A Question Of Health

How can I beat head lice? Is hair dye harmful?
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SON'S ITCHY PROBLEM

Q. My six-year-old boy's head lice just keep coming back. I have been trying all the chemical shampoos but don't really want to keep using them. A friend of mine says that she has heard of something called Lice Attack which isn't made of chemicals. Please can you let me know if this is safe.

A. One way or another, you have to break the life cycle of the lice and prevent them from reproducing. Chemical lotions are fairly effective, but some lice are resistant to them. Another approach is to regularly comb the tiny insects out of the scalp. If you do this frequently and thoroughly, you get rid of them before they ever get a chance to lay their eggs on the shafts of the hair and reproduce. I have had great success (both at home and with patients) by using a very fine comb and ordinary hair conditioner. Wet the hair with conditioner and comb through the hair right down to the roots. If you do this every three days for three weeks, the problem should be cracked. Lice Attack is a conditioner. The manufacturers recommend using it as a conditioner and then combing the lice out of the scalp. I suspect it is the combing, rather than the lotion, that works best.

IS DYE CARCINOGENIC?

Q. I am concerned that I might be absorbing an unhealthy amount of chemicals due to the permanent hair dye I have applied every five weeks. I am 30 and about 80 per cent grey and have a brown tint applied to cover the grey hair. I am not ready to go natural yet, but I would like to switch to a safer dye.

A. There is a small amount of evidence that people who use permanent hair dyes are putting themselves at an increased risk of bladder cancer. The risk is only associated with permanent dyes that contain bleaching agents such as hydrogen peroxide. Temporary and semi-permanent dyes do not contain these chemicals and therefore seem to be safe. The problem seems to be linked to chemicals called arylamines. These are chemicals that are absorbed through the skin and they eventually end up in the urine. If they are not broken down and made harmless before they get to the bladder, they may cause some damage to bladder cells, and eventually cause bladder cancer. If you really want to reduce any risk, you should switch to a non-permanent hair dye. See the Cancer Research UK website, www.cancerhelp.org.uk, for the cancer risks from hair dye.

Have your say: Readers write

ML from Bedford proposes an Eastern European way of beating mosquitoes:

My son, while on holiday in Poland, was badly bitten by mosquitoes. The locals suggested calcium tablets. They certainly helped him, and he now takes them whenever he goes on holiday. Since I started taking them I have not been bitten, although they don't seem to deter wasp and bee stings.

health@independent.co.uk

Please send questions and suggestions to A Question of Health, 'The Independent', Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; fax 020-7005 2182 or e-mail health@independent.co.uk.

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