A Green Guide to Hair Dyes

Most commercial hair dyes contain ridiculously toxic chemicals. Many contain additives (often unregulated) that have been linked to cancer, birth defects, and a host of other serious health problems. So why are people willing assume the risk? Because the truth of the matter is, these products work great and many people are simply unaware that safer alternatives exist. No hair dye is worth dying for. Here are some tips for safer hair coloring.


Look Out for the "Bad Guys"

Once you recognize some of the most toxic chemicals commonly found in hair dyes, you and/or your stylist will be able to make healthier choices when selecting hair color products.

  • Ammonia: Acting like a corrosive, this guy opens the hair shaft so it can receive color. Ammonia has been linked to severe lung and skin irritations. It is a known environmental toxin and especially is harmful to aquatic life.
  • Benzene (and its derivatives benzyl alcohol, m-aminophenol, and resorcinol): This guy helps the color stick to your hair. Benzene is absorbed by the skin or inhaled. Benzene has been shown to be toxic to bone cells and bone marrow. It can cause damage to your central nervous system as well as your immune system. Benzene has been linked to reproductive and developmental problems and is considered extremely toxic to the environment.
  • Coal Tar: This guy is found predominantly in darker colored dyes (and in dandruff shampoos). A known carcinogen, coal tar is highly toxic in the environment.
  • Lead Acetate: According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, there is no safe level of exposure for this bad guy, yet it's approved for use in hair dyes. Lead acetate has been linked to tumor growth, brain damage, and learning disorders. Oh yeah, and it is bad for the environment.
  • p-Phenylenediamine (a.k.a. p-diaminobenzene, oxidation dye, amino dye, and para dye): Prevalent in dark-colored dyes, this bad guy helps the color stick to your hair during processing. This chemical has strong links to cancer and it harmful to the environment-especially aquatic life.
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  • Toluene: This bad guy is used to improve color adhesion and add gloss. Touline is known to increase cell mutations and cause cancer in animals. Repeated exposure can cause damage to the central nervous system, liver and kidneys. It is also toxic to the environment.

Hair Color Tips To Dye For

  • Work with what you have got by embracing your natural color, even your grays! If you feel like jazzing it up a bit, use pre-dyed clip-on hair extensions to add a splash of color or change the length of your cut.
  • Dye your hair less frequently. Stretching out the time between color processing reduces you exposure to chemicals.
  • Choose safer products. Plant-based products containing henna are the safest choice. It stains the hair, coating and sealing the strand, which protects has the added benefit of protecting the hair shaft from the elements. Demi-permanent color enriches color, adds shine, and blends gray. It gradually fades over a period of four to six weeks. Semi-permanent dyes stain your hair shaft and cover grays but will fade after six to eight shampoos.
  • Stay close to your natural level and tone. Dramatic color changes require more upkeep because roots become visible more quickly.
  • Protect your color. Avoid excessive exposure to the sun, which will fade you color. Use color-enhancing shampoos (read chemical contents carefully) between your color treatments.
  • Aim for shorter processing. Don't leave coloring products on longer than necessary. If you go to a salon, ask your stylist to limit the processing time as much as possible and request an extra thorough wash rinse to remove any leftover residue. If you color your hair yourself, always wear protective gloves.
  • Color less of your hair. Streaking and foiling processes expose your scalp to far less chemicals.
  • Seek out a natural salon or request healthier products. Ask your salon or hair care store to carry safer dyes and colors. Don't be afraid to ask if you can bring your own in for them to apply.

A Word About Hair Bleaching

Lightening your hair is somewhat less harmful than dyeing it (in terms of exposure to chemicals). Lighteners usually contain hydrogen peroxide, which alone isn't so bad (it's eco-friendly, biodegradable, and can be used to clean counters and clothes). Unfortunately, the hydrogen peroxide in lighteners is commonly mixed with ammonia, which is a severe skin and lung irritant and considered highly toxic to aquatic life. For safer lightening, look for ammonia-free brands. An even safer alternative is to use lemon juice and sunshine to lighten your locks naturally.

About The Author: Ellen Brown is an environmental writer and photographer and the owner of Sustainable Media, an environmental media company that specializes in helping businesses and organizations promote eco-friendly products and services. Contact her on the web at http://www.sustainable-media.com

January 5, 20090 found this helpful

I am so grateful for this news as I am severely allergic to all those mentionedinhair dyes,butwant to jaz up my hair a bit as it looks tired & a lot of white areas,I thankyou very much for the education as I am now aware never to use any hair dyes on the market and the other ideas some of them I can do very much appreciated.

Balance Deer Woman:)

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January 6, 20090 found this helpful

One of the best things I've ever done for myself in my entire life was to quit coloring my hair with dye. My hair is charcoal and has silver highlights over the top just like frosting. I was very surprised when I saw the color underneath the dye. Also, the hairdresser cut my hair to highlight the coloring.

I have extremely sensitive skin and am allergic to preservatives in shampoo, shower gels, and liquid hand soap. My scalp is clear and clean now. I no longer have dandruff. I"ve discovered a new, younger me. Try it. You may be surprised too.

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January 6, 20090 found this helpful

I will say this: PUNKY COLORS is so safe. It is more like a stain than a dye. There is very little odor(as with most temp colors) and lasts a long time. Their color selection is exotic and you must find a salon/store that sells it. I found mine on ebay. I love the stuff, and I have tried almost EVERY dye out there and compared what works.

Punky colors is FANTASTIC. For natural dye colors, the closest they have is black or red. Good Luck!

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January 6, 20090 found this helpful

you can get black walnut powder on net, mix a little in water and comb on, leave for a while, rinse. It would make your hair look a little less gray: sort of light golden brown, I know someone whose hair was just about your color and that's what it did for her. Be careful as it does stain.

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January 9, 20090 found this helpful

I have a friend who is a hairstylist who told me NEVER to use those boxed hair dyes. Explained to me about some kind of metal in the dyes that are really bad for you. I get my hair done professionally every 4 months with some higher quality hair dye that is safe. I wash my hair once a week (hair is healthier and doesn't fade as fast) and the dye is excellent quality so even after 4 months people say my hair still looks bright and amazing.

If you don't have the money, leave your hair in its natural state, don't opt for box hair dyes! Or get a hair stain (as someone mentioned, the punky colours) and dye a few pieces. I have bright red hair but do not use stains as they fade too quickly but could be nice for streaks!

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January 11, 20090 found this helpful

What about the packaging? I'm looking for a hair dye that doesn't use plastic bottles. Or a hair color that I can use a little bit of and save the rest. I just feel awful every time I dye my hair because of the waste it generates.

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January 13, 20090 found this helpful

I have never used dyes on my hair/scalp! Way too scary. But I do use natural Henna I get from India. My color is naturally auburn. The Henna makes my hair very shinny. I use lemon for high lighting. Sly

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January 26, 20090 found this helpful

I've seen some hair dyes in the health food and herb stores. I am vain, and greyed early, so I've been using color, but am looking for some that is not toxic. Does anyone know any name brands that you can use or how to make your own?

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January 26, 20090 found this helpful

Personally, I have covered slight greying with highlighting with simple hydrogen peroxide - plus mixture of red + blonde color shampoo and conditioner - leave in for 15-20 mins. before rinsing.

I have also touched up greying temples with plain srtong coffee and I am told that you can use/ tea/coffee/sage as a rinse in your hair - there are other old-time natural fixes, too - Use your greying as highlighting and bring up colors with rinses - I even saw using tomato juice/cranberry juice as a rinse for red hair!

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January 23, 20110 found this helpful

What I'm aiming to do is to dye my hair ROY G BIV over time. So far I have green, red and blue in. I've realized the first time i dyed my hair on my own, that I was watching the chemical sin my hair dye wash down the drain. Instead I thought of a bright idea. Instead of washign my hair down a drain I can wash my hair out onto a white t-shirt!. So in the end I'll have cool colors in my hair and a cool new t-shirt that is colored by my hair dye!

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In This Article
A dark haired woman dying her hair.
A Green Guide to Hair Dyes
Health & Beauty Beauty Hair Tips ColoringJanuary 5, 2009
Canning Green Beans, Freezing Green Beans, Growing Green Beans, Storing Green Beans, Drying Green Beans
Storing Green Beans
Turmeric being ground up.
Making Natural Dyes
Up close photo of red, wavy hair.
Homemade Hair Dye Recipes
Sink with hair dye stains
Removing Hair Dye from a Bathroom Sink
Halloween Ideas!
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