An EU-funded conference on environmental and health concerns regarding the safety of hair dyes will take place at the Queen's University in Belfast this week.
The health implications of hair dyes have been an on-going research project for the European Commission, who began an assessment of substances in the formulations in 2003 to ensure consumer confidence in the products.
"Colour dyes are not something that often crop up in many people's list of environmental and health concerns. However, almost all of the clothes and fabric that surround us have been treated with colour dyes and many of us also use dyes to colour our hair," said Ciaran Prunty, from QUESTOR's Applied Technology Unit.
With epidemiological evidence existing that shows regular, long term use of hair dyes can be associated with bladder cancer, researchers from the QUESTOR, Queen's environmental centre and Europe's only industry/university co-operative centre will discuss the latest results from the EU's four year research programme.
The research project has been named SOPHIED, the Sustainable Bioprocesses for the European Colour Industries.
According to reports 40 per cent of the hair dye substance is not consumed by the substrate during the dying process, with the harmful excess waste then making its way into wastewaters and into the environment.
In a bid to counteract the harmful effects of this, the SOPHIED project researchers and their 27 European partners have been developing alternative bioprocesses that are hoped to modernise and develop a safer image for the European colour industry.
Prunty said, "For EU residents therefore, research projects such as SOPHIED are vital in providing intelligence in order to help reduce the implications of toxicity and other issues,"
"Traditionally weaker than other sectors in research and development, the results from QUESTOR and the other partner institutions, which will be discussed at this week's conference, will provide a shot in the arm for the dyestuff industry and pave the way for the use and development of greener technologies."
Earlier this year the Scientific Committee on Consumer Products (SCCP) issued a memorandum drawing attention to new data on sensitisation of hair dyes, which led to the EC extending its assessment on the safety of hair dyes in Europe to the end of this year.
Based on an agreement between the European Commission, member states, industry and consumer associations the SCCP extended the deadline in order to draw the attention of the commission to 'potential safety concerns'.
The EC decided to continue its assessment of the safety implications of products that contain potentially harmful substances if not used at the right levels - despite already being aware of the issue, and the fact that there is little systematic data on the occurrence of allergies amongst consumers.
The European Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association (Colipa) released a statement following the EC announcement, offering its full support to the continued assessment. However, it reinforced its confidence in the safety of hair dyes and stated that, if used as directed, severe reactions are extremely rare.
"Hair colouring products are one of the most thoroughly studied consumer products on the market today. The European cosmetics industry fully supports the European Commission's strategy to evaluate further the safety of hair dyes", confirmed Bertil Heerink, Director General of Colipa.
The global dyestuff industry generates sales of almost €5m a year and produces around 1.15 million tonnes per year. Heavily influenced by the global trends, it is China that currently produces half of the total hair dye production in the world.