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December 20th, 2011
Hair color can improve self-image and thus lift the spirits of a person living with chronic liver disease. Before partaking in this beauty ritual, review these five suggestions for reducing the toxic load these products can place on your liver.
by Nicole Cutler, L.Ac.
Sitting atop our heads, our highly visible hair is one of our first recognized characteristics. Many people rely on hair color products to keep those locks looking young and brilliant, especially when grey or white strands work their way in. However, some of the chemicals in hair coloring products may pose an additional burden to someone already working to manage chronic liver disease.
Regardless of the cause of chronic liver disease, its progression can kill liver cells. Viral hepatitis, alcohol use, fatty liver disease, or another related condition can cause liver cell death, which may scar the liver. If the liver cells are unable to regenerate and the scarring continues, permanent liver fibrosis, cirrhosis or even liver cancer can ensue.
In order to prevent continued injury to liver tissue, those with chronic liver disease must educate themselves on many aspects of hepatic function and health. Of the hundreds of tasks the liver performs every day, detoxification is one of its most important. Just like a car’s oil filter prevents impurities from clogging up the engine, the liver is responsible for filtering toxins out of our blood supply. If an oil filter gets so jammed up with crud that oil can’t pass through it, the automobile will not work. Likewise, the more non-functioning, scarred liver tissue there is preventing filtering, the more toxins back up and permeate the bloodstream.
Toxins gain entrance into our bodies in three primary ways: consumption, inhalation and skin absorption. Much to the chagrin of people with liver disease, toxins applied to the hair can easily make contact with and be absorbed through the scalp into the bloodstream.
Many struggling with a chronic illness can find renewed confidence and strength by making themselves look better on the outside. Hair color could be the magic solution that instantly transforms dull tresses into shiny ones or gray strands into a rich, vibrant color. Although a wide range of hair care ingredients contain toxic chemicals, hair coloring products are considered to pose one of the biggest health risks in the beauty and cosmetics industry.
Depending on what someone is trying to accomplish, hair coloring products almost always utilize chemical agents for their goal. According to master colorist Theresa Dufour from Herbavita Corporation in North America, chemicals are used to color hair for two purposes:
1. To open the hair cuticle for lightening
2. To deposit color
According to coloring experts, applying color and making it last depends upon the product’s ability to “pop open” the hair cuticle. Without this action, color washes out as soon as the hair is shampooed. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate hair products, but John Bailey, director of the agency’s color and cosmetics program, cautions consumers to “consider the lack of demonstrated safety” when considering a hair dye.
Three of the chemicals in hair color surmised to pose the greatest toxicity include:
1. p-Phenylenediamine (PPD) – PPD is primarily used as a dye intermediate and as a dye. Short-term exposure to high levels of PPD may cause severe dermatitis, eye irritation and tearing, asthma, gastritis, renal failure, vertigo, tremors, convulsions and coma. Chronic exposure to PPD may affect kidney or liver function and can cause bluish discoloration of the lips or tongue.
Although no information is available on the reproductive, developmental or carcinogenic effects of PPD in humans, these possible effects indicate a substantial level of toxicity. PPD may also be referred to as phenylenediame, phenylenediame dihydrochloride, benzenediamine dihydrochloride or aminoaniline dihydrochloride.
2. Aniline Dyes – Derived from coal tar, these liquid chemicals are used in commercial semi-permanent hair dyes. The various aniline dyes are often considered to be toxic and irritating to the eyes, skin and mucous membranes. Historically, these dyes have also been proven to cause blindness in some cases when used in the eye areas.
3. 4-ABP – The FDA’s National Center for Toxicological Research found that the majority of off-the-shelf hair dyes for black, red and blonde hair contain a known carcinogen, 4-ABP.
While the most published, cautionary information for hair color revolves around these three chemicals, there are countless other potential toxic chemicals packed into hair-coloring products.
Liver Responsible Coloring
Most natural healthcare experts agree that going without hair dye altogether is the safest route for anyone with a questionable ability to filter toxins. However, the emotional lift that can result from a beauty treatment like coloring hair could bring a substantial benefit to someone burdened with liver disease. If choosing to proceed with hair color, consider the following five suggestions to minimize its liver impact:
1. Occasional – The studies indicating toxicity typically involve great quantities of a chemical. By coloring hair once in a while, you can significantly cut down on toxin exposure levels.
2. Avoid the Scalp – While most directions for hair color application advise against scalp contact, this rarely occurs. Most people wish to color the hair from its root, which attaches to the scalp. However, the more chemicals contacting the scalp, the greater probability your skin will absorb the concoction.
3. Always Wear Gloves – To prevent additional skin absorption, make sure your hands are always well-covered when applying hair color product.
4. Choose Less Toxic Brands – While less toxic products may cover less grey or last a shorter time, they are a good alternative for reducing the liver’s toxin load. Shop around for less toxic, all-natural coloring agents that use zero or smaller quantities of toxic chemicals such as Herbavita, EcoColors, Naturtint, Aubrey Organics and Clairol’s Castings line. Hennas, which are available in most salons, are also a good, safe, non-permanent option.
5. Protect Your Liver – If you do opt for a chemical-rich hair dye, at least protect your liver cells from incurring more damage. Decades of clinical research demonstrate that taking a high quality milk thistle supplement daily strengthens the outside of liver cells, thus preventing their death.
There is no doubt that looking good on the outside can help you feel good on the inside. This phenomenon is what the beauty and cosmetics industry is fueled by. Since coloring the hair is accompanied by toxicity risks, those with impaired liver function need to approach this popular application of looking good with caution. By bearing in mind the suggestions listed above, a person with liver disease can responsibly achieve the hair transformation they are looking for.
http://pubweb.epa.gov, p-Phenylenediamine, United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2007.
www.buzzle.com, Avoiding Toxic Hair Care Products, Editors of E/The Environmental Magazine, Buzzle.com, 2007.
www.hairboutique.com, Non-Toxic Hair Color Facts, Karen Marie Shelton, hairboutique.com, 2007.
www.lesstoxicguide.ca, Cosmetics and Personal Care, Environmental Health Association of Nova Scotia, 2007.
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