Answering the burning question, does organic hair dye exist? As a hair stylist hair color was the first thing that changed when I moved towards a greener lifestyle years ago. Not that organic dyes are perfect(not even close), because they aren't but a better option, especially if you're breathing in toxic fumes all day as 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 exposing others to chemicals.
This is a topic we need to discuss because according to research 66 to 77 percent of women dye their hair(Source here)! Pretty crazy statistics. Some women might not know what they're putting on their heads, either way I hope this helps you make an educated decision when it comes to whether you choose to dye your hair or not.
Did you know they pretty much can put whatever they want in hair dyes… the FDA doesn't regulate them. So why are mainstream dyes so horrible? Let me break it down:
–Arylamines(PPD) 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 natural hair dyes(although the percentage is a lot lower). It helps the color to last through shampoos. It gets even more toxic when paired with hydrogen peroxide. Hydrogen peroxide is what's used in formulations with the PPD to get it to activate. 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! Many stylists can end up with dermatitis because of constant exposure to PPD and those getting their hair dyed report eczema and dermatitis. Other studies link it as a possible carcinogen. (Source here).
-Ammonia This is the most popular chemical people tend to hear about when faced with mainstream hair dyes. 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. Once on a client's scalp it seeps into the pores, which is then carried into the bloodstream. Bottom line-avoid it!
-Toluene-2,5-diamine- These are used in permanent hair dyes. Besides getting headaches, getting dizzy and having allergic reactions. It also can be so damaging as to cause birth defects and retardation in unborn babies. (Source here)
-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. Since the FDA doesn't regulate hair dye, we must!
I want to share what options you have when coloring your hair. There are options that are less toxic and options that are more toxic.
Temporary dyes- These only last for a couple washes typically and sit on top of your hair.
Semi-permanent- These are stronger then temporary dyes and are used a lot for toning, especially after getting highlights and refreshing the hair. They do penetrate the hair shaft but aren't going to last as long as permanent dye.
Permanent- This is going to go into the cortex of your hair and change the actual color. It will cover gray. This type of color is a lot more toxic because it contains more chemicals. In a study, it showed that there was a 50% increase risk for developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma when using permanent dyes and an 80% higher risk of multiple myeloma. (Source here).
Also, the darker the dye the worst the toxic load. So if you're consistently getting your hair dyed black, dark brown, the toxic burden is greater. (Source here)
Another thing to consider is when you're applying dye to your scalp. The scalp is a rich blood supply and carries chemicals to other parts of the body. So if you're constantly getting your hair dyed you may be submitting your whole body to toxins. (Source here)
So you might still be asking yourself…”Does Organic Hair Dye Exist?”
Ok, let's breakdown that question. There's no such thing as “organic” hair dye. It's a marketing term used to appeal to the consumer. When I hear people say that they're color line is safe and organic I just chuckle to myself. What they really mean is it probably doesn't contain ammonia, uses less toxic ingredients and a few more plant based ingredients. That's it.
When you look up the word organic in the dictionary you get this:
(of food or farming methods) produced or involving production without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or other artificial agents.
Have you looked on the back of your “organic” hair color at the ingredients? Because there's definitely some serious artificial ingredients going on. People like to use the words organic but organic doesn't pertain to everything like it does to food or clothes.
I'm going to give some options below, but I want to be clear that these are in no way completely natural, well except henna and Hairprint. But even some henna dyes have other toxic ingredients added to them. It's always important to read your labels.
Hairprint- This is the only completely safe color line available at the moment. But I wouldn't really call it a hair color line. It's a boxed dye you can use at home but it doesn't work like you might think a conventional color would. It uses 8 food grade ingredients to dye the hair. I've personally used it on my mom's hair several years ago. Although it's completely safe it's also a lot of work. It took us about 2 1/2 hours from start to finish. I fully recommend it if you're just wanting to cover your roots and you have brown to darker hair naturally, but it doesn't work well with someone who wants to cover their dark roots and have highlights, which was my mom. It turns your hair to it's original color. So if you're a natural level 5 brown, that's what the color will look like when done. In my experience it was even darker though. It looks very opaque and not see through. It faded on my mom but still was too harsh for her. As you get older the rule of thumb with color is add warmth and go lighter. Darker can make you look older and the skin more sallow. Hairprint doesn't work for blondes, redheads or reddish hair. You can buy it online here!
Henna- Henna is a plant, completely natural. There are still henna dyes that contain small amounts of PPD(as I mentioned above), so make sure if you are using henna it's pure. Typically henna will reveal a reddish brownish color but some companies have added in other plants with henna now to change the color.
Henna is really hard to work with, if your a stylist and have worked with hair then you know what I mean. Once you put it on your hair, you really can't get it out. It's permanent. But a different permanent than conventional permanent dye. I've tried stripping henna out before with bleach and what happens is it turns brassy and red. The problem is once you put it on, you really can't do much else with your hair. Nowadays you can achieve different colors using a variety of henna powders. Check out Morocco Method for more info.
Does Organic Hair Dye Exist?
Let's finish answering the question, does organic hair dye exist? If you're using a permanent dye, it's going to have chemicals. Unless, you're doing straight Hairprint or using 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 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. 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. I really wouldn't use ammonia nowadays. It's horrible for stylists especially as you're the one breathing it in everyday.
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, so less exposure overall.
- 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 ask if the salon has ammonia free lighteners. Getting highlights is a great option, because you're not touching the scalp and going lighter has less chemicals than going darker.
As you can see, organic hair dye doesn't exist in the way you would think. Are there better options, sure. But are they perfect? Not even close. You're still going to be exposing yourself to toxins.
Below are options I've used or had experience with. In no way am I saying that these are natural! They may not have one thing, but then they may have another. However, when doing hair I did notice severally chemically sensitive people were able to get their hair colored using many of these color lines because they do contain some of the lesser evil toxins. Most conventional color lines are filled with anything and everything- no joke. I also noticed in my research that professional color lines that use the term “organic or natural” are better as far as ingredients then boxed “natural” options. They just may not contain as many toxins, not that they are toxin free. As always, I recommend your stylist do a patch test to see if you're allergic to the color line before using.
At the end of the day, we all have to make choices when it comes to what toxins we allow into our bodies and which ones we don't. Hair dye may be something you love to do. This post is meant to arm you with the right information when making the decision to continue dying your hair, not to tell you to stop dying your hair. Maybe instead of doing it every six weeks you wait 12 weeks. Or maybe you get your hair foiled instead of an all over color. There may not be a perfect “organic hair dye” alternative to conventional hair dye but there are better options and tips to help lower your overall exposure.
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. This was one of the main reasons I went with the line at the time. It was back in 2013 and this really was the only option when it came to natural hair dye from what I knew. It still does have PPD in it but has the lowest amount needed in order for it to still be effective. Instead of Ammonia in the product they use Ethanolamine and Triethanolamine. Full ingredient list here. They don't smell as bad but as far as toxicity go, are still up there with ammonia. Not really that much better in my mind. They use Ethanolamine and Triethanolamine in combination with 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. If you've smelled ammonia color then you know what I'm talking about. 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 and some of their products do contain a wheat protein, however they claim that they are gluten free. I would still ask them if you're sensitive to gluten in any way before applying this color just to be sure. 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”, and has the word “organic” in it does not mean it doesn't contain toxins. When I used it, I still wore gloves. Although it is better in some ways than standard hair dyes, it still is hair dye at the end of the day. To find a stylist using OCS, please e-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is another professional line, meaning it's only sold to professional stylists. O&M stands for Original Mineral. I used it and here and there in my salon. It is newer and made in Australia. It is also a professional line. O&M is ammonia, resorcinol and PPD free. But still contains a host of other toxic chemicals instead of PPD like p-aminophenol, 4-Chlororesorcinol, Toluene-2,5-Diamine Sulfate and 2, 4 Diaminophenoxyethanol hcl. Here is a full ingredient list here.
The smell of 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 like Organic Color Systems does, which I loved. They also have a very creamy consistency. The hair felt great after using the product. 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. If you're a stylist and you're wanting to try out O&M, check out the website simplyorganicbeauty.com. You will have to get accepted as a stylist in order to purchase products. Also, if you're not a stylist but want to find a stylist that uses O&M, call their number (888)213-4744 and then push the number 4 to find a salon near you that uses it. You can also email them here.
This is another professional line that only a stylist can carry. I have to say this line I've been the most impressed with. I've only used them a handful of times. First they're made in Italy. At the time when I had my salon it wasn't available otherwise I would have definitely used it. They're ammonia free and offer 89 colors which is a decent selection. They actually have 6 legit natural ingredients in their hair color, which is rare to find. They really push the words biodynamic, natural and organic. Obviously, if you've been reading through this post you know that it's probably a marketing term, which it is. But I am shocked how they do really have a high standard when it comes to being more eco-friendly all around. You don't have to sit under heat to process the color, do a ton of steps to cover grays which is nice too. Organic Color Systems you always have to use so many steps in order to cover the grays, plus use heat. If you're a stylist and reading this definitely use a scale, it's essential for good results with this color line. I was impressed with how I didn't have to pack on the color with this line too. With Organic Color Systems I always felt like I needed more, especially when covering gray hair. Obviously, it's still not completely natural but I would say as far as being a stylist and having ease of use, consistent results and doesn't smell horrible, it's definitely a better option.
I wanted to also mention how much I loved Oway's Hbleach lightener! It's the best lightener I've ever used. It actually makes the hair feel better after using…I know crazy. It's ammonia free and contains lavender essential oil and kukui butter. It's so creamy. If you're a stylist and you're wanting to try out Oway, check out the website simplyorganicbeauty.com. You will have to get accepted as a stylist in order to purchase products. Also, if you're not a stylist but want to find a stylist that uses Oway, call their number (888)213-4744 and then push the number 4 to find a salon near you that uses it. You can also email them here.
Below are a list of ingredients found in “natural” boxed hair dye. They aren't pretty. It would be different using it if it only had a couple toxic ingredients but when the list is this long, it makes you think twice before using it. They may remove some of the heavy offenders when it comes to conventional dye but they are far from safe. If there is a score next to the ingredient list it's the score from EWG's Skin Deep Data Base.
- PEG's(polyethylene glycols)- Petroleum based enhancers. Usually contaminated with, heavy metals, Ethylene oxide(used in World War 1 nerve gas) and 1,4 dioxane-(a carcinogen) and make it easier for ingredients to absorb into your skin/scalp. Not something you want in your products if there are a list of other toxic ingredients. The EWG Skin Deep Data Base rates this as a 1 but that's not accurate. They aren't looking at the whole makeup of the ingredient. Some brands can try and remove these impurities but it would be hard to find that out.
- Mineral Oil- Made from petroleum. Can be contaminated. It can even be a possible carcinogen. (Source here)
- Propylene Glycol- Very similar to (PEG's- polyethylene glycols), it also makes it easier for ingredients to penetrate the skin and can be a skin irritant.
- Parfum/Fragrance- Can cause phototoxic reactions and can be photoallergic. Skin irritant, and has been known as a neuro-toxin, hormone disruptor and an allergen.
- p-Phenylenediamine- Score of 7- allergies and immunotoxicity as well as cancer.
- Ethanolamine- Score of 5-6, Allergies and Immunotoxicity
- 4-Chlororesorcinol- Score of 6- allergies and Immunotoxicity, and cancer.
- 2-Methylresorcinol- Allergies and immunotoxicity.
- 2-Amino-4-Hydroxyethylaminoanisole Sulfate- Score of 3 but it did have a reference for cancer.
- m-Aminophenol- Score of 5, for allergies and immunotoxicity and cancer.
- N-Phenyl-p-Phenylenediamine Sulfate- Score of 7, allergies and immunotoxicity, cancer.
As you can see, these aren't ingredients you want going on your head every 6 weeks! If you want to continue dying your hair, then here are some of the natural boxed hair dye options, however just remember they are not completely natural. I will say that I was impressed with Madison Reed's ingredient list. Still totally not squeaky clean at all, but compared to the other boxed dyes it wasn't as crazy. Madison Reed's are also PPD free, for those that are allergic or sensitive to PPD. But know that doesn't mean the ingredient they use instead, para-toulenediamene sulfate isn't nontoxic. It has it's own set of side effects too.
It's clear that organic hair dye does not exist except in the form of Hairprint that I mentioned earlier, however, Hairprint doesn't work for everyone and some people just don't want to spend that much time doing their hair every 6 weeks, or they have red hair, want highlights, etc.
Does organic hair dye exist? Well, since we know it doesn't I've found the next best thing- a root concealer! This isn't actually 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. Plus, if it can help you stretch getting your hair dyed then it's worth it.
I'm still waiting for the day when organic hair dye does exist but until then, I've rounded out some of my top tips and what I do when getting my hair dyed in my free download.
This will outline:
- Where to find a natural stylist/salon
- What to ask a salon to see if they are really who they say they are
- What to tell your stylists for least exposure
- What I do when visiting the salon.
- I even walk you through what to do when you don't have access to an organic salon.
Ok, that's my huge spill on does organic hair dye exist! 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.