Indoor Air Pollution and Health Risks from Hair Dye What Hair Care Specialists Need to Know

Hair dye. It is ubiquitous in today’s society. Thousands of years ago, the ancient Egyptians used henna and other plant-based resources to tint their hair, skin, and nails.

Hair dye. It is ubiquitous in today’s society. Thousands of years ago, the ancient Egyptians used henna and other plant-based resources to tint their hair, skin, and nails. Peoples of other cultures, in other eras, continued using pigments to change the color of their natural tresses – as did the Greeks and Romans when they discovered how to use other substances, such as tree bark, saffron, and fermented leaches, to color their manes. But in modern times, it wasn’t until WWII era pin-up girls and Hollywood bombshells hit the scene that American women began to routinely add hair color to their beauty regimen. Today, over 60% of Americans color their hair. Some do so at home, others visit a hair care specialist to do the job.

According to US Census data, there are over 650,000 barbers, hairdressers, and cosmetologists working in America, most of whom work in a commercial setting. Service employees at these shops and salons provide – among other things – hair coloring. Unfortunately, this exposes them to potentially hazardous chemicals that are emitted into the atmosphere during the dyeing process. (1) But before one can understand the occupational risks from working in a place with a compromised indoor air quality (IAQ), one must understand the chemistry behind hair coloring.

There are three types of hair dyes available to consumers:

Temporary – dyes that coat only the hair shaft, as the molecules are too large to penetrate.

Semi-permanent – dyes with amine chemicals that swell the hair shaft and raise the cuticle allowing pigment to enter the cortex.

Permanent – these colorants possess the same elements of semi-permanent dyes but with smaller molecules that can be absorbed as well as the addition of hydrogen peroxide which removes pigment allowing color to endure until new growth emerges.

These types of hair dyes represent the largest percentage of chemical products used by hair care professionals today. As a result, they are the main source of chemical exposure. The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) states:

Barbers and hairdressers are subjected to various occupational health risks.
Cosmetic products such as hair dyes contain hundreds of chemicals [including]… toluene, parabens, formaldehyde, ethanol, isopropanol, ammonia, phenols, alcohols, glycerol, ammonium chloride or ammonium phosphate, hydrogen peroxide, formaldehyde, carbon dioxide, and carbon monoxide.

The NCBI goes on to detail the potential negative health effects that some of these chemicals can create. Problems such as asthma and other respiratory complications, dermatitis, rhinitis, ocular disease, and issues with reproductive health have been documented. Results from other reports have shown that contact with certain chemical dyes presents a cancer threat when exposure is chronic. (3) Stylists can not only inhale toxic vapors but may also absorb unhealthy substances if colorant touches their skin. Due to colorists’ ongoing exposure to hair dye fumes, studies continue to be conducted to ensure the safety of those who inhale potentially toxic vapors at their place of business. (4)

Fortunately, clean air can be achieved and maintained if proper defensive measures are taken. To prevent toxic fumes from releasing into the air, engineering controls should be employed. Such efforts should include proper ventilation systems as well as the use of fume extraction, such as our SP-800-E Portable Air Cleaner model.

At AIRSInc, we help our customers in the hair care industry by identifying areas of potential risk and supplying top notch products for safety program implementation. Call us today for a free estimate from one of our skilled and experienced clean air specialists.