In this article:
- What is autoimmunity?
- What factors contribute to autoimmunity?
- Will dying my hair cause autoimmune disease?
- How to limit exposure to toxins
What is autoimmunity?
Autoimmunity is when your immune system attacks your healthy tissues by mistake. Essentially, your immune system goes rogue, causing inflammation and disease. Usually, the immune system can differentiate between "self" and foreign cells. Still, when the immune system loses this ability, it can lead to autoimmune diseases, including:
- Celiac disease
- Sjogren's syndrome
- Multiple sclerosis
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Polymyalgia rheumatica
- Type 1 diabetes
Autoimmune diseases are characterized by inflammation that is often accompanied by redness, heat, pain, and swelling. Inflammation often destroys body tissue, causes abnormal growth of an organ, or changes the way organs function, such as in Hashimoto's, where the thyroid gland's inflammation leads to hypothyroidism.
People commonly report autoimmune flare-ups, where their symptoms worsen for some time. Autoimmune diseases can also go into remission, where the symptoms improve or disappear. Treating these diseases largely relies on managing inflammation and preventing other chronic conditions associated with autoimmune disease.
What factors contribute to autoimmunity?
We know very little about what causes autoimmunity. Current theories suggest a combination of environmental and genetic factors may cause autoimmune diseases. Autoimmune disorders tend to run in families, so there is evidence for a strong genetic component. Some studies suggest that genetics account for 30% of autoimmune diseases, whereas 70% is environmental. Given the right environmental stressors, people with genes predisposing them to autoimmunity are at a heightened risk for disease.
Environmental factors that may cause autoimmunity include:
- Heavy metals
- UV light radiation
- Illicit drugs
A leaky gut, caused by increased intestinal permeability, is thought to be the gateway for environmental toxins to leak into our systems. Our intestines are home to trillions of bacteria that help us digest food, fight pathogens, and maintain our overall health. When something disrupts our gut microbiome, it can cause a build-up of toxins in our body and cause our immune systems to react.
Will dying my hair cause autoimmune disease?
At this point, the results are inconclusive. Studies implicate hair dye products as toxic agents that may trigger autoimmune disease, like lupus. Hair dye contains ingredients that can indeed be harmful, especially when ingested or absorbed through the skin. For example, ammonia, peroxide, lead acetate, toluene, and P-phenylenediamine are toxic chemicals commonly found in hair dye products. These agents may irritate the respiratory system, disrupt endocrine organs, and lead to neurotoxicity. Some animal studies have also shown that exposure to hair dye increases the inflammatory response and T-cell activity.
While current evidence suggests hair dye may trigger autoimmunity, it is difficult to discern the exact role of hair dye in these studies. We know that hair dye contains toxic chemicals that give us our desired hair color. And we also know that women are more likely to develop autoimmune diseases compared to men. Women are also the most likely to dye their hair, and there are numerous different hair dye products. Therefore, we may never have a clear answer to how much hair dye affects our immune system.
How to limit exposure to toxins
Our genetics and our environment determine much of our health. Unfortunately, we become increasingly exposed to toxins through our food, water, air, household goods, beauty products. And, people with autoimmune disease are more susceptible to those toxins storing in their bodies. It can feel incredibly overwhelming to get rid of all toxins in your environment. Indeed, it is likely impossible. But, taking small steps to lower your risk of frequent toxin exposure may improve your overall health. Try:
Limit chemicals in your household and beauty products
Our skin is the largest organ in our body, and it acts like a giant sponge by absorbing everything we contact. From shower cleaners to facial moisturizers, you can decrease your exposure to harmful toxins by researching products that are safe to use on your skin and in your home. Made Safe and the Environmental Working Group are examples of resources that can help you find safe products to use, including hair dyes.
Eat clean, wholesome foods
Our gut is a gateway for toxins to leak into the body. We recommend you limit your exposure to processed and refined foods and avoid fruits and vegetables that are exposed to pesticides if you are able.
Move your body regularly
Exercise can help you process and excrete toxins more quickly, which prevents them from building up in your tissues. It can also relieve stress, which can aggravate autoimmune flare-ups.
Our hair is often a way to express ourselves. If you have an autoimmune disease and dying your hair is a part of your beauty regimen, you don't necessarily have to stop. However, you may benefit from dying your hair less frequently, decreasing the amount of dye you use each session (perhaps highlights instead of all-over color), or switching to a safer product.