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What Is Worse, a Perm or Hair Dye?

author image Kristeen Cherney
Kristeen Cherney began writing healthy lifestyle and education articles in 2008. Since then, her work has appeared in various online publications, including Healthline.com, Ideallhealth.com and FindCollegeInfo.com. Cherney holds a Bachelor of Arts in communication from Florida Gulf Coast University and is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in English.
What Is Worse, a Perm or Hair Dye?
To keep your hair healthy, keep it as natural as possible. Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Goodshoot/Getty Images

It seems like most people aren’t happy with their natural hair. If you have curly hair, you might long for straight, while a person with curly locks longs for your straight tresses. Hair color is another treatment that is increasingly popular, whether you are fighting grays or simply want a new look. Despite their popularity, perms and hair dyes are not good for your hair. The American Academy of Dermatology strongly advises against frequent use of either treatment because of long-term damage.

Perm Defined

Perms are the ultimate solution if you want curly hair without having to deal with a curling iron daily. These chemical treatments increase the amount of bonds within each strand of hair so it stays curly on its own. The entire strand is curled, and the effects wear off as your roots grow back. Depending on how fast your hair grows, perms may last up to six months.

Evolution of Hair Dye

Colorings are among the most popular hair treatments in the United States. The National Cancer Institute estimates that at least 30 percent of all women over age 18 receive regular color treatments. Ten percent of men 40 and older regularly use hair dye. Hair dye rose in popularity in the 1970s, when these products also contained carcinogens that proved harmful in animal tests. Since 1980, hair dye manufacturers have omitted these ingredients to provide safer products.

Possible Side Effects

Beautiful waves and curls don’t come without the risk of frizz, and the same is true of perms. These treatments also have the potential to make your scalp burn and itch. In worst cases, the chemicals may be so strong that they cause breakage.

The short-term side effects of hair dyes are similar in severity. Immediately after a treatment, you may experience an irritated scalp as well as dry hair. Frequent use can make your hair extremely brittle. The Food and Drug Administration does not approve of hair dye use on the eyebrows or eyelashes, because this could cause severe eye damage.

Long-Term Risks

Continued perm treatments can leave the hair dry and frizzy. Generally, you can reverse this with deep conditioning shampoos and leave-in treatments to restore your hair health. Also leave at least three months between treatments.

Hair dye, on the other hand, has been studied more for the potential of long-term risks. According to the National Cancer Institute, some scientists think there is a link between long-term use of hair dye with cancers of the bladder and breasts, as well as leukemia and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. There is not enough evidence to prove a direct link between modern hair dye and cancer, but it doesn’t hurt to be cautious by limiting the number of color treatments you get.

Bottom Line

Perms and hair dyes both have potential to harm your hair and scalp in the short term. To minimize the risks of side effects, it is always best to let a professional apply the treatments at a licensed salon. While evidence is lacking about long-term risks associated with hair dye, it is still recommended to go easy on color treatments. If anything, you will at least prevent the risk of drying out your locks.

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