Blame it on Jacqueline Onassis. No, not my penchant for wealthy men or Greek isles. But an aversion to colouring my hair. It was that photo taken of her in the last days of her life, taking a last hesitant walk around Central Park on the arm of a good friend. Her head covered in a scarf, her magnificent coal-black hair fallen to chemo treatments. Never mind that the cancer could have been the result of any number of causes, not the least being she was a long-time smoker. It was the rumour that colouring her hair black since her early 30s had caused lymphoma that stayed with me.
Since then I’ve avoided the multitude of hair colour options in aisles of boxes with smiling women in the pharmacy aisles. A brief gravitation to those boxes in my early 30s led to some pinto-like effects resulting in expensive hair salon rescues. After that an equally brief interlude with salon blondes and bronzes that ended when calculations indicated I was spending about $1,000 a year trying to fend off the grey. Finally I said enough, bring it on.
Amazing things happened. Freed of the chemicals my hair bounced, curled, and undulated, waving itself into a thick mass that more than one man has claimed he loves to run his hands through. My hair became softer, more responsive and I want to believe, more attractive.
My daughters think I’m old school, not wanting to colour my hair. They started altering their gorgeous auburn masses at 16, something I wouldn’t have considered at their age — it was only older women that went that route. But to them adding layers of blonde, red or even going totally black is as much a part of their look as eye shadow and mascara.
But recently I got to chortle at them when CBC reported that a British Medical Journal study shows an increase in allergic reactions to hair dye in European and Asian countries, in particular amongst young people.
Researchers pinpointed one key ingredient in hair dye as the culprit, para-phenylenediamine, or PPD, and its “chemical cousins” for triggering allergic reactions. Symptoms included face and neckline eczema and in severe cases severe facial swelling and bruising.
Studies show that while only six per cent of women in their 20s in Japan used hair colour in 1992, 15 years later 85 per cent dye their hair. Female high school student numbers in Japan also increased from 13 to 41 per cent in the same time period.
“Cultural and commercial pressures to dye hair, and perhaps, the widespread obsession with the ‘culture of youth’ are putting people at risk and increasing the burden on health services,” the BMJ editorial said.
CBC reported that Health Canada recommends trying out a test patch for hair dye, and says PPD is an acceptable ingredient when used correctly.
PPD is also in temporary tattoos and allergic reactions can also lead to sensitivity to sunblock and some types of black clothing, CBC added.
It’s safe for me, then, hair colourless, to slip on my little black dress and matching pumps and head out the door, my greying tresses swaying over my shoulder. Jackie, I’m sure, would approve.