Slick Hair Beware! Hidden Dangers Pt.2

One of my favourite places, the Barbershop!

I’m a huge fan of the barbershop, something about that old school aesthetic that just warms my heart. A place where men can be men and practice the art of looking and staying fresh. I stick to the classics with my barber, tight fade, clean cut, part on the side and slicked to the right. I style my hair most days and with that come my trusty pomade. I love pomades but when I started using them, I had no idea what was in them, and frankly didn’t care. As long as it kept my head looking fresh, I was in. When I started to research the ingredients in my grooming products, in particular my pomade, my heart sank. Pomades contain some of the worst offenders on the chemical list, which in turn are made impressively bad by being absorbed through your scalp all day.

In Part 2 of my series on The Hidden Dangers in Men’s Grooming Products, I focus on Coal Tar Dyes and their toxic by-products. This is a must read for every man that tends to his hair with some kind of gel, pomade or hair dye.

Part 2 — Coal Tar Dyes

Coal tar dyes are a common ingredient found in most cosmetics, particularly hair products. They can be identified by a 5-digit colour index, or CI number, such as Yellow 5 (CI 19140). P-phenylenediamine is a common dye used in hair products although darker hair dyes tend to have more P-phenylenediamine than lighter ones.

The main concern with Coal tar dyes is that they are currently recognized as a human carcinogen and therefore have the ability to potentially cause cancer. A US National Cancer Institute study found P-phenylenediamine linked to tumor growth in laboratory tests and the David Suzuki website cites a separate study that found “women who used hair dyes — especially over extended periods — had an increased risk of developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (cancer of the lymph system).” In addition to being a carcinogen, these colours have also been linked to low levels of heavy metals, in particular the compound Aluminum, which can be toxic to the brain.

There does seem to be conflicting evidence from different governmental agencies on P-phenylenediamine. The International Agency For the Research on Cancer found P-phenylenediamine in hair dyes “not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity in humans” whereas the European Union classifies it as toxic if it is inhaled, swallowed or comes in contact with skin. Currently, Health Canada’s Cosmetic Ingredient Hotlist and Canada’s Cosmetic Regulations ban all but 7 of these colours in eye make-up and other cosmetics.

On November 1st, 1997, the Federal Food and Drug Administration stated on their website the following; “Several coal-tar hair dye ingredients have been found to cause cancer in laboratory animals. In the case of 4-methoxy-m-phenylenediamine (4-MMPD, 2,4-diaminoanisole) which had also been demonstrated in human and animal studies to penetrate the skin, the agency considered the risk associated with its use in hair dyes a “material fact” which should be made known to consumers. The regulation requiring a label warning on hair dye products containing 4-MMPD published in October 1979 was to become effective April 16, 1980. The regulation required that hair dyes containing 4-MMPD bear the following warning: “Warning — Contains an ingredient that can penetrate your skin and has been determined to cause cancer in laboratory animals.” In addition to this, they also state; “the following other hair dye ingredients have been reported to cause cancer in at least one animal species in lifetime feeding studies: 4-chloro-m-phenylenediamine, 2,4-toluenediamine, 2-nitro-p-phenylenediamine and 4-amino-2-nitrophenol(FDA 1997). They were also found to penetrate human and animal skin.” After all this testing and warnings, the question remains, does we even bother to read the label?

Aromatic Amines, a specific compound found in Coal Tar Dyes, have also been shown to mutate DNA and have been linked to bladder cancer as well. The aromatic amines are derived from coal tar but are also best known as bladder carcinogens found in cigarette smoke.

Another toxic chemical found in Coal Tar Dyes is Benzidine. The United States Government Accountability Office released a report on Dec 6th 1977 titled “Cancer and Coal Tar Hair Dyes: An Unregulated Hazard to Consumers” that stated “Colors that may be used in some temporary and semi-permanent hair dyes are derived from benzidine, a known carcinogen; they may be a significant cancer risk because the colors may break down to benzidine in the human body.” The report then goes onto state that “Although coal tar hair dyes are subject to FDA labeling requirements, the agency has not used this authority to require a cancer warning on labels of dyes containing known human or animal carcinogens.” Thankfully in 1993 this changed, when the FDA issued consumers the advice that the reduction of the use of hair dyes was a way to potentially mitigate the risk of developing cancer but how many heard or heeded that advice?

A number of studies, cited on the EWG website, done on hairdressers on multiple continents are correlating long term hair dye use with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, bladder cancer and multiple myeloma. The EWG specifically cites research done by the International Agency for the Research on Cancer in 1993 that concluded “occupation as a hairdresser or barber entails exposures that are probably carcinogenic”, and a recent study by scientists from the University of Southern California’s School of Medicine shows that hairdressers and barbers with more than 10 years on the job face a five-fold increase in bladder cancer risk compared to people not exposed to hair dye.” Additionally, the National Cancer Institute released finding that 20% of all non-Hodgkin’s cases can be traced back to the use of hair dye.” The Suzuki Foundation report on cosmetic safety adds coal tar dyes as part of its Dirty Dozen and is asking for the ingredient to be banned in all cosmetics in Canada.

I’d wager that if most of you looked at the ingredient list on your hair products, pomade or otherwise, that Coal Tar Dye would most likely be an ingredient. Thankfully, there are many organic and all natural substitutes, which I will discuss at a later date. In the meantime, ditch the toxic products, and if your hair seems to like it, style with coconut oil instead!

Part 3 of this series will focus on PEG Compounds, a petroleum based compound commonly used as thickeners, solvents and softeners in grooming products.