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Monday, August 10, 2009

The Color of Cancer


As most of you may know, I stopped coloring my hair years ago.  As difficult as it was for me to accept the gray and whiteness of my natural hair, something innately told me that this was the right thing to do.  I do not regret my decision one bit and I am going to tell you why.  I am certain that hair color causes cancer.  Every time I colored my hair the thought went through my brain "What the hell am I doing!!!"  And I would sit there feeling the color and chemicals penetrate my scalp and the back of my neck with such a fury that all I wanted to do was get the crap off of my hair and off of my skin.

It doesn't take rocket science to understand that anything and everything that touches your skin - such as lotions and creams and liquids - ultimately find their way into your bloodstream.  Everything we breath also finds its way into our bloodstream.  We can eat something prepared by a person with the flu or a disease and catch that flu or disease.  Just breathing the chemical compound of hair dye will get the stuff in your bloodstream!  Yet, we are not afraid of these unnatural chemicals entering our bodies.  I think we better take a second look at this because it is killing us.


As an artist, I have to be careful with the chemicals and leads that may come in contact with my skin if I am not careful.  They are highly toxic and I wear gloves (most of the time) when I paint.  Actually, I took them off for some UStream videos I was making and now that I think about it that was really stupid.  I should know that if I have to wash the oil paint off my hands, it is getting into my blood. 

Degas went blind after years and years of painting in pastels.  He was breathing the dust and it was surely getting in his eyes.  Van Gogh went a little nuts, cut off his ear and ultimately suicide, and the theory is that he suffered from lead poisoning.  It is a possibility and a strong probability.

First let me say that my mother was diagnosed in 2005 with non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.  One morning, while sitting at our kitchen table, I leaned over to rub my hand on the back of my mother's neck - a compassionate gesture to let her know that I love her.  Imagine my shock when I found a huge lump, larger than a golf ball, on the back of her neck at her hair line.  Her response was "Oh that's nothing, Susan, it doesn't hurt."  Doesn't hurt!  "I'm taking you to the doctor immediately to have it checked."  And I did.  She had the lump removed and discovered that she had non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.  My mother has since been through regular treatments of radiation and chemo therapy to treat her cancer.  I wouldn't wish this on anyone.

I will tell you this - my mother colored her hair for years beginning in her 30s.  She was well into her 60s before she stopped coloring her hair. 

I have a dear friend, Alberto, who also colored his hair for years.  I call him an Italian Stallion (he once was my Italian Stallion, but that's another story).  A wonderful and talented man, Alberto hated the aging process as much as any of us, and so he attempted to hold back those years by coloring his hair.  It wasn't until after he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins Lymphoma that he stopped coloring his hair and he looks better today than ever before (or at least I think so).  Alberto discovered a lump on his forehead at his hairline that kept getting larger until he finally had it removed and tested.  Like my mother, he got the horrible news that he had cancer.

Although I had not been coloring my own hair for a number of years by the time my mother and my friend, Alberto, discovered they had cancer, it was then that I had a light bulb moment and promised myself that I would not be influenced by unnatural beauty anymore and I would take care of myself and what God gave me.  I would be thankful for the color of my skin, the color of my hair, and would value the state of my mind and my heart more than my body.  That doesn't mean I would stop taking care of myself, on the contrary - what I mean is that I would strive to live a healthier and cleaner life and place more value on the development of my brain, my pathological drive for academia, and love and compassion for others over silly things like the color of my hair. 


What prompted me to write this now?  Well, I'll tell you.  The wife of a fellow blogger (FatCyclist) passed away last week from cancer.  Her name was Susan and she fought a heroic battle with metastatic breast cancer to the end.  My deepest sorrow and prayers go out to her 4 beautiful children and her husband, Elden, aka "Fatty."  Today they are laying her to rest.  It was something in his story about how he met his wife Susan, and their courtship that raised that red flag for me once again and I felt as if I had been hit in the stomach.  I laid down and took a nap and had a nightmare of sorts.  Suddenly cancer was all around me while I was playing a game on a Pinball machine.  Lights were going on and off, bells were blaring.  I had to stop the game.  I woke up and thought about this the remainder of the day.

This is what he wrote:

We Meet and (Very Soon After) Marry

The best place for me to really start telling Susan’s story, though, is when we met. Specifically, we met April 27, 1988. My college roommate was engaged to one of Susan’s roommates, and I was along for the ride when he stopped by her apartment.

When I saw Susan, I was immediately stricken. In addition to her general hotness, she had eyes that conveyed her smile so perfectly.

Plus, I really liked her dark red hair.

I was not the kind of person to ask girls out on dates without spending time getting courage up, but in this case I made an exception.

When I went to pick Susan up the next day, I did a double take — her hair color was now blaze-orange. Which I also liked, but was confused.

As it turns out, Susan was in cosmetology school at the time — she wanted to learn hair as a skill to put in her quiver for her love of stage makeup — and her hair would change style and color roughly twice a week through our courtship.

Our courtship, by the way, didn’t take long. We married on August 13, 1988 in the LDS Los Angeles Temple — about 3.5 months after we met.

After twenty one years (this Thursday) of a truly happy marriage, I can’t help but be amazed that I made such a good choice so quickly.

You know where I'm going with this don't you?  Nobody can be certain that chemicals such as hair color had anything to do with causing Susan's cancer, but the possibility is there that if anything, it may have contributed to it in some way.  I am certain that when Fatty was writing this, that he didn't think twice about hair color. I am not a scientist and I'll be the first to admit I don't have proof, but it seems to me that it is staring us right in the face.  When these chemicals enter our body they have to go somewhere, they have to do something inside of us, and whatever it is it can't be good.

Now for a little science experiment of my own and a bit of information for you:

Hair is made up mostly of keratin. Keratin is a protein and is the same substance found in your skin and your fingernails.  Your natural hair color is determined by a ratio of proteins.  The natural color of your hair depends on the ratio and quantities of two additional proteins, eumelanin and phaeomelanin. Eumelanin is responsible for brown to black hair shades while phaeomelanin is responsible for golden blond, ginger, and red colors. The absence of either type of melanin produces white/gray hair, and in my case I'd have to say that one or the other is totally gone.

Darker hair has a higher percentage of melanin. We all know that hair color is inherited. Melanin and phenomelanin are responsible for giving hair strands their color.  Also, how early or how late you go gray is also written in your gene pool. 

Aniline dyes are chemicals that were developed from coal tar and are used in semi-permanent hair colors. For permanent hair color, products will contain paraphenylenediamine or PPD. It is the only known permanent chemical for hair coloring at this time. There are many different names for this product but they are similar enough that you should be able to spot them on your hair coloring product. Most allergic reactions are a result of using PPD.


In order for semi-permanent and permanent hair colors to be effective, the hair shaft must first be opened. Note that when you open the hair shaft, you are also permitting the chemical to get into your bloodstream.  You might as well inject yourself with it, because that's where it is going to end up anyway.  The most common agent used in opening the hair shaft is ammonia. After the hair shaft is opened, the hair color can then go into the shaft and change your color.  Hydrogen peroxide is also a chemical compound used in permanent hair coloring. These dye products that use dye ingredients such as PPD and hydrogen peroxide are called oxidation dyes. A higher amount of peroxide in the dye will give a faster and lighter result. 

A bit about PPD:

p-Phenylenediamine (PPD) is an aromatic amine with many industrial and cosmetic applications.  It is used as a component of engineering polymers and composites, aramid fibers, hair dyes, rubber, chemicals, textile dyes, and pigments.  It is also used in printing and photocopying inks, photo and lithograph developing chemicals, Kevlar, oil, gasoline, and grease products.  Let's think about that a minute ... after doing a bit of research I discovered that low molecular weight aromatic amines are toxic and some are easily absorbed through the skin. Many higher molecular weight amines are highly active biologically.  

PPD is a preferred chemical because of its ability to withstand high temperatures and retain its stability. It is good for hair dyes because it produces a natural color which doesn’t fade as readily with washing and drying. PPD itself is colorless — it gains its color once it’s exposed to oxygen.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) cites PPD as a contact allergen, and should not be directly applied to the skin.  Well, forgive me for asking, but if it should not be applied to the skin, then why is it in hair dye?

People who regularly work with PPD, like your hairdresser, can develop allergies to it, and should take precautions to avoid coming in contact with it.  Now, despite the fact that your hairdresser is wearing gloves while applying the hair dye to your head, and taking precautions to protect themselves, what is being done to protect you? (I'm really trying here to give you food for thought).  Although the most common absorption of PPD into the body is through the skin, it can also cause allergic reactions when it is inhaled, absorbed by the eyes, or ingested.

Now, how many of you have ever applied hair dye and have felt "something" going on on your skin?  Or, how many of you have walked into a salon or colored your hair at home and turned up your nose at the stink?  You are obviously breathing the stuff in addition to coming in contact with it.  I always thought it was a bit of an oxymoron that they give you gloves to protect your hands yet the chemicals are coming in direct contact with your scalp about 1/2 inch from your brain.

One of the most dangerous applications of PPD is when it is added to henna a natural dye. When used for temporary tattoos, henna laced with PPD is known as “Black Henna.” Although this is not an approved use for PPD in the United States, some tattoo artists will illegally add the chemical to henna for darker temporary tattoos that dry faster than pure henna tattoos.  I just thought you should know that in the event you were planning to go out and get a "safe" henna tattoo.  Because the dye is applied while the PPD is in its oxidation process, its potential as an allergen is increased. (Remember, it is all going head long into your bloodstream to mingle with all your red and white blood cells.  Black Henna tattoos often result in a skin reaction similar to a chemical burn, which in turn results in a scar where the skin was tattooed.

Also, once a person who has been exposed to PPD has an allergic reacition, they may suffer a lifelong sensitivity to the chemical. I suggest we all stay away from the chemical during the oxidation process and we'll be healthier for it, what do ya think?

There is ongoing debate regarding more serious health consequences that may result from use of hair coloring.

Recent publications regarding the dangers of hair tints include:

        * A FDA study that found lead acetate (the active ingredient in gradual darkening products such as Grecian formula) to be potentially toxic. 

        * Articles that link the development of some forms of cancer (including leukemia, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, bladder cancer, blood cancer, and multiple myeloma) with the use of hair color. 

        * Specifically, prolonged use of permanent dark hair dyes have been found to double a person's risk of getting various types of blood cancer.

        * 4-ABP, a known human carcinogen, was discovered in some hair dyes that you can purchase right off the shelf.

There have been 31 published investigative articles regarding the causal association between PPD and cancer between the years 1992-2005.  These articles have discussed the possible association between hair dye use and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, (which is what my mother and friend were diagnosed with), multiple myeloma, acute leukemia, and bladder cancer.  Bladder cancer was observed in at least one well-designed study with a detailed exposure assessment, but it was apparently not observed consistently across all of the studies.  Still, if we weigh the possibilities, I think you can be certain of the association between PPD and cancer.

I thought you should know, however, that the EPA has not classified PPD as a carcinogen. Therefore, no warnings of toxicity have been printed on boxes of hair dye.  I think it is time they start, don't you?

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) list PPD as being a contact allergen only.  Exposure can be through inhalation, skin absorption, ingestion, and skin and/or eye contact; symptoms of exposure include throat irritation (pharynx and larynx), brochial asthma, and dermatitis.  If you become sensitive to PPD, it can be a lifelong problem leading to sensitivities to:

  • Black clothing
  • Printer ink
  • Facsimile ink
  • Hair dye
  • Fur dye
  • Leather dye
  • Photographic products.

One maker of this product states explicitly that PPD should not be used directly on the skin. 

Now I know that I am writing a long-winded article here on the perils of hair dye, but I honestly believe, with every ounce of my being, that hair color is responsible for many a cancer in this world.  I believe that just like smoking was discovered to cause lung and throat cancer, that PPD and other chemicals in hair dye will be discovered to cause cancer. 

Have you ever wondered why your Obstetrician (if you are a woman and have been pregnant) ever told you to stop coloring your hair while you were pregnant?  If it is safe, why would it not be safe if you are pregnant?  Again, remember that all of these chemicals go directly into your blood stream.

I am sure that I am going to cause a bit of a backlash with someone from the hair color companies, but have it.  I am so happy to see a greater appreciation for women who embrace their natural beauty and their God-given gray hair.  Personally, I think gray haired women are beautiful.  Now, I know my friend Beth is going to have a hayday with this post because she has been coloring her hair for say - 30+ years?  Beth, my dear friend, and Alison, and Liz, and Lisa, and everybody out there who is coloring your hair or thinking of coloring your hair - DON'T.  It's not worth it.  Your life is more than the color of your hair, the size of your breasts, the roundness of your backside, or the number on your scale.  It is a quilt of your experiences, the value you place on your family, the beauty you find in God's creation, the time with friends, the good deeds we do for others, what positive we give back to this world.  Life is much more than the physical appearances we put forward. 

Now for some positive roll models:


"A lot of times, Mother Nature knows what she's doing," says country queen Emmylou Harris, 52. A decade ago, after a run-in with red henna, the eight-time Grammy winner "bit the bullet," as she puts it, and reverted to the prematurely gray hair that she had acquired in her early 20s. "It's the best thing I ever did."

Amen, says Willie Nelson, who calls her "a natural beauty who knows there is no need to cover up." Agrees singer-songwriter Rodney Crowell: "She's forever young." 


Model Cindy Joseph went prematurely gray and didn't start a successful modeling career until she was 48.  You go girl!

Helen Mirren

Helen Mirren looks beautiful at 62 el-naturel

GrayHairmodel Carmen del Orifice

Beautiful Model Carmen Del Orifice


Actress Jamie Lee Curtis, and now for ...

More beautiful gray ladies ...








Regina Mumme, 48, Homemaker - Gorgeous!


Yamuna Zake, 52, Body work Instructor.

And of course, there is me:


My Big Bear took these pictures this morning...


This is what "50" looks like ladies...I'm not a young chicken anymore, but I think I'll keep my silver locks.  I've worked diligently to care for my skin by staying out of the sun and wearing sunblock when outside.


I kinda like the haircut too.  I think gray hair and a great haircut is sexy and beautiful.  And, if you must know, I receive far more compliments on my hair now than I ever did when I was coloring it.  Honestly, there is no color in the world that is an natural and beautiful and "safe" as your own God-given color.  Accept it.  Love it.  Embrace it.  You'll be glad you did.

Just remember:

It is not the color of our hair that matters in life, it is the colors of our heart.

Personally, I think women who embrace their gray hair and make the most of their natural beauty show strength of character.  I hope that others feel the same of me.

(This article took me 2 days of research and a hell of a lot of reading but I think it was well worth it).


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