GreenYour Personal Care
Choose natural hair dye
Conventional hair dyes contain a cocktail of chemicals—including hydrogen peroxide, phenylenediamine (PPD), and ammonia—designed to open the hair cuticle, "develop" the hair to remove existing color, and finally penetrate the hair shaft with a new, permanent color. Natural options do exist, swapping some or all of these chemicals with natural ingredients. When shopping for a natural hair dye, there is one key decision you'll need to make: Do you want natural hair dyes that are permanent, but still contain some chemicals (albeit in smaller amounts than traditional hair color)? Or do you want colorants with all natural ingredients that contain no chemicals but are not permanent? GreenYour's guide to natural hair dye can help guide you through your natural hair dye decisions.
What to look for when choosing natural hair dyes
- Decide between natural or mostly natural ingredients: All hair dyes that are healthier for you and the environment replace synthetic chemicals with natural ingredients—but they do so to varying degrees. When you're making the choice to buy a dye, consider the pros and cons of chem-free and low-chem options.
- All natural hair dyes are temporary and usually use henna, a vegetable-based dye whose tint can be customized by adding other natural ingredients like coffee, rosemary, vinegar, or tea to create unique, personalized shades. Although henna does not permanently dye hair, it is strong enough to cover grey. Another common component of natural dyes is indigo, a blue-ish, black dye used to create darker shades. All natural hair dyes are 100 percent plant-based, so their manufacture and usage will have less of an impact on the environment than chemical-containing counterparts. And, if you opt for completely chem-free colorants and aren't satisfied with the results, you can rest assured that the color will fade away within a matter of weeks or months. The cons? If you want to keep the color achieved by a temporary formula, a lot of upkeep (and money and resources) will be required.
- Unlike conventional hair dyes made with high concentrations of petrochemicals that can harm people, waterways, and soil, eco-friendly permanent hair dyes contain as little of these ingredients as possible. The upside of this choice is that you obtain permanent color without as many chemicals. The down side: you're still applying some health-threatening chemicals to your scalp, and requiring that they be produced and disposed of.
- Check labels to see if they warn against using dye on the eyebrow region: Many of the chemicals found in permanent hair dyes are possible carcinogens. Especially suspect are those products with labels that warn against using dye on the eyebrow region and those containing PPDs and ammonia.
- Go organic: Because the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) spends only a tiny portion of its budget investigating the chemical composition and toxins in personal care products, hair dyes can tout their use of organic ingredients and still have up to 30 percent synthetic materials, even the ones labeled "organic" or "made with organic ingredients." The only way to be sure that the product you are purchasing is, in fact, organic is to look for the USDA Organic Seal on the label. This seal guarantees that every ingredient is organically produced as defined by the National Organics Standards Board, which bans the use of harmful pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, and genetic engineering.
- Look for hair dyes that do not contain animal fats or employ animal testing: While you're contemplating green attributes, you may also wish to join the cruelty-free movement. Just keep in mind: a company may claim that they don’t employ animal testing for their products, but without third-party verification, it’s hard to know whether these statements are in fact completely true. So stick to those products certified as cruelty-free by looking for products with the Leaping Bunny Logo or the Certified Vegan Logo. You can rest assured that no bunnies (or monkeys or cats for that matter) were harmed in the making of these non-animal-tested products.
Find it! Natural hair dye
Below you'll find green hair dyes both permanent and temporary. If you don't see anything that strikes your fancy or want more info, check out Natural Hair Dye, Inc. which includes a helpful guide to permanent, semi-permanent, and demi-permanent tints.
Aubrey Organics combines henna and indigo in a botanical-based, cruelty-free hair dye that's safe for the environment and consumers. Although labeled as permanent, the dye only coats the hair with color, as the product doesn't contain the chemicals required to penetrate the hair shaft.
EcoColors Haircolor focuses on nontoxic hair dye, but it does contain ammonia and other chemicals like peroxides and trace amounts of PPDs that enable the permanent color to penetrate the hair shaft. However, EcoColors has eliminated allergy-inducing sulfite-based preservatives and toxic ethanolamines.
Herbatint's Vegetal Semi-Permanent Hair Colour is a dye with results comparable to henna. The dye is not vegetable-based, despite being called "Vegetal." Although it contains no peroxides, PPDs, or ammonia, the dye does contain ethanolamines.
Light Mountain Natural Hair Color temporary hair dye is free of synthetic chems, preservatives, and fragrances. Because this cruelty-free dye is henna-based, it can only tint hair a shade or two darker than the natural color, and it fades slightly after several thorough 'poos.
Going gray but want to stay green? Turn to Naturtint, a line of permanent hair colorants that replaces ammonia, parabens, and other chems with soy, corn, wheat, and coconut extracts. The formula—available in 24 shades—does contain small amounts of high-grade peroxide and PPD.
Containing no scalp-burning, stinky bad stuff like PPD, ammonia, peroxide, or synthetic coloring agents, Lustrous Henna from Saba Botanical is 100 percent natural. This gradually fading, conditioning formula also contains herbs that prevent hair loss.
Before you buy
Those suffering from allergies and chemical sensitivities should take caution whatever type of dye is chosen. Although natural hair dyes contain minimal or no allergy-inducing ingredients, proceed carefully.
Choosing natural hair dye helps you go green because...
- It contains lower or no concentrations of chemicals like lead acetates, hydrogen peroxide, and ammonia that can contaminate waterways and soil when they are washed down the drain.
- It contains lower or no concentrations of chemicals like ethanolamine, parabens, and PPDs that can cause health problems, including cancer.
- Eco-friendly brands are more likely to offer indirect benefits as well, such as utilizing recyclable or minimal packaging and fair trade ingredients.
- Many of the chemicals found in conventional hair dyes are petroleum-based. Petroleum is a non-renewable resource and the source of various eco-woes.
Conventional permanent hair dyes work by a multi-step process that relies on toxic chemicals to achieve satisfactory results. First, the hair shaft is initially prepared by opening the cuticle, or outside layer, with ammonia. After the cuticle is "opened," the hair is "developed" or oxidized with hydrogen peroxide (a lightening agent) to remove the existing color. Once these steps are completed, the permanent dyes penetrate the interior of the hair shaft, or cortex. A final conditioning step is then typically used to "close" the cuticle and seal in the new color.
The most common health-threatening and environmentally unfriendly chemicals in hair dyes include:
- ammonia: A toxic chemical used in hair dyes and bleaching and cleaning products that's been linked to long-term health effects, skin irritation, and environmental contamination.
- coal tar dyes: Byproducts of the coal fuel industry that are frequently labeled as FD&C and D&C colors. They have known carcinogenic side effects, particularly related to bladder cancer. However, the FDA has never banned their use. One study found that 71 hair dyes had ingredients made from coal tar.
- ethanolamine: A toxic chemical used in hair dye and other products that can cause central nervous system depression and other health problems.
- hydrogen peroxide: A government-restricted chemical found in hair dyes, face washes, toothpastes, and as a common antiseptic.
- lead acetates: Highly hazardous metal compounds used in hair dyes and other hair styling products that are known carcinogenic toxins affecting human reproduction and development, the nervous system, and respiration.
- parabens: This family of preservatives (which includes methyl-, ethyl-, propyl-, and butyl-parabens) can affect the endocrine system, which produces the body's hormones.
- para-phenylenediamine (PPD): A chemical found in two out of three permanent hair dyes. Exposure is linked to a number of health problems, including eye irritation and tearing, asthma, renal failure, vertigo, and coma in humans. It's estimated that 5 percent of permanent hair dye users develop allergies—primarily contact dermatitis—because of PPD.
The FDA does not strictly regulate most dyes used in hair coloring products, unlike the European Commission, which banned 22 chemicals found in hair dyes after research linked long-term use of certain dyes to bladder cancer. Only one of the 22 banned chemicals appears on the FDA's registry of restricted cosmetics ingredients.
- Howstuffworks - How Hair Coloring Works
- TreeHugger - Earthtalk: Why Die For Hair Dye?
- Hair Boutique.com - Non-Toxic Hair Color Facts
- US Food and Drug Administration - Hair Dye Products
- Women's Health Blog - 10 basic hair dying mistakes
- Ideal Bite - Do you change your hair color as often as you change your shoes?
- Environmental Working Group - Skin Deep: Cosmetic Safety Database - Looking to make the transformation from brunette to blond? See where your favorite hair colors rank on the hazard scale, first.