic ingredients, we aim to provide consumers with an option to colour their hair in the most natural, healthy manner possible.

The client is ultimately in charge

Whether you’re a stylist or the client destined to sit in the stylists chair, you make the final call as to how you wish to protect, or risk your health.

Opting for healthier options, especially when those options are not only affordable, but also potentially work better than the more risky ones, is clearly the most preferable, healthy approach to take.

Salons wishing to investigate healthier, more effective hair colour and styling products are invited to contact Paul Fox, Director of Organic Salon Products – the distributor of the Organic Colour Systems range in South Africa.

Please telephone +27 83 236 4292 or email at