Chemical straightening, curling, coloring and other manipulations of our hair’s natural appearance have been popular for several decades now. It is only in recent years that the hazards of the volatile chemicals that are often used in these treatments are being seriously questioned.
Brazilian keratin hair treatments have been all the rage for the past several years. They were touted as a way to semi-permanently change the texture of the hair. These types of treatments were marketed primarily to women looking for lower maintenance hair with a smoother texture.
Concerns arose when technicians who frequently administered these treatments to their clients reported headaches, eye irritation, nausea and nosebleeds. Customers would also sometimes report similar symptoms. Some customers reported their hair began to fall out or break off as well. Others reported scalp irritation and burning.
The problem with these types of treatments is that they work by using formaldehyde as one of the active ingredients. Formaldehyde is classified as a known carcinogen. Therefore its presence in products that are used on people is regulated to a certain degree.
The government does allow what they consider “safe” amounts of this dangerous chemical in some products. Many health activists say formaldehyde should not be allowed in any concentrations. It has been widely studied and the adverse health effects of human contact are well known.
The FDA recently issued a warning to one of the manufacturers of the product over the high formaldehyde content. The levels found in this particular formulation were several times higher than the legal “safe” limit established by the FDA. The company actually marketed the product as formaldehyde free and is currently standing by this claim.
Straightening treatments are not the only hair treatment that is questionable. Several types of hair color products are also loaded with chemicals that cause irritation. They also often contain several ingredients that are linked to cancer and other health issues.
Some of the highly questionable chemical ingredients lurking in hair color include phthalates, PPD (Paraphenylenediamine), ammonia, peroxide, cocamide DEA, and lead acetate. All of these chemicals are classified as skin and membrane irritants, and some as carcinogens.
PPD is one of the more well known irritants on this list. This chemical irritates the bronchial passages. It produces noxious fumes, and can cause breathing problems instantly upon inhalation. It is suspected as a cause of adult onset asthma in those that are in frequent contact with it.
It is estimated that PPD is used in about 2/3 of all commercial hair dyes. It is widely used because it is inexpensive and produces a darker and more permanent color. Other products that use this ingredient include gasoline, printer ink and some darkly colored cosmetics.
Phthalates are a known endocrine (hormone) disruptor. Cocamide DEA and lead acetate are both cancer causing agents. Ammonia and peroxide are both skin, eye and throat irritants which means repeated exposure will likely cause tissue damage.
It is increasingly important to read the labels on hair care products to make sure you are avoiding these toxic chemicals. Don’t be afraid to ask your hair stylist about any hair treatments you are considering. They should always readily provide an ingredient list upon request. Many reputable salons are offering safer alternatives to help your hair look beautiful.