As a hair stylist hair color was the first thing that changed when I moved towards a greener lifestyle years ago. I mean it had too, mainstream hair dyes are toxic…like to the tenth degree! And if anyone knows how toxic they are, it would be a stylist. I actually stopped doing hair for a bit until I found a safer option. I didn’t want to be around conventional color, and I definitely didn’t want to be submitting others to chemicals. They pretty much can put whatever they want in hair dyes… the FDA doesn’t regulate them…I actually wonder what they regulate?! So why are mainstream dyes so horrible? Let me break it down:
–Arylamines One of the most dangerous chemicals found in hair dyes. This chemical has been know to cause bladder cancer, and to cause cancer in experimental animals. One of the most common names for it is p-phenylenediamine (PPD). It is even present in many natural hair dyes(although it’s a lot lower). It helps the color to last through shampoos. It’s interesting to me that the FDA has not approved for this chemical to be tested on the skin, yet it’s nearly impossible to not get it on your skin if you’re coloring your hair…crazy!
–Ammonia This is the most popular chemical people tend to hear about when faced with natural or mainstream. Ammonia is used in hair color to blast the cuticle and deposit the color. Besides it being toxic, it’s also really damaging to your hair. Why do you think stylists are always pushing those conditioners like crazy?! Ammonia is just bad all around. It’s horrible for the respiratory system, but it also can get into lymph nodes and cause cancer. Once on a client’s scalp it seeps into the pores, which is then carried into the bloodstream. Bottom line-avoid it!
–Parabens, Resorcinol, lead acetate are a few other offenders. There’s a slew more chemicals, actually there can be up to over 400 chemicals in hair dyes!
The EWG (Environmental Working Group) found that 69% of hair dyes when tested on their Skin Deep data bases may cause cancer. Yeah, let’s just all take that in for a moment. Also, the darker the dye, the worst it is for you. Since the FDA doesn’t regulate hair dye, we must! I’m going to give some options below, but I want to be clear that these are in no way completely natural. If you’re using a permanent dye, it’s going to have chemicals. Unless, you’re doing straight Henna and even then be careful of the source. There have been reports that small amounts of PPD(as I mentioned above) have been found in some henna sources. Color lines that are ammonia-free use Monoethanolamine, or MEA. It is in the family of Ethanolamines and is what is used to change the PH of the hair. This is essential because in order to change the color of the hair, the PH has to be raised for the color to penetrate the cuticle and get to the cortex. There have been some negative studies on MEA’s when in large amounts, but they’ve ruled that ethanolamines aren’t not a cancer risk in people. In several of the color lines I mention below, ethanolamines are present in them, since they are ammonia free. They use the MEA coupled with oils to get the color in the hair shaft.
One last thought before I dive into my recommendations. If you’re wanting to get your hair colored, but are wanting the least possible contact with your skin, here are a few tips. If you have no grey to cover, have the stylist do a balayage technique or foil. By using foils the product doesn’t touch your scalp. Also, always go lighter versus darker since the darker you go the more chemicals you’re exposed too. If you’re wanting highlights, I would stick to a salon that uses Organic Color Systems or O&M. Both these lighteners are ammonia free. Getting highlights is a great option, because you’re not touching the scalp and going lighter has less chemicals than going darker.
Ok, enough shop talk, let’s get to the good stuff!
This is the professional line I used at my salon. They are made in the UK, which is great because they have higher standards than the U.S. When I say professional, I mean it’s only sold to those licensed as a cosmetologist. It is ammonia and resorcinol free. OCS uses heat for the color to penetrate the hair shaft. It covers grey and gives beautiful results. Your hair feels healthy and shiny. The fading was no different than mainstream color. I dare say it was actually better than traditional color. The smell is more of an earthy smell, nothing unpleasant about it at all. They offer 64 colors, that can be made permanent or semi-permanent depending on the developer and they offer two lightening powders. The lightening powders are ammonia, bleach and dust free. The line is vegan but isn’t gluten free. Some of their colors, as well as the lightening powders have wheat protein in them. They have a truly semi-permanent line that’s called No Limits. These dyes will wash out in 6-12 washes but don’t contain PPD, or PTD and you can do them in the convenience of your home. They are sold as a retail product from the salon. As I mentioned above, just because this line is “natural”, does not mean it doesn’t contain chemicals. When I used it, I still wore gloves. Although it is so much better than standard hair dyes, it still is not 100% chemical free. To find a stylist using OCS, please e-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I used this line here and there. It is newer and made in Australia. It is also a professional line. O&M is ammonia, resorcinol and PPD free. The first professional hair color line to do it. The smell to O&M is more of cleaning agent smell. I’m not a fan to be honest. It’s not overly strong or burning like ammonia at all but it isn’t as pleasant as OCS. It does not require heat to penetrate the hair shaft. They are a lot larger than OCS in terms of colors, they offer 99. They come in a cream form for permanent and liquid for semi-permanent. The results I got from using O&M were great. It covered grey well. The hair shined and lasted through shampoos also. To find a salon using O&M click here. (I will say I did not find a salon locator on their website like OCS has, but if you clicked contact and e-mailed them, I’m sure someone would respond).
This is a boxed dye and great for those who prefer an at home application or want to save money. They are manufactured in the UK as well. These contain no parabens, ammonia, resorcinol, and the lowest levels of PPD’s. They offer 24 permanent shades and 8 semi-permanent shades. The semi-permanent shades are free of PPD’s, parabens, and peroxide. They last 6-12 washes and cover up to 80% of grey. Not bad for a semi-permanent. These do contain wheat protein in them, so they are not gluten free. This is also completely free from any heavy metals. They run about $18.99 for permanent color and $17.99 for semi-permanent color. They have a great FAQ’s section on their website for more info. You can find them online here.
There is a common thread among natural/organic dyes…they’re all made outside the U.S. Naturigin is made in Denmark and is a great at home alternative. It’s free from PTD’s, Ammonia, Resorcinol and Parabens. They offer 19 permanent shades and no semi-permanent shades. There isn’t a bad smell to it, and the coverage is great for grey hair. It sales for $16.99 a box. Check it out here.
This is another at home color. It covers grey and the smell isn’t bad. It is resorcinol, ammonia and paraben free. They offer 29 shades, which is pretty large for an at home color line. They are easier to find. You can get them at most health food stores as well as Whole Foods. To buy online click here.
This isn’t actually isn’t an all over color for your hair but for just your roots. You use it when you are trying to hide those grey hairs. It really does blend well and covers the grey! It just washes out after shampooing. You use it like you would mascara. Now this isn’t by any means completely natural. It rates a 5 on the Think Dirty app. However, this is definitely a better alternative to dying hair in my opinion. You are giving yourself a lot less of a toxic load. It is a lot better than mainstream root concealers too.
Ok, that’s my huge spill on all things natural/organic hair color! If you have any questions, feel free to leave me a comment, or e-mail me. Also, if you’ve come across other brands that you like please let me know. I’m always trying out new ones and will be updating this periodically as I do.