If you're like 70 percent of American women (and a small number of men), coloring your hair is a regular part of your beauty routine. But whether you entrust your hue to a pricey salon or are a do-it-yourself home colorist, you may have wondered whether all that color applied to your scalp and hair might possibly be bad for your health.

It's true that certain dyes are carcinogenic, but that doesn't automatically translate into an increased risk of cancer from their use. In 1993, the International Agency for Research on Cancer investigated the cancer-hair dye link and concluded that even hairdressers and colorists, who handle dye on a daily basis, do not necessarily face a higher cancer risk. Since then numerous other studies have been conducted, and the evidence is inconclusive. Most of the studies do not demonstrate that there is any link between using hair dye and cancer. The studies that do find a link also find that link to be very weak. While animal studies have shown a definitive link between hair dye and cancer, in those studies the animals were actually fed large amounts of dye for long periods. There was no link between applying the dye to the animals' skin and their risk of cancer.

But just because hair dye probably won't cause cancer doesn't mean that there aren't dangers in using it. Hair dye can cause allergic reactions in some people, which can lead to serious skin and eye irritation. If you're a home user, it's a good idea to test the dye on a small area of your skin before applying it to your whole head. And don't use it on eyebrows-the risk of getting it into your eyes and damaging them is too great.

Here are some other precautions you may want to take before dyeing your hair:

  • Wear gloves. The same chemicals that penetrate your scalp and hair shaft can penetrate  the skin of your hand and arm.
  • Be vigilant about leaving the dye on only for the recommended time.
  • Rinse thoroughly.
  • Never mix dyes from two different brands, as there can be dangerous chemical reactions.
  • If you're highly allergic, or simply concerned, consider using a plant-based dye, such as henna, or a temporary dye that will last for a washing or two but will not penetrate the hair shaft.


Source: American Cancer Society, www.cancer.org.