Is hair coloring safe?

Helen’s Hunting For An Answer:
Hi – I just got my hair colored for the first time this week at age 60, and I want to know about the chemical differences between temporary and permanent hair colors and whether there are any safety issues I should know about. Brown is the particular color I’m interested in.

The Right Brain Responds:
Congrats on your new hair color; let us know how that works out for you! Basically the difference between temporary and permanent colors is that the temporary colors just stain the outside of your hair and the permanent colors (also known as oxidative dyes) get inside the hair.

As the names imply, the temp color washes out pretty quickly and the permanent colors stay inside your hair until it grows out. That’s the good news about permanent colors. The bad news is that in order get inside the hair, the dying process swells the hair, thus damaging it’s internal protein structure. This swelling leaves your hair weaker and more brittle after you’ve colored it. As long as you don’t color too frequently, you’ll be alright. But if you start changing shades every few weeks, you’ll see a lot of hair loss due to breakage. (This is true for brown, red and blonde shades.)

As far as safety is concerned, make sure you’re not allergic to any of the dyes before you use them on your hair. This is typically done by applying the product to a small, unobtrusive area of your skin. If you develop a redness or irritation, don’t use the product on your hair. (If you’re having your hair colored in a salon your stylist should take care of this for you.)

Finally, there are rumors floating around the internet about hair dyes causing cancer, etc., but none of those have been shown to be true. You can read more about hair dyes and cancer here.