Hair dye horror stories
Hair dye horror stories

Half of all permanent hair dyes contain potentially deadly toxins as some have found, to their cost. Helen Wellings investigates.

Schoolgirl Danielle, 16, had thick luxuriant hair until she, with the help of her friend, peroxided it at home.

Within half an hour, her scalp was burning, the pain unbearable. Her mum Lana found her moaning, her head in a bucket of cold water.

"I lifted up the towel and I was in shock, I couldn't believe what I saw," Lana said.

"Just the whole top of her head looked dead. The hair was all brittle and stuck and almost melted into her scalp."

Danielle went into hospital for eight days. She had two skin grafts, but the deep burns have left her permanently bald and horribly scarred.

Poison warning
The peroxide was marked "Poison" and "Professional Use Only", with safety directions and irritant warnings.

Yet Danielle bought it at a store that sells direct to the general public. And Danielle claims the store recommended the strong peroxide because her hair was so thick.

"If I had have known in hind sight what would have happened I would never have allowed her to do this," Lana said.

But it is not just the strength of hair dyes. Potentially harmful ingredients in some top-selling products can also cause severe reactions.

These are the latest chemicals banned in 27 countries, from Austria to the United Kingdom. Yet despite action overseas, most of the hair dyes you are buying in Australia are laced with some of these harmful chemicals.

Australian health authorities have not moved to protect millions from hair dyes that aren't safe.

Expert experience
Trichologist Geoff Mahaney always does a patch test on customers to assess risk. He has seen many casualties of permanent hair dyes in Australia, especially dark colours, the do-it-yourself ones, as well as many salon brands which have the same or similar ingredients as the supermarket varieties.

He is also very allergic to most hair dyes.

"Anything from localised itching, which is quite common, and burning of the scalp which lasts for about a week," Geoff said.

"I've had clients come in that have had the same colour for many years and patients that I see as a trichologist, then out of the blue, they've just had a severe reaction and they don't understand why."

In Australia, do-it-yourself hair colouring is a burgeoning $140 million industry annually, at supermarkets and pharmacies alone.

About 50 per cent of purchases are for the potentially dangerous permanent dyes. But here and around the world, with more young people - and men as well as women - using hair dyes, the number of extreme reactions is soaring.

Chemical cocktails
Homeopath Bill Statham, is the author of Chemical Maze, a Guide to Food Additives and Cosmetic Ingredients. He says hair dyes are risky chemical cocktails.

"There was evidence that these chemicals had caused adverse effects in human health including bladder cancer," Bill said.

That's why 27 countries of the European Union recently banned 22 chemicals, adding to a long list of now 50 banned hair dye ingredients overseas.

But all these chemicals are allowed in Australia. The federal Department of Health's National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme told Today Tonight the majority of EU banned chemicals were not found in hair dyes in Australia.

But our survey found at least one of these banned chemicals in almost half the permanent hair dyes in supermarkets and pharmacies around the country.

Other common irritants allowed are para-phenylene-diamine (PPD) and Resorcinol which we found in 10 out of 17 hair dyes.

Manufacturers do warn of the possible dangers and advise you to do a patch test.

The National Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme told us it was considering the safety of chemicals banned overseas, but said because companies are required to declare ingredients, consumers are informed about chemicals.

Hard to understand
But it can be virtually impossible for shoppers to work out whether a hair dye contains these ingredients that have been banned overseas, because the chemicals can also appear as code numbers and most have many other names.

The best advice before using a permanent dye is to ask the manufacturer or your hairdresser if their dye contains banned ingredients and other known irritants.

The good news: there are permanent hair dyes, apart from henna, with natural ingredients, which don't contain the 50 banned chemicals.

And they do cover grey and last up to six weeks. For example: "Watercolour", Herbatint and NaturStyle, which also contains no ammonia, no resorcinol.

Further details

'''If you find banned chemicals in hair dye, contact the manufacturer or distributor.

Click here for a full list of the 50 banned hair dye substances (PDF document)'''

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