I’ve used hair dyes since I was fourteen.  Yes, truly I thought my parents would never notice that I suddenly went Goth black!  But lately, I have been reading the packs and  shuddering at the number of chemicals they are made of and also what happens to them when you rinse and send them traveling to the sewers.

I have yet to find a water-neutral hair-dresser and they don’t have water recycling at all, so prefer to dye my hair at home where I can also DO something while the colour is cooking rather then reading about Brangelina.

As well, the water I use while colouring my hair can be recycled via a sand filtration set up that I created in the back yard.

I divert the bathroom water to a large bucket which I then pour into a pit that has several layers of screenings and sand.  This is kind of like my own special water garden.  I replace the sand from time to time when it is obviously clogged up with chemicals, wrapping it up in newspaper and a garbage bag and putting it into the bin for the council pickup.  Better than having it go into the waterways. As well, the chemical content has been linked with cancers and as one of my hair-dyeing friends has Multiple Myeloma (one of the cancers on the list) I wondered what might be an alternative, at least for future generations.

A 1994 National Cancer Institute report from Britain found that deep-colored dyes (like dark brown and black), when used over prolonged periods of time, may increase the risk of cancers such as non-Hodgkins lymphoma and Multiple Myeloma. A 2001 study by the International Journal of Cancer found that people who use permanent hair dye are twice as likely to develop bladder cancer as non-dyers.  The case that is always discussed is that of Jackie Kennedy’s personal assistant who died in her 60s and her cancer was linked to her hair dye, at least anecdotally.

A 2004 report by the American Journal of Epidemiology, however, showed no increased risk of the disease among women who started using hair-coloring products in 1980 or later as these are far more closely monitored for their chemical content, at least in the developed world than the dyes used in the 40s and 50s.  Be careful if you are traveling and touching up your hair in a 3rd world country.  Heaven knows what is dumped there!

22 potentially carcinogenic hair-dye chemicals that have been banned in the European Union are still used in some U.S. products, including Acid Orange 24 and 2,3-Naphthalenediol. Other common chemicals in hair dyes include coal tar colours which can be identified by the ingredients “F,D,&C,” “D&C,”  and “P-phenylenediamine” on labels. All are considered carcinogenic.

I investigated some vege based dyes and below are some that are much lower in their impact to the environment, do not cause allergies or trigger them and don’t mess with the body’s immune system.  If you are HIV positive or have any other immune condition, for instance, chemical hair dye should not be used.  Try the vege dye instead.  Note that green-friendly permanent hair dyes still require some chemicals including ammonia, peroxide, p-Phenylenediamine or diaminobenzene AD in order to ‘stick’ but there are some supermarket brands that have lower content than others.

You just have to read the packets.

Here are some names to look out for as good substitutes and vege based. Ask your health food store to access them for you and I am sure they will be delighted to help.

  • Ecocolors’, – containing small amounts of ammonia and peroxide, has a soy and flax base and uses rosemary extract to condition the hair and flower essences instead of artificial perfumes.
  • Herbatint, Ammonia-free permanent dye,  biodegradable, but still contains concentrations of p-Phenylenediamine and peroxide in small amounts.
  • Temporary dyes and highlight treatments NOT containing harsh chemicals include ‘Naturcolor’ and ‘Vegetel’ but will only last a few washes and have not a good grey coverage.
  • Henna, made from the powdered leaves of a desert shrub called Lawsonia, has been used for thousands of years to color hair and skin and is available in various brands at the Health Food store or Ishka.  It has a nice, warm, coffee smell too.
  • Rainbow Henna‘ makes a variety of 100% organic hair colours from blonde to black hair and they do reds and chestnuts particularly well.
  • Light Mountain’ has an organic henna application kit in a box that looks just like ‘L’Oreal’.
  • The Italian-made Tocco Magico, may be available only at salons or places where they stock Italian groceries.  Go and check it out and have a great cappuccino while you are there!
  • Lush has a great Henna pigment range which smells great.  I keep mine in the fridge along with all the Lush products.
  • Act by Nature’ and hair coloring creams produced by Surya Brasil  still contains some synthetic color, but principally relies on naturally derived ingredients and avoids P-phenylenediamine.
  • Tints of Nature’ hair dye does not contain any ammonia or harsh alternatives, but it does contain organic ingredients and is soy based with a nice selection of colours to choose from. This may only be available in the USA or specialty shops but you can purchase it online.
  • Palette by Nature’ uses henna extracts, plant dyes and plant extracts. The range is limited.

All ‘green’ hair dyes take longer to ‘cook’ on the head so doing it at home is a good idea and you can use the time more productively maybe whipping up a great big pot of stock from scratch for your freezer, so you can double the positive effect of your hair colouring experience!

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