In April 1993, the FDA Consumer released recommendations for those people concerned over the reported
cancer risks of Coal Tar hair dyes. They state that consumers might also want to consider using henna, which is largely plant-derived,
or hair dyes that are lead acetate-based. These colorings don't fall into the coal-tar dye category and therefore any additive
ingredients they contain have been tested for safety before marketing, in accordance with FDA requirements.
Henna products on the market can give a range of colors, from dark brown through various
reddish-brown and lighter red to reddish-blond shades. They cannot, however, lighten hair. Lead acetate dyes gradually darken hair and
are commonly used in progressive type hair colorings, such as those advertised as being for men. None of these colors may be used on
eye-lashes or eyebrows. They also listed the following precautions for people who choose to dye their hair with Coal Tar dyes:
• Don't leave the dye on your head any longer than necessary.
• Rinse your scalp thoroughly with water after use.
• Wear gloves when applying hair dye.
• Carefully follow the directions in the hair dye package.
• Never mix different hair dye products, because you can
induce potentially harmful reactions (if not an unappealing hair
This last precaution is especially true of those tempted to mix haircolor processes by using some
traditional haircolor over hair that has been colored with metallic dyes such as the lead-acetate dyes mentioned above. The end result
could be that you leave all of your hair in the sink due to the interaction between the ingredients in traditional haircolor (namely
peroxide) and the metallic salts in the gradual haircolors.
It should also be noted that in January 2002, the FDA established a “safe conditions of use”
regulation for haircolors using lead acetate and has required the following warning to be carried on all products containing lead acetate: Caution: Contains lead acetate. For external use only. Keep this product out of children's reach. Do
not use on cut or abraded scalp. If skin irritation develops, discontinue use. Do not use to color mustaches, eyelashes, eyebrows, or
hair on parts of the body other than the scalp. Do not get in eyes. Follow instructions carefully and wash hands thoroughly after use.
This was a result of concerns of potential “lead poisoning” due to absorption through the skin of the lead in the product.
As a professional stylist, I am concerned about potential hazards in the products I use, both for my
sake and the sake of my clients. I would encourage those individuals who choose to use haircolor products at home to use care in
selecting the products they use. Take the time to read the labels and look for ingredients like those listed above. If you are concerned
about potential cancer risks, look for products without these ingredients, or for statements declaring the absence of coal tar dyes.
However, I urge you not to accept anything you read (even from me) at face value. One of the greatest
assets we have in our modern age is the ability to access information to make truly informed decisions. Choose sources you trust, that
offer references for the sources of the information they provide. And when you encounter information that seems adamant on one
viewpoint, consider the source. In other words, don’t expect to get accurate, balanced information on the potential hazards of permanent
haircolor from a website that advocates or markets vegetable hair dyes. Stay informed, stay smart, and make good choices.