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Hair Do or Dye: Toxic Hair Color

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Hair Do or Dye: Toxic Hair Color

By Lindsey Galloway, Natural Solutions

Despite endless hours spent in salon chairs, hundreds of dollars shelled out, and repeated exposure to hazardous chemicals, millions of women dye their hair–even those who live otherwise natural lifestyles. Some experts estimate 75 percent of women over 40 color their manes, which means consistent contact with harsh irritants and carcinogens, such as ammonia, hydrogen peroxide, and coal tar–derived p-Phenylenediamine.

“Society puts a lot of pressure on women to dye their hair, especially to get rid of gray,” says Stacy Malkan, cofounder of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and author of Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry (New Society Publishers, 2007). And once they start tinting their tresses, many women struggle to halt the habit. “You just go in for a few highlights, then for your roots every three months until it’s too hard to stop,” Malkan explains. “It’s a slippery slope.”

But women wanting to disguise roots and downplay gray aren’t the only people who frequent salons and buy at-home color kits. “Girls are starting to get their hair done at 10 or 11, rather than 16 or 17,” says Malkan. “They’re being exposed to hazardous chemicals during or right before puberty, setting them up for a lifetime of exposure.” And since there’s no government-mandated minimum age to go under the foil, young consumers have few deterrents from these chemical brews.

So why do hair dyes still teem with toxins while safe, natural cosmetics and skincare options are now widespread? Because the process of permanently changing hair hue requires major chemical power. For instance, to get lighter color that won’t wash out, the outer layer of hair–the cuticle–must be opened in order to strip the current shade and let the new color set in. This operation requires an alkaline chemical, usually ammonia, to open the hair shaft and another ingredient, such as hydrogen peroxide, to strip hair’s natural melanin, or pigment. All this interference literally breaks down the hair’s structure; in fact, part of dye’s familiar smell is actually sulfur released from damaged hair. The dye deposited in the hair shaft is often harsh as well, formulated with scads of chemicals to ensure the exact color desired.

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Read more: Beauty, General Health, Hair Care, Holistic Beauty

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Mel, selected from Natural Solutions magazine

Natural Solutions: Vibrant Health, Balanced Living offers its readers the latest news on health conditions, herbs and supplements, natural beauty products, healing foods and conscious living.


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1:22PM PDT on Jun 2, 2011

Just wanted to give you some info to look into. Early gray runs in my family also. Families sometimes pass on the behaviors and genetic that can cause this. You can break the cycle though. I researched and found two things that help. For my family it was digestive problems that block nutritional intake that causes the early aging. Gluten and High fructose corn syrup in everyone blocks absorption of vitamins to our colon. Every 4 days we get new receptors (silia) but I found out that my family and me do not handle stress well. It stresses our digestive system and makes it weaker. I personally have a food sensitivity to gluten too which makes it worse. Two supplements to take other than avoiding gluten, sugar are Quencitin (an antioxidant) and sea veggies like sea weed and chlorella help keep your hair color. You can break the cycle from being passed on. Just ask doctor about first, especially seaweed and chlorella because it thins blood and too much vit a if you take too much. Chlorella also leaches mercury from your liver! Good stuff.

5:21PM PDT on May 29, 2011

I'm only 22, but I've been graying since I was 16, something that's in the family, I'm afraid. The crap part is that my hair is dark brown, almost black so the gray really sticks out. But the more I read about chemicals and dye the more I want to just go naturally gray.

11:04PM PDT on Mar 29, 2011

I bought some henna recently and am a bit nervous about trying it out. Does anyone know how easy it is to use, and how effective it is?

9:46PM PST on Jan 1, 2011

My friend tried lemon juice to lighten her hair and her hair became dry, dull and brittle. It wasn't a good look :/

1:50AM PST on Nov 17, 2010

Dye and die. If you dye use Henna!

3:03PM PDT on Oct 18, 2010


1:30PM PDT on Aug 31, 2010

Interesting article.

9:03AM PDT on Jul 30, 2010

Thank you Mel for all the information.

3:57AM PDT on May 21, 2010

Isen't it a bit funny that there is a commercial for a "natural anti-grey cheap treatment" - product in the google ads?!

8:05PM PDT on May 20, 2010

I am a hairdresser, and let me just mention: Hyrdogen Peroxide does not strip melanin. Powder lightener or the dye stuffs in hair colour do that, the peroxide is the developer, it is the agent that oxidizes the lightener or dye stuffs to make them work.

Schwarzkopf professional has a line of demi-permanent hair colour called Essensity, which is anywhere from 70-95% natural depending on the shade. That is the closest to "all-natural" that any colour line has reached. They replace the peroxide with beeswax, and in my experience the line works very well.

Also, in the near future you are going to see more and more companies replacing ammonia, as it has gotten a bad rep, so they want to move away from it, however it remains to be seen if what they replace it with will be any better.

And as a final note, for anyone who tries henna, be aware that after you use henna on your hair, if you are going to go back to regular colour, you need to let it grow out completely before using any bleach or dye, as many line react with henna and in extreme cases hair can literally start smoking because it gets so hot.

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