Hair dye review raises labelling questions

By Andrew MCDOUGALL contact

- Last updated on GMT

Hair dye review raises labelling questions
A European Commission review that found 36 hair dye chemicals ‘may not be safe for use’ and that consumers are not ‘effectively protected’, has led a leading dermatologist to raise concerns over proper labelling, although industry has reiterated the safety of products found on shelves.

Dr Ian White, a dermatologist at St Thomas’ Hospital in London has called for warnings to be put on the front of hair dye packs because they contain chemicals that can cause allergic reactions.

His report for the EC’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) identified 36 chemicals that are potentially ‘extreme’ or ‘strong’ skin sensitisers – meaning they could trigger allergies.


In response, the Cosmetics Toiletry and Perfumery Association (CTPA) has acknowledged that allergic reactions do occur, but that, as always, cosmetic products found on the shelves in Europe are always safe.

“We would like to reassure anyone who might feel concerned about the use of hair colorants that such products are covered by strict safety laws and that immediate and violent reactions to hair colorants, or any other cosmetic product, is exceedingly rare,”​ it says, following fears that White’s comments may make consumers feel uneasy.

“If reactions to hair colorants do occur, their effects are short-term but can be very uncomfortable, so it is important to make sure you use your hair colorant safely to avoid such a reaction.”

Fifty million units of home hair colorants are sold and forty-five million salon applications of hair colorants are carried out in the UK every year and adverse reactions are very rare; whilst European figures show that the incidence of allergic reactions attributable to ‘oxidative’ (or ‘permanent’) hair colorants is between 0.3 and 4.3 in every million units sold.

Legal requirement

In Europe it is a legal requirement that every cosmetic product undergoes an individual safety assessment, covering the product itself and all of the ingredients. The labels will also be reviewed to ensure they contain sufficient information for the safe use of the product.

The SCCS first looked at the potential for some hair dyes to cause sensitisation in 2006 and updated its review in February this year.

The European cosmetics legislation is based on managing the risk of possible reactions, so that the product does not cause harm.

“In the case of hair dyes, the Commission has implemented significant risk-management measures (such as maximum concentrations of use, more detailed allergy warning labelling and instructions for use) to ensure the hair colorant is safe when used as directed,”​ says CTPA.

“Industry goes further than the legal requirements by also recommending that an Allergy Alert Test be carried out 48 hours before each hair colouring.”

Related topics: Regulation & Safety, Hair Care

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