Friday, March 25, 2011Cosmetics news

Hair dyes: a debate about their safety

©L'Observatoire des Cosmétiques

Hair dyes are often a cause for concern about their safe use, due to the risk of allergy and to their toxic potential. These very special cosmetics are on the front page of the last issue of 60 Millions de Consommateurs (60 million consumers), a French consumering journal, which conducted a test on18 of them, with ambivalent results on these two criteria. This paper was almost immediately answered by a restatement from the FEBEA (the French Federation of Enterprises of Beauty). L'Observatoire des Cosmétiques has deciphered the words used in this debate.

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"Still too many insecure ingredients" is the title of the journal of the French National Consumer Institute in its issue dated April 2011. To support this claim, a test performed on 18 hair dyes in the two colours the most widely used by consumers: blond and mahogany.

In its paper,  60 Millions de Consommateurs says that, though these products are very popular to conceal white hair and for their very affordable prices, they are not without side effects, in terms of skin tolerance ("tingling, slight itching and even moderate burns" were felt by volunteers for the test), but also in terms of allergy risk (three dyes given as among the most allergenic were found in the formulas of the products under tests) and even toxic to human health--an assessment of the toxicological profile by a toxicologist pointed out the following toxicological effects (as per 60 Millions): "irritation, sensitization, mutagenic, carcinogenic and toxic for reproduction risks).

Three dyes are specifically targeted in this article: Toluene-2,5 Diamine, Toluene-2,5 Diamine Sulfate and Paraphenylenediamine ( INCI : p-Phenylenediamine); the journal also detected carcinogenic formaldehydesome formulas. And the journal advises users against 17 of the tested products, finding only one as just "acceptable".

The FEBEA's answer

On the same day of the release of  60 Millions de Consommateurs in kiosks, FEBEA issued a statement entitled "The truth about hair dyes", which should be interpreted as The truth " of the industry professionals " on hair dyes.

What does it state?

 1 - "Hair dyes must comply with European regulations, which give an upper limit to the dyes' concentration in products."
This is true. All the hair dyes shall meet harsh regulations requirements in European regulations, precisely because of their allergenicity and possible harmful effects.

 2 - 60 Million Consumers in no way demonstrates that the maximum levels set by the rule are not met."
It is also true. But it's not the topic of the paper: the point raised by the journalists was not a breach of any regulation, but that the substances under scrutiny may have undesirable side effects even when used at concentrations allowed by law.

 3 - The cosmetics industry and the European Scientific Committee for Consumer Safety(SCCS) has undertaken since 2001 a very important work of re-evaluation of hair dyes."
Again, it is true. And this work is still in progress . The deadlines for conclusion have been postponed, because the cosmetics industry has not supplied on time all the data needed by the committee of European experts to give its final opinion on all reassessed substances .

 4 - "The paper in 60 Million Consumers unduly alarms consumers on hair dyes, although their formula is strictly controlled by independent health authorities."
This point may seem more questionable. What does FEBEA state? The formulations of hair dyes meet the criteria set by health and regulatory authorities (it's true we do not have any doubt that large manufacturers have legal services competent enough so that their products stay within the frame) and this guarantee must be sufficient for consumers to use them with confidence.
That is the point of divergence.

The true points for a debate

The toxicological risk
It is often pointed out in the pages of L'Observatoire des Cosmétiques. It is not enough that a substance, an ingredient or a type of cosmetic product is strictly regulated for it to be seen as "perfectly safe".
If rules ask for a limit to using a substance, one may conclude it has been evaluated by a committee of experts (in Europe, the CSSC ), but this can be done only after the then known data. And we remind you that many hair dyes are still under a  reassessment process.

Further, keep in mind that the CSSC gives its recommendations when it considers a substance, as the saying goes, "safe enough for use in concentrations usually met in cosmetics." This does not preclude any possible interaction between different substances, specific individual sensitization, or multiple exposures through different cosmetic products, or, as pointed out by 60 Million Consumers for formaldehyde, through other media (furniture , paintings …).

The risk of allergy
Every year, in its Cosmetovigilance (Cosmetics Watchful) report, Afssaps (the French Agency for Health) reports hair dyes as a major source of adverse reactions, especially allergies, when using cosmetics.

For FEBEA , " the allergic individual risk can never be null, but the overall risk to the population decreases with concentration. "
Not true, said  60 Millions de Consommateurs : " The threshold necessary to develop an allergic reaction varies among individuals. The risk of reaction is never absent, even at low doses . " This statement is endorsed by the experts of L'Observatoire des Cosmétiques.

 60 Millions de Consommateurs also points out that the number of adverse reactions to hair dyes is very likely under-estimated, the only ones mentioned in statistics being those reported to Afssaps through the Cosmetovigilance system, still largely unknown to consumers.

What to think as a conclusion ?
Risks linked to using hair dyes are for real, and their "harsh" regulation cannot be seen as an absolute guarantee of safety. The final conclusions of CSSC in this area may lead to an overhaul of the regulation of hair dyes.

Meanwhile, each consumer faces a choice: keep his (her) white hair, choose more "natural" (but often much less efficient) solutions… or accept the "regulated" risks of allergic and toxicological reactions to hair dyes …

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