What is the safest way to dye your hair?

BY Erika Chavez
What is the safest way to dye your hair?
What is the safest way to dye your hair?

It is reported, over half of all women in America are currently color treating their hair with one product or another. But, how many of these women are taking the time to research the process by asking the simple question, “What is the safest way to dye your hair?”

Although approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), not every hair dye is safe to use. Going organic is a very simple answer to the question, “What is the safest way to dye your hair?” Here are a few tips on how to achieve that great hair color safely without risking your health.

Dating back to the early 1900s, dying one’s hair was not only taboo, but it left women fearful for their health. Only a few – less than 7% - believed having youthful-looking locks was a larger priority than potential dangers. The remaining group was skeptical, avoidant and downright opposed to using chemicals and compounds with such a negative reputation. 

Companies such as L’Oréal and Clairol, despite great efforts, simply couldn’t ease the minds of dye skeptics so they started to use marketing to push the idea having aged, dull grays was the “ruination of romance.” They stirred up anxiety among aging women, pushing an agenda that having grays would “bury them beneath dull hair” and leave them to the evils of time’s passage. That marketing worked quite well and the percentage of women who felt the pressure to color jumped to near 40. Women were dying their hair, but was it safe? 

The 1950s birthed Clairol’s one-step dye process that ultimately resulted in the woman’s ability to dye at home. Today, almost twice as many women dye in the privacy of their homes than those who opt for a salon. It may save us time, money or even the embarrassment of revealing our beauty secrets, but both options can still pose a grave risk when it comes to our health. 

Is it bad for your health to dye your hair?

It may be very good for your ego and self-confidence but dying your hair can prove to be very hazardous. Many of the chemicals used in dyes can, independently or in conjunction with one another, lead to very severe side effects. From itchy, red scalp to weakened, shedding hair to exposure to cancer-causing agents, the ingredients in most hair dyes are simply not good for your health. 

What are the harmful ingredients in hair dye?

Not all hair dyes are comprised of the same chemicals, but many potentially harmful chemicals are common in most dyes. One of the most common ingredients is ammonia which is used to open the hair cuticle and serves as a vehicle to move color deep into the hair cortex. This process changes the hair’s melanin, therefore changing the overall color of one’s hair. If you’ve ever seen a movie scene where a hair client’s head starts to burn or itch, that’s the effects of ammonia.

Hair dye needs to “develop” and this is where hydrogen peroxide comes in. By adding hydrogen peroxide to ammonia, hair swells and allows the ammonia to work. In most dyes, hydrogen peroxide is capped off at 6-percent and stored separately from the ammonia and color mixture. Those who dye at home know the process of combining the hydrogen peroxide with the tint mixture (and shaking) just prior to application. Hydrogen peroxide causes the hair to lose sulfur. Sulfur loss results in damaged, hard hair. 

Lead acetate is a color additive that was once approved by the Food and Drug Administration but was repealed in late 2018. Originally coined for “safe use,” this chemical has since been questioned as it relates to any level of safety when it comes to hair dye. Today, any dye-containing this ingredient must also display a very clear warning label.” 

Much like lead acetate, bismuth citrate can also be used in progressive hair dye. This chemical is a brittle metal that naturally occurs in the Earth’s crust. When used specifically in hair dye, it helps to convey a color to hair. 

Para-phenylenediamine, or PPD, is a common irritant found in hair dye. It is made from coal tar and can also be used to preserve wood. In combination with hydrogen peroxide, PPD is very toxic and it is best to avoid any contact with the skin. PPDs have been linked to scaly scalps, severe itching, redness, swelling and other allergic reactions that can affect the face, neck, and ears. A person can dye their hair and have no adverse reactions nine times and be negatively affected on dye job number 10. 

DMDM Hydantoin is used to help preserve the dye formula as it sits on the shelf through a slow release of a toxic formaldehyde chemical. It is great at killing off fungi and bacteria in hair dye products, but it is also potent enough to be used in latex paints, cutting oils, adhesives, herbicides, polymers, and ink.

Last, but certainly not least dangerous, is resorcinol. In its chemical form, resorcinol is a dihydroxy benzene – a petrochemical known to cause cancer. It serves hair dyes in that it works alongside other chemicals to provide a permanent color effect. It is also classified as a highly hazardous chemical linked to hormone disruption and skin irritation. In animal studies, resorcinol caused thyroid dysfunctions, effects on the central nervous system and alterations in the adrenal glands. Simply inhaling resorcinol can cause abdominal pain and nausea. 

Can you get cancer from dying your hair?

According to the National Cancer Institute or NIH, there are over 5,000 different chemicals inside hair dye products – many of which are carcinogenic and have proven to be cancer-causing in animal studies. Scientists have taken a special interest in determining if these chemicals cause an increased risk of cancer in humans, seeing as how many people – both men and women – are using these dyes. 

In the mid-1970s, many of the known to be harmful chemicals were removed from dyes with the hopes of reducing the risk or eliminating it altogether. Although it is still not known whether the chemicals used in dyes are directly linked to cancer in people who dye their hair, it is interesting to note studies have concluded an increased risk of bladder cancer in barbers and stylists. 

The International Agency for Research on Cancer, or the IARC, has concluded some of the chemicals these professionals are exposed to as related to their occupation are “probably carcinogenic to humans.” Despite conflicting results about hair dyes leading to increased risk in blood cancers, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, leukemia, and breast cancer, one can confidently say there is no evidence to support certainty these chemicals are 100% safe or non-cancer causing. In other words, dye at your own risk. 

Does coloring your hair cause hair loss?

In short, no. When you apply hair dye to your hair, it doesn’t have the ability to penetrate beneath the scalp so only existing hair is touched by any color or chemicals. New hair growth waiting to emerge is left untouched and therefore unaffected. 

According to Dermatology Times, it is shedding you might want to worry about as hair shafts are manipulated during application and can lead to the loosening of hairs. Likewise, most hair dyes contain ammonia and hydrogen peroxide which can also loosen hair causing it to weaken and shed. 

Our hair shafts play a large role in the durability of our hair and when it is compromised by the chemicals in hair dye, breakage and shedding can frequently occur. Peroxide, the chemical in dye used to strip hair of its pigment, weakens the hair’s protein. Individuals who tend to lighten their hair, stripping it of pigment more frequently, may experience more severe shedding or breakage. In some cases, people transitioning from dark to light blonde have experienced a snap in the hair shaft at the scalp. 

What are the healthiest hair dyes?

What is the safest way to dye your hair?
What is the safest way to dye your hair?

Although it is almost impossible to create a hair dye without the ingredient PPD, many natural dyes use less than 1% in their formulas versus mainstream brands that use as high as 6%. Likewise, the many potentially dangerous chemicals addressed above are either used minimally or not at all in a variety of natural hair dyes – a safer alternative. Some of those dyes include:

  1. Oway Hair Color: The first holistic brand of its kind, this ammonia-free permanent dye is made from biodynamic ingredients, handpicked, organic plants and pure essential oils. It is certified “cruelty-free” by PETA and is vegan.
  2. O&M (Original & Mineral) is a color system developed by CCT™ (Clean Color Technology), a revolutionary color system that is free of unnecessary chemicals like ammonia, PPD’s, Resorcinol, etc. The formulas are infused with natural extracts and active minerals that deliver effective results.
  3. Madison Reed: This product is free of ammonia, parabens, resorcinol, phthalates, PPD, and gluten. This brand also infuses its dye with Argan oil and natural keratin to promote hair health. 
  4.  Saach Organics: If PETA approves, you know it must be all-natural. This small company uses natural plants and minerals without any active chemicals. These semi-permanent dyes are even suitable for those with sensitive skin.
  5. Indus Valley Botanical Hair Colour: This dye is certified organic and 100% natural which makes it safe even for those who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Its formula uses organic herbs that not only work to color hair but address issues of dandruff, dryness and premature greys. 

How do you keep your hair healthy when dying it?

Dying your hair can lead to a great deal of damage – sometimes immediately and other times in the long run. Many of the chemical ingredients in dyes will dry out otherwise healthy hair and cause many subsequent problems. Once you understand doing anything unnatural to your hair jeopardizes it’s health, you can better educate yourself on ways to be as preventative as possible.

Dye works by penetrating the hair shaft which works because of the cuticle being opened. It takes some time for this cuticle to close so premature shampooing can literally undo your dye job. If shampoo or soap can get inside the cuticle, it can wash out all the new color.

A good stylist will encourage you to use sulfate-free shampoos and conditioners. Sulfates are what help your products bubble up and create a fluffy lather. They also strip your hair of its natural oils and moisture. Products that are sulfate-free are great for color-treated hair as they prevent fading. 

Hot showers feel great but higher water temps can dry out your hair and skin. Likewise, hot water will open your hair’s cuticles and literally wash away the color you’ve worked so hard (or paid a lot) to achieve. Washing with warm water and rinsing in cold can keep hair healthy and help maintain your color. 

Finally, wash hair as little as possible. Much like fabrics, the more it gets washed the more it dulls. Reserve washing for days when your hair is really in need. If hair becomes overly oily, try a dry shampoo intermittently between wet washes.

Why switch to an organic hair salon?

In a nutshell, it’s smart. Standing in front of rows and rows of dyes at your local grocer makes choosing a hair product scary. Even with all the education, you have received in this article, what if you’ve missed something? What if there’s an ingredient your body reacts to? There is so much that is unknown, and the risks are too heavy. 

Calling upon an organic salon gives you complete peace of mind in knowing any product that touches your head or skin will be safe, especially when prolonged use is a factor. For a product to be authentically organic, it must contain no harsh chemicals or preservatives – which is where the peace of mind comes in. 

Unlike commercial products made from toxic chemicals that damage your hair, organic products nourish the scalp and are gentle on hair. In most cases, these organic products infuse your hair with herbal extracts, essential oils, minerals and plant-derived ingredients that are good for your hair and scalp. 

If you have already made up your mind to dye or color treat your hair, why not avoid any risky side effects and potentially life-threatening products knowing you can achieve the same outcome without harm? These organic hair salons are easy to locate, cost roughly the same in the way of services and yield the same (if not better results) without any risk. 

Going organic is a very simple answer to the question, “What is the safest way to dye your hair?”

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