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Volume 736: debated on Monday 26 March 2012


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to improve awareness of the potential health hazards of para-Phenylenediamine (PPD) in hair dyes and cosmetics, and to improve research in this area.

My Lords, I am very pleased to have the opportunity of introducing this short debate on para-Phenylenediamine, which in future I will refer to as PPD, if I may. It is a debate that we have been waiting some time for, and I am sorry that some of the people who would have liked to take part will not be able to do so, in particular, my noble friend Lady Morris of Bolton. We share many interests, including a football team. On this occasion, she wanted to speak in the debate because a friend of hers was adversely affected by hair dye and she wanted to explain the impact that it had.

I should start by declaring an interest because I am afraid that my blonde locks are not achieved entirely without the aid of a hairdresser. Looking round the Room, I think that many of us are in that position. I have been given a word of reassurance as I have looked into this issue, in that I am told that the darker, or more chestnut, the colour, the greater the danger is of a reaction. Those of us who have chosen to be blonde are perhaps getting away with a little. That is of interest and is important, particularly if we were to go on to discuss some of the other issues that are very relevant here, such as the increased use of henna tattoos. That is a problem which could have some very long-term consequences, especially as many younger people are embarking on them, and some are getting these tattoos not in this country, but in places where there are even fewer regulations than there are here.

It is very easy to be somewhat alarmist when talking about a subject like this and to put the fear of god into many people. I do not wish to be alarmist in the remarks that I make, because it is the case that many people use hair dyes, either themselves or through their hairdressers, without difficulty. But there are dangers that we should be aware of, and there are significant steps that could be taken to minimise those dangers and to make people aware of what they need to do.

I am not a scientist in any respect at all, but neither are most consumers. Therefore, the questions that we ask as consumers are just as relevant, especially when so many people are hiding their grey, including many men, and indeed many young people, as I have mentioned. Young people’s use of make-up—cosmetics generally and tattoos—is another subject about which we could have a very wide-ranging debate. I will just put down a marker that more and more people are using these products, and therefore it is important that we understand the issues.

My understanding is that most hair dyes—at least two-thirds, and some people say up to 98 per cent—involve the use of PPD. It is extremely useful in permanent hair dyes. The tints or tinted conditioners that are sometimes used do not usually pose the same risk, but most of us who want to change the colour of our hair want the effect to be lasting. Therefore we are probably using the varieties that use PPDs, because they apparently have a very strong protein-building capacity, which is what fixes the colour, and, as I say, we all want that to last.

However, there are alternatives. I have been given a great deal of information on them—perhaps I should declare a free sample that I have not quite used yet. More people are now looking at the alternatives and at the alternative organic products that there might be. Indeed, there is quite a marketing opportunity there, which is being used.

I have looked at the research on the incidence of problems, some of which shows that PPD is responsible for at least 8 per cent of all allergic reactions. Some colleagues may have seen the British Medical Journal, which shows that the frequency of positive reactions to PPD is increasing. The frequency of referrals to London clinic on them doubled over six years. There is general acceptance that there are probably more allergies now in general terms, which should concern all of us.

I looked at the short section on cosmetics and hair dyes in the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee’s sixth report of the 2006-07 Session, which was some time ago. It refers to the problems that exist, the nature of those problems and the kind of reactions, including those that lead to people being in hospital. Some time ago, there was publicity about someone who had died, it was thought, from the impact of hair dye. The report also draws attention to what is happening on a European Union-wide basis. The existing regulations emanate from there, and we should keep an eye on that. The report states:

“The Commission now plans to extend its assessment ‘to minimise possible risks of allergic reactions’”.

That was some time ago, and I am not clear whether that has been followed up in any meaningful way. I think it is important, and I hope that the Minister will be in a position to consider this and even to put pressure on our EU partners to make sure that everything possible is being done to ensure that we can have proper research on and knowledge of the effects of PPDs, and to make sure that this is taken seriously enough.

I have talked to people from the industry. We possibly have a problem with the colour houses, which are the main drivers of this industry. I do not think that there is a simple solution, such as banning PPDs, although that might accelerate research into alternatives. I was told that a couple of years ago, the National Hairdressing Federation called a conference of all the main colour houses and those bodies which produce these products in the hope of moving things on to get better regulation, better advice and more awareness, but there was a real difficulty in terms of follow-up.

There are alternatives on the market. I am told that PDT is particularly helpful for those who want chestnut-coloured hair. I am sure that the Minister is aware that hairdressing is an unregulated area. It is very difficult to regulate and any of us could set ourselves up as hairdressers. Many of the colour houses and the chains of hairdressing salons take significant measures in terms of training their staff and have guidance on, for example, patch-testing. However, there is a thought that, although products change frequently, if you have been tested once, perhaps you are all right for the next few times. I am not sure that that is always the case and certainly the opposite is the case: if you are allergic to one type of hair dye, it is likely that you will be allergic to others.

It is considered best practice to have a test every three to six months, but I understand how difficult it is for those of us who are customers to keep going back to the hairdresser for tests and then returning later for our appointments. We should be promoting the use of mini-testing. There should be patch tests that are separate from the contents of home-dye kits and a patch test, which I understand exists for a few treatments, that a salon can send out for you to put on your arm to test hair dye properly a couple of days before your appointment. I think that there is scope. It is difficult to make headway without more recognition on the part of hairdressers and the colour houses, and there is real scope when so many cosmetic products are given to us in small doses. When we buy them we get a goody bag of new products to test, and the same should and could be available on hair dyes.

We have a problem with labelling. The advice is there, but it is often in small print and more could be done. We could obviously do more so that we understand labels where they exist. I have looked at a couple of things recently, and I did not understand “This product is noncomedogenic”—that was a new one on me. When things say that they are “hypoallergenic”, what does that mean? It means that they have been tested, which is fine, but what does it mean for individual consumers? There do not seem to be guidelines that we should always know what we are buying when we buy things.

This is just the opening of a debate to try to raise awareness but also to try to get everyone from EU research, the industry and advertisers involved. I hope that the Minister will look at all that the Government could be doing to ensure that they are maximising their efforts to warn people in a calm and sensible, but nevertheless meaningful way, so that more people do not get into difficulty through using these products.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for giving us the opportunity to discuss this today. It is an important part of raising awareness of the issue. Indeed, she has put forward some interesting potential solutions. I fear that some of what I want to say will be a poor reflection of what the noble Baroness has said, because the questions that come to our minds are similar.

The campaign to ban PPD is an extreme response to a problem, and one that it is not realistic to consider. As the noble Baroness has pointed out, the products are used very widely. If we go back 30 years it was quite unusual for people to dye their hair. Now I would say that the vast majority of women—certainly mature women—and an increasingly large number of men do so.

Allergies of all sorts are common. For example, we do not consider banning peanuts or shellfish, although nut and shellfish allergies are very common. The danger with all allergies is that something that might upset you slightly to begin with—in this case, it might give you a sore scalp—several usages on could provoke a serious allergic reaction because it is an accumulation of reaction and sensitivity. I agree with the noble Baroness that the key issue is information. Going back to the nuts and the shellfish, menus and lists of contents warn of those products clearly now. We are even verbally warned or questioned in restaurants by staff who say, “This might have nuts in it”. Public awareness is quite strong in that field. As always, when preparing for a debate, I asked around about PPD among friends and people I know. They were blissfully unaware of the issue. They realised that sometimes people can have a sore scalp, but they did not realise that it was a potentially serious allergic reaction. A great deal more can be done to raise awareness, so I want to pose some questions to the Minister.

Do the Government keep records of how many people are affected by this, especially those who have had a very serious reaction? What consideration have the Government given to responding to this, to educate and spread information and awareness, especially among hairdressers? A lot of people use home kits, but most people at some point go to the hairdresser. Even if they dye their hair at home, they usually have it cut at the hairdresser, who would be ideal for passing on this information. When hairdressers are trained in colleges and so on, this key information could be given to them.

Is there any scope for regulations on the instructions on the kits—the packets of dye themselves? The noble Baroness has pointed out that they are often very confusing; they are written in a language that ordinary, non-scientists do not understand. But the print is also very small and often written against a dark background, so they are terribly difficult to see. The instructions about putting it on your head for half an hour, or whatever, will be quite large but the health warning is often at the bottom in very small print. Can the Government do anything to ensure that the warnings are made very much larger? Work is going on to replace PPD. Are the Government aware of how quickly that might bear some fruit? Might we have products on the market that do the same job as permanent hair dye that do not contain PPD?

I come to the other issue of temporary tattoos, which is really the most dangerous aspect of this. Although it is illegal to use PPD in temporary tattoos, it is being used, probably out of ignorance to a certain extent, and certainly because it is not a greatly regulated area of activity. Ironically, people often go for temporary tattoos because they are worried about the dangers of having a permanent one. They might be opting for something even more dangerous without realising it. Is there a possibility for the Government to spread awareness of this and to give a little more publicity, so that people going for temporary tattoos will ask about the contents and are aware of the possibility of an allergic reaction? I once again thank the noble Baroness for introducing this subject for debate today.

My Lords, I rise briefly to intervene in the gap to say that many years ago I spent 12 years in the perfumery and cosmetic industry as I was the Latin-American director of Yardley, a company that regrettably and sadly no longer exists. It was a distinguished and big name in the perfumery industry but, some years after I left the company, it came to a sad and sorry end. We did not make hair products, which are the subject of this debate, but we made other things that were very popular and tended to be very carefully tested. We had our own laboratories and no product was allowed to go on the market without being very carefully tested to exhaustion. An example is the considerable manufacture of lipsticks. These need to have very sensitive treatment because of their liable effect on skin. Lipsticks are of course very popular. At one time people said, “What is going to happen when there is a recession?”. My answer to that was that the last thing a lady will ever do is give up lipstick, whatever the economic conditions in the country.

I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, on bringing something very important to the attention of the House.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, for raising this debate and raising awareness of what is of course a very serious issue. Many of us have read stories in the newspapers. For example, Sali Hughes wrote in the Guardian that, after attending her hairdresser for 20 years and using hair dye, she suddenly developed an allergy that nearly brought on her death. Raising awareness generally of that possible threat is really important. There have certainly been media stories about it. I would like to repeat the question raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson: what are the Government able to do to raise awareness, generally, of these risks? These risks are not only in relation to specific products, such as the ingredients that have been mentioned— I am going to continue to use the term PPDs—as people can also develop these reactions even after many years of use. If you do not take into account some of the irritations that you might develop, continual use could cause a much bigger reaction.

I know that a lot of my noble friends, and even the Minister, have been looking at me rather curiously during this debate, because I have been blond all my life, and it is true that I am becoming what in my family we call ash-blond. Okay, I am going to come out about it: I have been tempted to use certain products to keep off that inevitable day when ash-blond will become white. Nevertheless, this is a serious point. I did a bit of research myself, and it is true that an increasing number of men are using such products. What they are not doing is what most women do at some point, which is to go to a hairdresser and see a professional colourist, who does tests and checks. They do not even read the small print. Most men are pretty nonchalant about the use of such products. They certainly would not confess about it or talk about their use, even, on occasion, to their family members.

This is where my research comes in. My husband is Spanish. He is quite dark, but every time he grows a beard it comes out white. His beard is grey, but his head of hair is not. I caught him using a home product, not because he told me but because I noticed certain signs on towels in the bathroom, and thought, “What is this?”. We are not the BBC in here, are we, so I can say that it was a product called Just for Men. He had painted his beard with this product. I am absolutely certain that, while he read the instructions, which are in pretty big print, he did not read the warnings. I looked it up on the internet, and sure enough Just for Men, the product that will make sure that he remains dark in beard, contains PPDs. He is not aware of that and I am sure that, were ongoing use to produce some irritation, there would be no check on that.

I urge the Minister to tell us what more the Government can do, not only at a European level and in terms of the warnings required in EU directives, but also in providing some general guidance in supermarkets and shops: “Read the instructions”, or “Be aware that this might cause a problem”. That is something the Government can do in the short term: link together raising awareness and providing general warnings.

I have suddenly realised that my husband is going to be pretty annoyed with me: I have just outed him as someone who dyes his beard. I will suffer the consequences later.

Another point I wanted to make regards henna tattoos. I do not think that most people who apply these are aware of their contents. They think they are dealing with a natural product. We know that black henna, for example, contains PPD. I have seen the consequences of this myself. I see children being tattooed on the beaches in Spain. At hundreds of flea markets and other places there are children demanding that tattoo from their parents, saying that they will not be satisfied and so on. The Government can do more to advise parents of the possible consequences, and in particular to draw the distinction between the black henna products that give the black tattoo, compared with the normal, natural henna that does not contain PPDs.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, again for raising this debate. It really is important, because we know that if ignored the consequences can be pretty dire, albeit for a very small number of people. However, one death is one death too many.

My Lords, I got carried away listening to the story. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, on securing this debate, and I thank her especially for the interesting suggestions which she has made and upon which I will happily reflect. It is an important subject, which has attracted a great deal of media interest. I also thank at this stage my noble friend Lady Randerson, the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, and the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery of Alamein, for his intervention and support in this debate.

My department is responsible for legislation to ensure the safety of cosmetics. The safety of cosmetics, especially hair dyes, is an area that is constantly monitored at EU level, where the safety requirements are nowadays harmonised. Our industry tells us that nearly 100 million dye units are used each year in the United Kingdom, by both men and women—however, I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Collins, that many of those men may not be taking advice, or may not be heeding or seeing the warnings that are so much more in evidence for women. Some of these dyes will contain substances that are regarded as potential extreme sensitizers. PPD, if we may call it that from now on, is one such substance and perhaps one of the most common substances used in permanent oxidative hair dyes, particularly those aimed, as we have heard, at the darker shades. PPD is used for the simple reason that it is extremely effective, and when used as directed it is considered safe for consumers.

The noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, referred to the percentage of allergic reactions. The evidence that we have is that the incidence of allergic reactions from hair colorants is 0.3 to 4.3 in every million products sold. However, because of the potential risks, any person who has become sensitive to the substance—for example, those who have had a previous allergic reaction to products containing PPD or to “black henna” semi-permanent tattoos—should not use these hair dyes. PPD is regulated by the European cosmetic products directive, which is implemented into UK law as the Cosmetic Products (Safety) Regulations 2008. This restricts the use of PPD for use only in hair dyes to certain limits and sets the conditions under which it can be used safely. It must not be used in any other cosmetic product. The maximum “on head” concentration limit—that is, when mixed with an oxidising agent—is 2 per cent. This is the level considered safe by the European legislator in 2010, when limits were reduced as a precautionary measure to address consumer risk and to the level that industry submitted safety files.

The noble Baroness will be pleased to know that PPD is one of the most researched of all hair dye substances. The European Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety and its predecessor bodies were asked to report on four submissions before 2006. The committee is currently looking at the fifth submission from the European cosmetics association, Cosmetics Europe, and was expected to report on this at its plenary meeting tomorrow. However, we understand that the scientific committee needs more time to reassess this substance and is likely to provide an opinion in June. Once printed, this information will be available to the general public on the Commission’s website. Since 2001, all hair dyes have been evaluated as part of the European Commission’s hair dyes strategy which is looking at, among other things, their carcinogenic potential.

We believe that it is vital to see and analyse the findings and conclusions of the SCCS before we consider what further research or whether further restrictions are needed on the use of PPD as an oxidative hair dye. That issue will be examined by the European Commission and member states once the SCCS has reported. As the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, mentioned, cosmetics companies are also undertaking research into developing new technologies for permanent hair colouring, but these research efforts have not, thus far, produced products that could replace PPD.

In respect of further awareness, we believe that media reporting has generally been helpful in highlighting sensitivity to hair dyes. However, reports have not always been factually accurate, as is often the way. The UK industry’s trade association, the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association, produces very helpful fact sheets on PPD and other cosmetic issues on its website, This is aimed at consumers and explains the facts in a clear and concise way. The website gets more than 57,000 hits a year with the specific pages on hair colorant safety tips receiving more than 1,800 hits in the past year. The association is trying to make these issues clearer, but at the moment it is only for those who are searching online.

I have tried to answer some of the questions as I have gone along but I will speak now in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, who asked about awareness. We do not have information on the number of people who suffer adverse reactions. The Commission is initiating a collection of data on the serious undesirable facts, on which we will report back when it is done. As regards apprentices, the hairdressing industry is, as the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, said, an unregulated industry. There are no requirements for qualifications before colouring hair. Hairdressers will of course follow the manufacturer’s instructions since this is often a requirement of their insurance. Often, that will involve the customer being advised to have a patch test using the dye product 48 hours prior to treatment. As we as a Government are so keen on apprenticeships—as I have to admit were the previous Government—and as this is one of the most popular apprenticeships for girls, in particular, I shall look into this further to ensure that the qualifications they are getting show them the importance of these tests as well.

The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and the noble Lord, Lord Collins, talked about unclear labelling. Legislation now covers requirements for clear warning labels on the packaging. The Government believe that clear labelling on packaging and clear instructions accompanying the product is critical for its safe use. It is important that all users, whether hairdressers or home users, follow the manufacturer’s instructions, especially when this requires a patch test before use of the product. This is because PPD is not the only known allergen in hair dyes and because it is not known to accumulate in the human body. Instead, the development of an allergic reaction stems from separate exposures to PPD. As a result, consumers could use the same product for many years and still develop an allergic reaction. We encourage the use of the patch test but will take away from this debate that maybe we are not looking at the issue hard enough at the moment.

Our view is that consumers should always have access to safety information. I declare my interest as chairman for seven years of the National Consumer Council—now Consumer Focus. We would argue that product-specific information is far more important than general messages about potential health hazards. Nevertheless, we are aware that the European Commission is exploring whether joint information campaigns with member states could add value for consumers—picking up the noble Lord’s point that somebody may be buying or using something in another member country of the European Union that may not have the sort of information that we do on our products. We will, of course, follow up on that. We will always participate, wherever possible, in any co-ordinated campaign that emerges to protect the British consumer.

Not many people spoke in the debate today, partially because the dates have changed three times. That made it very difficult for people to change around. However, several people, who could not be here today, spoke with great interest before the debate even happened. I thank the noble Baroness for putting this debate before us today and for the information that she has brought. We will take it away and see that it feeds into our future work.

Sitting suspended.