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Natural Hair Color Products

What You Need to Know About Natural Hair Color

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Updated November 16, 2011

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Natural hair-color products have become increasingly popular in recent years, largely due to concerns that conventional hair dyes may carry health risks. Additionally, many people choose natural hair-color products to avoid the use of chemicals that may contribute to air and water pollution.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), use of hair dyes may lead to a number of adverse effects (including hair loss, respiratory problems, swelling in the face, itchy, raw or skin and burning). Many consumers use natural hair-color products in order to reduce their risk of these potential reactions.

In addition, there's some evidence that chemicals found in conventional hair dyes may raise your risk for serious health problems. For instance, some studies have linked personal use of hair dyes with increased risk of cancers of the blood and bone marrow (including non-Hodgkin lymphoma and leukemia). However, other studies have found that personal use of hair dye is not associated with increased risk for these cancers. Similarly, studies on the link between personal use of hair dye and increased risk of breast cancer and bladder cancer have also yielded conflicting results.

For a 2005 report in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers reviewed 79 previously published studies on personal hair-dye use and cancer. Analyzing their findings, the report's authors concluded that there is a lack of "strong evidence of a marked increase in the risk of cancer among personal hair-dye users."

What Ingredients Are Found in Natural Hair Color?

Henna is one of the ingredients most commonly found in natural hair-color products. In fact, the FDA suggests that people concerned about the safety of conventional hair dyes consider using henna as an alternative.

Henna is made from the powdered leaves of the henna plant (Lawsonia inermis), a flowering plant native to parts of Africa and Asia. Used as a hair-coloring agent for thousands of years, henna derives its dyeing properties from tannins (a type of compound found naturally in a wide range of plants).

Vegetable-based natural hair-color products have also become increasingly popular in recent years. Although vegetable-based natural hair color products may be less powerful and fade more rapidly than conventional hair dyes, they appear to be a safe alternative to dyes made with synthetic chemicals.

Is Natural Hair Color Safe?

To date, little is known about the long-term safety of any type of natural hair-color product. Before using any type of hair dye, the FDA recommends doing a patch test. A patch test involves rubbing a small amount of the dye on the inside of your elbow or behind your ear, then leaving it there for two days. If you experience any adverse reactions (such as a rash), don't use the product on your hair.

Should You Use Natural Hair Color?

In a 2008 report, the Working Group of the International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded that the link between personal use of hair dyes and increased cancer risk is not strong enough to cause major concern. Still, choosing a natural hair-color product may be the best option for individuals looking to lower their exposure to potentially toxic chemicals.

When selecting a natural hair-color product, make sure to check the label to ensure that the product does not contain any synthetic chemicals.

Sources

American Cancer Society. "Hair Dyes." February 2011.

Andrew AS, Schned AR, Heaney JA, Karagas MR. "Bladder cancer risk and personal hair dye use." Int J Cancer. 2004 Apr 20;109(4):581-6.

Baan R, Straif K, Grosse Y, Secretan B, El Ghissassi F, Bouvard V, Benbrahim-Tallaa L, Cogliano V. "Carcinogenicity of some aromatic amines, organic dyes, and related exposures." Lancet Oncol. 2008 Apr;9(4):322-3.

National Cancer Institute. "Hair Dyes and Cancer Risk." August 2011.

Takkouche B, Etminan M, Montes-Martínez A. "Personal use of hair dyes and risk of cancer: a meta-analysis." JAMA. 2005 May 25;293(20):2516-25.

US Food and Drug Administration. "FDA consumer: Hair dye dilemmas." 1993.

US Food and Drug Administration. "Hair dye and hair relaxers." 2005.

US Food and Drug Administration. "Hair dye products." 1997.

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