Hair dyes – especially chemical ones – have a very bad reputation. It is said that they cause cancer, and liver and kidney damage are also mentioned. During pregnancy, hair coloring is even completely discouraged, as it is said to damage health. But what is it about these claims and what should you pay attention to when coloring your hair? You will find out below.

Do Hair Dyes Trigger Cancer?

In fact, there are scientific studies that link hair dyes to the development of cancer. Accordingly, people who have their hair dyed regularly, but above all hairdressers, would have a significantly higher risk of cancer than the rest of the population.

These studies are constantly referred to and derived from the fact that hair dye is extremely dangerous. However, it is rarely mentioned that the study results are not valid for modern hair dyes. Because: The studies and thus the examined products are several decades old.

Color Hair - Health Effects

The current state of research

The substances that were then contained in hair dyes are now banned from the list of ingredients. A new EU regulation has been in effect since 2006: Now only ingredients for which security dossiers are available are allowed. The European Commission describes the hair dye available in the EU as very safe.

One questionable substance is aromatic amines, which are often found in hair dyes. There is still a need for research on them because they are also associated with an increased risk of cancer.

Research is constantly gaining new knowledge. So it is of course possible that in the future it will turn out that one or the other ingredient of hair dye is harmful.

Allergies to hair dye

Even if the risk of cancer is not increased by hair coloring according to the current knowledge, hair dye is not entirely harmless even according to current knowledge. Many of them contain chemicals, some of which can trigger severe allergic reactions – including anaphylactic shock.

Color Hair - Health Effects

The substances that cause allergies particularly often include:

  • Toluene-2,5-diamines sulfates
  • Paraphenylene diamine (PPD)
  • Resorcinol

Some of them are said to be able to damage the liver and kidneys. It is not excluded that these effects could occur during hair coloring. Ammonia, which in many hair colors serves to loosen the protective cuticle layer of the hair so that the color pigments can penetrate better, also makes the scalp more permeable to pollutants.

Test the Compatibility Of Hair Coloring In Advance?

Most manufacturers of agents with which you can dye or tint the hair yourself recommend a compatibility test in the instructions for use. For this purpose, the agent should first be applied to the elbow and then the reaction should be observed. Only if there are no allergy symptoms for twenty-four hours should the hair be tinted or colored.

However, this recommendation is controversial.3 The organism can only be allergic to a substance that it already knows. So it is possible that the test on the arm does cause the sensitization, but no reaction is yet evident. This only occurs when the hair is actually colored.

Avoid skin contact with hair coloring

The less contact the hair dye has with the skin, the lower the risk of allergies. Therefore gloves should be worn when dyeing yourself. These are usually included in the packs.

Be careful not to exceed the specified exposure time so that the scalp does not come into contact with the hair color for longer than necessary.

Coloring methods in which the product does not come into contact with the scalp are preferred in order to avoid contact allergies. These include, for example, highlights or the so-called ombre style, in which only the lengths and tips are colored.

Some chemicals found in hair dyes are irritating to the skin. For example, burning and itchy scalp and redness can occur during dyeing. If you notice any symptoms, you should wash the product out for safety’s sake or inform the hairdresser.

Dye Hair During Pregnancy?

It is often advised against coloring or tinting the hair during pregnancy. The dyes that are available on the German market do not contain any substances that are known to be harmful to health. Nevertheless, it is not entirely impossible that health damage can occur.

If you are pregnant or breastfeeding and want to be completely safe, you should refrain from coloring your hair.

How Do Hair Dyes work?

So-called oxidation hair colors, better known as hair coloring (as opposed to tints), consist of two components:

  • One component (for example hydrogen peroxide) destroys the natural color pigments of the hair. It can also at least partially attack color pigments from previous dyeing processes.
  • The second component infuses into the hair those components of the agent that are responsible for the color formation. Chemical reactions make the color molecules so large that they can no longer leave the hair.

Only such hair dyes are permanent and can also be used to dye gray hair. An oxidation hair color is also necessary if the hair is to be lightened.

Permanent hair coloring: harmful to the hair

However, such products attack the hair because they make the protective layer permeable. The severity of the damage depends on how much distance there is between hair coloring. Frequent dyeing and especially strong lightening are particularly stressful for the hair. It becomes straw, brittle and dries out.

How does a hair tint work?

A hair tint is much gentler. Here the dye particles are deposited on the outside of the hair. This makes them less durable and the dyeing result is not permanent.

Since the color can be washed out over time, one speaks of a temporary or semi-permanent hair color. In addition, it is not possible to tone hair lighter or to cover gray hair with a tint.

Color hair without chemicals?

There has been a lot of discussion about the risks of using hair dye in recent years. As a result, numerous natural products have come onto the market. There is now a large selection of herbal hair dyes that do not use harmful substances and that can be used to naturally dye the hair.

From a health perspective, these funds are to be welcomed. They contain natural substances such as henna, indigo and chamomile. The risk of an allergic reaction is much lower here. Herbal hair dyes do not attack the hair structure, but cover the hair like a protective film, thereby providing care and shine.

Disadvantages of natural hair dyes

However, natural hair dyes cannot achieve the same results as conventional products. Lightening is not possible and gray hair is not completely covered. As with tints, the color fades with every hair wash. Even more than with conventional colorants, the color result depends on the original hair color.

The use of natural colorants is also somewhat more complicated than that of conventional ones. So the exposure time is often significantly longer. Sometimes several staining runs have to be carried out until the desired intensity is reached.

In addition, the consistency can be problematic, especially if laypersons use the product alone at home. This can quickly lead to contamination on clothing or in the bathroom. Furthermore, the natural coloring agent henna can sometimes trigger allergies.

11 things to consider when dyeing hair

So that your health and your hair are not put under excessive strain when coloring your hair, you should consider the following tips:

  1. If you dye your hair yourself, follow the manufacturer’s instructions exactly.
  2. Avoid skin contact if possible: use protective gloves and prefer staining methods where the dye does not come into contact with the scalp.
  3. If possible, do not inhale the colorant. See a doctor straight away if you get hair dye in your eye or have swallowed it.
  4. A prior tolerance test on the skin is not recommended for self-dyeing, as this can increase the risk of allergy.
  5. For safety reasons, avoid coloring your hair during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
  6. You should also avoid coloring your hair if you have scalp problems such as psoriasis.
  7. Colorings without ammonia are not necessarily better for the hair: alternative alkalizing agents do not evaporate as quickly and can therefore damage the hair more.
  8. Don’t dye your hair too often and if you do, use natural hair dye without chemicals.
  9. Hair dyes may work differently than expected on already colored or bleached hair. In this case, go to the hairdresser to avoid unpleasant surprises.
  10. Special shampoo and care products for colored hair can help to maintain the color result (for example, silver shampoo against yellow tinge). Hair treatments can also help to care for damaged hair and irritated scalp.
  11. UV radiation, chlorine and salt water bleach the hair. This also applies to colored hair. Care products with UV filters can help protect colored hair.


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