Every Senior Should Read This: To Dye or Not to Dye


Light and weighty issues about seniors and hair coloring


elderly lady having her hair dyed
                         Photo by Menuyert Gonullu from Pexels

I began to color my hair in my early forties

My sister started coloring her hair when she was a mere 35 years old.

 Premature greying runs in the family.

 Solution? Dye or color it to its original beautiful color. In our case black.

 When I started to grey I felt compelled to do it. Indian Brown-face combined with white hair didn’t do much for my self-confidence. Hence color it (back) black I did.

 Now at 63 years, I don’t have such compelling reasons. But coloring my hair has become a habit.

 I have a friend who was ambivalent about covering up her grey hair. She took the dyeing route, then stopped after a decade of doing so. Her hair turned snowy white. Many people did not recognize her. After a couple of years, her snowy-white hair settled into a vague whitish-grey pallor.

 I have observed the same phenomenon with my neighbor. Started dyeing and stopped after a few years. Resulting in hair color that initially looked too white and then settled to an unflattering whitish-grey color

I have deduced that for a good crown in your senior years, you need to take a firm stance. You have to decide whether to dye it or not when it starts to grey. And stick to it thereafter for the rest of your life.

Hair Dyeing and Aging –I have been coloring my hair for 20 years. In our family of 5 siblings, 3 of us have been doing so for more than 20 years.

My schoolmates are all in their early sixties. I would say that 70 to 75% of us color our hair. We must have been using hair dye for about 10 to 15 years at the least. No one has complained about adverse effects.

According to Harvard Health Publishing in the United States and Europe, an estimated 50-80% of women and 10% of men aged 40 and older use hair dye, and the prevalence of hair dye use has remained stable over the past decades.

I am relatively new to online writing and still trying to master the SEO game. So when I thought of writing this article I headed to Google.

The main concern and query about hair coloring by seniors was whether it was age-appropriate.

Also which shade or color is suitable is a much-searched query on Google.

Below are some frequently asked questions on ‘Seniors and Hair Coloring’. They are from Google’s ‘People also ask’. And from Neil Patel’s ‘Answer the Public’.

  • What color should a 65-year-old or 80-year-old adult apply?
  • At what age should you stop coloring your hair?
  • Which hair coloring is best for seniors?
  • Should you color your hair as you grow older?
  • Hair Coloring and Henna
So let me answer the most-asked questions....my way. This is the jocular part of the article btw. 

Can seniors dye their hair? 

Of course, we can. We have reached that rich age when we can just do whatever want to. 

Or should you dye your hair as you get older?

Don’t ask anybody. Not your spouse, never your children, and forget your friends this one time.

Trust me. If you feel like doing it…Just do it!

What hair color is best for seniors?

I am a little stumped by this question. But a lot of people have asked Google this question.

The questioners might have meant which shade of color is best for seniors? I am from India where most people have different shades of brown complexion. You can find dark chocolate-brown, chocolate-brown, milk chocolate-brown, wheat-brown,  and almost-white, complexions amongst us. Most shades of brown go with black hair only.

Probablylight-haired women have a choice of more colors. Gold/Blonde or deep red or dark brown. 

Today youngsters across the world choose the brightest of colors like fluorescent green or shocking pink to highlight their hair

Hair Coloring versus Henna – Pros and Cons

Mostly people from Asian and Middle Eastern countries use Henna to color their hair. Henna is derived from the leaves of a plant with the botanical name Lawsonia inermis which is a tropical shrub found in Asia, North Africa, and Australia.

As it is derived from plants it is safer to use than chemicals-based dyes.

So no harm in you trying. You can check if the color and hair texture is good enough as I have found Henna makes hair dry.

However, the debate in the medical fraternity is not about whether a person of a particular age can dye their hair. It is about dyeing per se and not about dyeing and age. 

An article in Harvard Health Publishing addresses the question "Do hair dyes increase cancer risk?"

"Occupational exposure to hair dye, as experienced by hairstylists, has been classified as probably cancer-causing. However, it remains unclear whether personal use of permanent hair dyes increases the risk for cancer or cancer-related death”. Many studies have explored the relationship between personal hair dye use and risk of cancer or cancer-related death”.

Further as per this article "In a recent study in the BMJ (one of the oldest medical journals) researchers at Harvard Medical School evaluated personal hair dye use and risk of cancer-related death."

And the results?

"Compared to non-hair dye users, participants who had ever used permanent hair dyes did not have an overall higher risk for cancer or cancer-related deaths."

Among specific cancers, there was a slightly higher risk for basal cell carcinoma (the most common type of skin cancer) in ever-users compared to non-users. The risk for certain breast cancers and ovarian cancers seemed to increase with the longer-term use of permanent dye. Women with naturally dark hair seemed to have increased risk for Hodgkin lymphoma, and women with naturally light hair were observed to have higher risk for basal cell carcinoma.”

The authors were cautious in reporting their findings, concluding that further investigation is needed.

As per the National Cancer Institute permanent hair dyes,  make up about 80% of currently marketed hair dye products. Further, it states “In the mid- to late 1970s, manufacturers changed the components in permanent haidye e products to eliminate some of the carcinogenic chemicals used as dye intermediates). It is not known whether any of the chemicals still used in hair dyes are carcinogenic”. 

The site asks the specific question – “Do people who have their hair dyed have increased risks of cancer?

And goes on to answer 'Epidemiologic studies that follow groups of people over time or that study persons with and without specific cancers have examined possible associations between personal use of hair dyes and risks of several cancers. Based on a review of existing evidence, the IARC Working Group considers personal use of hair dyes overall as “not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity to humans”.

Breast Cancer -Some studies have found that individuals who apply permanent hair dye themselves at home have a higher breast cancer risk than those who have it applied by a professional. 

Other cancers.  A large cohort study found no association between ever users of hair dye and the risk of leukemia but very slightly increased risks of basal cell carcinoma and ovarian cancer.

Bladder cancer- for personal use of permanent hair dyes specifically, the evidence of an association with bladder cancer is mixed.

 A large 2020 cohort study reported no association between personal use of hair dye and the risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma

A paper published in the Indian Journal of Dermatology Venereology Leprology 

examines the relationship between hair dye application and dermatological issues including Contact Dermatitis.“ It is a delayed type of hypersensitivity reaction that commonly affects the scalp and the vicinity of the line and neck. Apart from contact dermatitis, hair dye use is also associated with various other cutaneous adverse effects such as pigmentary changes, hair loss, skin malignancies,s, and autoimmune disorders. Due to the various adverse effects associated with hair dye use, it is prudent to look for safer alternatives to allergenic hair dyes.”

The article has listed the following strategies by persons using hair dyes to minimize or avoid contact dermatitis:

  • Hair dye should be applied meticulously with minimal contact time
  • Patients should not get misled by the high-pitched advertisements and should look at all the contents of the hair dye
  • Use of hair foils or a highlight cap can minimize the risk of sensitization
  • The scalp should be rinsed well after hair dyeing
  • Immediate removal of hair dye if the adjacent area is contaminated
  • Application of petrolatum (vaseline) to prevent the lateral spread of hair dye and to shield scalp margins
  • Using lighter shades and less frequent dyeing will reduce the cumulative dose of dye on the skin
  • Attention should be paid to all the “Caution” and “Warning” statements
  • Different hair dye products should never be mixed.
  • The general population should be encouraged to perform open patch testing before using hair dye
  • Hair coloring should be carried out only by professional hairdressers.
  • Application of petrolatum on surrounding areas before dyeing the beard can prevent contact dermatitis in that region.

The paper ends with the concerning lines “More scientific research should be carried out for the development of safer hair dyes. Till then, hair dyes will continue to be one of the most hazardous cosmetics used by mankind.”

My experience of Dyeing my hair :

I have been dyeing my hair with chemical-based dyes for over two decades now. I have been using mostly permanent hair dyes which last for 3 to 4 hair washes

I have changed brands. I used the patch test only when I was trying a brand for the first time. But not thereafter for repeat uses.

I have used henna a few times. I found it made my hair a little too red which I didn’t like.

I have found that both chemical-based hair dyes and henna made my hair dry and coarse. I always apply a conditioner and rinse after I dye my hair

I have never had contact dermatitis

I developed a black scaonin my scalp in my 62nd year which was surgically removed. A biopsy was done with a no-malignancy report.

Did the scab develop due to the use of hair dye? We will never know.

Am I considering stopping coloring my hair after this research about its possible side effects?


I think I fall in the category of people for whom it is important to remain with the hair color with which we were born.

Social and cosmetic reasons? I guess so.

Am I going to change anything else about my hair dyeing process?

·       Yes for sure. I am going to go in for less intense colors. I will stick to the shade “Natural Black”. I will also:

  • ·        Rinse my hair more thoroughly than before after applying dye
  • ·       Dye my hair less frequently…at 63 years some grey should not matter
  • ·       Do the patch test every time I change my hair dye brand
  • ·       Strictly adhere to the time limit for leaving the dye on my hair.
  • ·       Use a professional for hair dye application and not do it on my own at home

Happy and safe hair coloring to all who are doing so out there!

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