Organic Hair Color
A Safer Alternative
It’s no secret that the right hair color can make any woman look and feel her best. In fact, it is estimated that a whopping 75 percent of American women color their hair. Men are also getting in on the action. The percentage of American males coloring their hair increased from 2 to 7 percent between 1999 and 2010, according to New Jersey-based Multi-sponsor Surveys, a market research firm, and 11 percent of men ages 50 to 64 now color their hair. Unfortunately, permanently dyeing hair often goes hand-in-hand with damaging it. Many popular hair color products contain hazardous chemicals that can compromise a user’s health and welfare, as well as negatively impact the environment.
Concerns about the contents of hair color date back to the '70s, when consumers were alerted to the dangers of ingredients like coal tar and benzidine, which are known carcinogens. Most manufacturers changed the ingredients in hair dye products to eliminate some of these chemicals; however, many of the substitutes, like ammonia and parabens, have been linked to a host of medical conditions.
Ammonia, for one, is a corrosive chemical and a classified carcinogen by The World Health Organization and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It’s been linked to upper respiratory issues and skin and eye irritation, and is the culprit behind that “salon smell.” Some experts also believe the fumes may have negative long-range health effects.
Other hazards found in many hair color products include formaldehyde, plastics and p-phenylenediamine, or PPD, a dye used in many permanent colors. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) stated that skin contact with PPD should be prevented in order to avoid the allergic reactions, and the FDA has not approved its use for direct skin application. It’s next to impossible, though, to avoid contact with the skin when applying hair color. The most common allergic reactions to these hair dye chemicals are dermatitis of the eyes, ears, scalp and face, which may include a rash, extreme swelling and a severe burning sensation on the scalp.
Today, organic alternatives are available that not only enhance appearance, but offer real benefits to our health and the environment.
While traditional hair products can strip the hair and cause serious damage, especially with repeated use, organic dyes can actually improve the condition of hair in some cases. Organic formulations typically don’t alter the basic chemistry of the hair shaft, but absorb into each strand independently to leave hair shinier, fuller and more manageable.
A common misconception has been if hair color is natural and/or organic, it wouldn’t cover grey and would fade quickly. That’s simply not the case, according to Organic Salon Systems CEO Scott Mitchell. He assures the outcome is even better than what’s achieved with chemical-laden color, offering rich, vibrant colors and more shine. Plus, it stays put as long as traditional color applications.
But, not all “natural” products are created equally, he warns. Many over-the-counter and professional hair color products claim to be gentle and contain botanical extracts, but that doesn’t necessarily make them safe or non-toxic. Consumers are encouraged to carefully read the labels and learn to recognize what chemicals are in hair color brands—or ask a salon professional.
By skipping harsh chemicals, organic hair products are not only better for hair, but also better for the body. Every single thing we rub into our skin or coat our hair with goes into the body, where it’s processed. The overall impact of this chemical buildup is what causes potential medical issues.
Choosing organic is also better for the environment. The more we process and alter a substance, the more energy we waste and pollution we produce. By choosing products that forgo chemicals and stick with nature, we create less damage to the environment. They also tend to be better for washing down the drain and more biodegradable in landfills.
By switching to professional organic hair color, products and services, we can feel more confident about our health and the health of the planet.
Beth Davis is a frequent contributor to Natural Awakenings.