Hair salons have a certain fragrance. You always know when you’re in one. No surprise, since nearly 5000 chemicals are listed as products for hair care, including 3300 synthetic compounds. Beyond the shampoo and conditioner, there are hair dyes, oils, propellants, and various sprays to keep hair in place.
A recent study in Italy examined the concentration of a variety of these compounds in the air inside and outside of hair salons. These included a variety of alcohols, terpenes, and ketone compounds, with gaseous phases. Some such as benzene and xylene have potential carcinogenic properties.
Again, no surprise: concentrations were often 10 times higher inside of hair salons, and were usually quickly traced to products in use. Many of these compounds are known to have human health risks and the total concentrations recorded were often above levels with known impacts.
Little is known about the effect of combined exposure to more than one of these chemicals at the same time. And, surprisingly, the size of the salon and the efficiency of its air handling system made little difference to exposure levels.
The biggest factor determining high concentrations of indoor air pollution was the type of products being used. Perhaps we need to identify the top offenders and look for alternatives.
While many of us get a periodic dose of these compounds on our occasional visits: think of the hairdressers that work and breathe in these environments day-in and day-out. It may be time to go back to basics with our hair care.
Please see de Gennaro et al., Atmospheric Environment 83:119-126, 2014
Photo, taken on January 30, 2013, courtesy of Wicker Paradise via Flickr.
Earth Wise is a production of WAMC Northeast Public Radio. Support for Earth Wise comes from the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, NY.