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.