Chemical Effects of Hair Care Products

Changing hair color should be a fun and safe way to enhance ones look and maybe even persona. But the terrifying nightmare that a 19 year old Parisian girl suffered in 2018 cast a disturbing light on severe reactions to chemicals in hair care products. Estelle was like any other late teenager growing up in the City of Lights. Her blond hair was beginning to bore her so she decided to become a brunette. Buying an over the counter hair dye, she made sure to carefully read the instructions. First and foremost was a patch test in order to make sure she had no allergic reactions. Immediately her scalp began to itch and by the next morning her head swelled a full 7 cm more than normal. By the time she reached the hospital her tongue was also beginning to swell and she had trouble breathing. According to Estelle, her head took on the shape of a light bulb. Corticosteroids and antihistamines were immediately prescribed. Luckily, by the next morning her swelling had begun to recede. What could have caused this frightening allergic reaction? A chemical called…….are you ready for this tongue twister…..Paraphenylenediamine, or PPD. This is a chemical that is present in most dark colored hair dyes.

Of course Estelle’s reaction was extreme and most people, thankfully, don’t experience similar allergic reactions.  However it is not uncommon for reactions ranging from itchiness to breaks in the skin of the scalp, causing lesions, to breathing issues and nausea.  Almost all of these allergic responses can be traced back to the use of formaldehyde in products.  In 2010 OSHA tested 100 products claiming to be formaldehyde free from 50 different salons and found significant levels in these formulations. How do they get away with this? Because in the United States the FDA does NOT have the legal authority to approve or disapprove products before they hit the shelf. They can only monitor color additives. I can hear you all screaming as one, “how is this possible?”  It’s because if a product is intended only to cleanse the body or to make a person more attractive, it’s classified a “cosmetic” and not a drug. And our laws do not require cosmetics to gain FDA approval.

Of course your collective disapproval is warranted but I’m sure you’re now thinking about the dangers that are incurred by nail and hair technicians who are navigating this “chemical minefield” every day, not just once a month or so.  And yes, studies have shown higher incidences of breathing difficulties, rashes, eczema and even increased risk of bladder cancer in techs. A lot of health issues seem to be caused by a chemical cocktail called “the toxic trio” which is prevalent in most chemical based hair products. They are toluene, formaldehyde and dibutyl phthalate. The names even sound sinister!

So remember to read labels, avoid sinister sounding chemicals and research product formulations. Remember, your body is a temple and will be the only body you’ll ever have so treat it accordingly.