Hair Care Disasters: Caution with Relaxers and Dye (cont.)

Some stylists recommend applying a layer of petroleum jelly on the scalp before applying a relaxer because it creates a protective barrier between the chemical and the skin. Scratching, brushing, and combing can make the scalp more susceptible to chemical damage and should be avoided right before using a relaxer. Parents should be especially cautious when applying chemicals to children's hair and should keep relaxers out of children's reach. There have been reports of small children ingesting straightening chemicals and suffering injuries that include burns to the face, tongue, and esophagus.

How often to relax hair is a personal decision. According to Pearl Freier, an instructor at the International Academy of Hair Design in South Daytona, Fla., relaxing at intervals of six to eight weeks is common, and the frequency depends on the rate of a person's hair growth. Leslie F. Safer, MD, a dermatologist in Albany, Ga., who has treated women with scalp irritation from relaxers, says straightening every six weeks is too frequent, in his opinion. Relaxers can cause hair breakage in the long term, he says, and blow drying and curling can do more damage.

Consumers should be aware that applying more than one type of chemical treatment, such as coloring hair one week and then relaxing it the next, can increase the risk of hair damage. "The only color we recommend for relaxed hair is semi-permanent because it has no ammonia and less peroxide," compared with permanent color, Freier says.

Hair Dye Reactions

As with hair relaxers, some consumers have reported hair loss, burning, redness, and irritation from hair dyes. Allergic reactions to dyes include itching, swelling of the face, and even difficulty breathing.

Coal tar hair dye ingredients are known to cause allergic reactions in some people, FDA's Lambert says. Synthetic organic chemicals, including hair dyes and other color additives, were originally manufactured from coal tar, but today manufacturers primarily use materials derived from petroleum. The use of the term "coal tar" continues because historically that language has been incorporated into the law and regulations.

The law does not require that coal tar hair dyes be approved by FDA, as is required for other uses of color additives. In addition, the law does not allow FDA to take action against coal tar hair dyes that are shown to be harmful, if the product is labeled with the prescribed caution statement indicating that the product may cause irritation in certain individuals, that a patch test for skin sensitivity should be done, and that the product must not be used for dyeing the eyelashes or eyebrows. The patch test involves putting a dab of hair dye behind the ear or inside the elbow, leaving it there for two days, and looking for itching, burning, redness, or other reactions.

"The problem is that people can become sensitized--that is, develop an allergy--to these ingredients," Lambert says. "They may do the patch test once, and then use the product for 10 years" before having an allergic reaction. "But you're supposed to do the patch test every time," he says, even in salons.

And what about ending up with something other than the exact shade of strawberry blonde on the shelf? "Don't think the color on the box is the color you'll get," says Freier, the cosmetology instructor. "There are so many variables, like what chemicals are already in your hair and what your natural color is, that go into how your hair will turn out."

When using all hair chemicals, it's critical to keep them away from children to prevent ingestion and other accidents, and to follow product directions carefully. It sounds basic, but some people don't do it, says FDA's Halper. "If it says leave on hair for five minutes, seven minutes doesn't make it better," he says. "In fact, it could do damage."


Look Out For Your Eyes

Whether applying hair chemicals at home or in a hair salon, consumers and beauticians should be careful to keep them away from the eyes. FDA has received reports of injuries from hair relaxers and hair dye accidentally getting into eyes. And while it may be tempting to match a new hair color to eyebrows and eyelashes, consumers should resist the urge. The use of permanent eyelash and eyebrow tinting and dyeing has been known to cause serious eye injuries and even blindness. There are no color additives approved by FDA for dyeing or tinting eyelashes and eyebrows.

The law does not require that coal tar hair dyes be approved by FDA, as is required for other uses of color additives. In addition, the law does not allow FDA to take action against coal tar hair dyes that are shown to be harmful, if the product is labeled with the following caution statement:

"Caution-This product contains ingredients which may cause skin irritation on certain individuals and a preliminary test according to accompanying directions should first be made. This product must not be used for dyeing the eyelashes or eyebrows; to do so may cause blindness."

--M.M.

Hair Color and Cancer

Over the years, some studies have indicated a possible link between hair dye use and cancer, while others have not. In February 1994, FDA and the American Cancer Society released an epidemiologic study involving 573,000 women. Researchers found that women who had ever used permanent hair dyes showed decreased risk of all fatal cancers combined and also of urinary system cancers. The study also revealed that women who had ever used permanent hair dyes showed no increased risk of any type of hematopoietic cancer (cancer of the body's blood-forming systems).

This research, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, did suggest that prolonged use (20 years or more of constant use) of black hair dye may slightly increase the occurrence of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and multiple myeloma, but these cases represented a small fraction of hair dye users. This study followed previous NCI studies that raised concern about the use of hair dyes and higher rates of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.


STAY INFORMED

Get the Latest health and medical information delivered direct to your inbox!