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Hair Do or Dye: Toxic Hair Color

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Hair coloring’s cocktail of super-strong chemicals can trigger a number of negative reactions, especially in those who handle dye daily. Susan Henry, owner of Shades Salon in Beverly Hills, California, suffered ammonia poisoning from years of working with dye every day. After overcoming rashes, eye infections, and chronic bronchitis, she worked to develop an ammonia-free dye that she now uses in her salon. For a directory of ammonia-free salons around the country, check out

Henry’s innovation is exactly what the hair-dye industry needs, argues Malkan. Although she encourages women to forgo coloring altogether, she believes it’s a personal choice–and one that shouldn’t pose health risks. “It’s up to companies to make safer alternatives, and they need to be more aggressive about it,” she says. “This is one of the last industries in which a widely available, totally nontoxic solution hasn’t been figured out.”

While mainstream manufacturers may be far from developing truly safe methods, healthier options do exist–and, yes, they really work.

Lightening up?
Old hair-bleaching standbys like lemon juice and chamomile tea can lighten your natural color. “Will they turn brown hair blond? No, but they’ll lighten hair over time,” says John Masters, owner of the eponymous salon and haircare line. You can use straight lemon juice or dilute it with one part water to three parts juice, or steep one part tea to two parts water for at least 20 minutes. “Put some in a spray bottle, and spritz onto dry hair in the mornings to let sunlight speed up the process,” he instructs. Results can take a few days or even weeks, so be patient and persistent. Your lighter shade should remain until hair starts growing out.

Because lightening hair significantly requires chemicals to strip strands of pigment, consider highlights rather than all-around color. Less dye comes in contact with your scalp, where the chemicals can cause irritation and even leach into the bloodstream and create complications: One study found that women who regularly use hair dye have twice the risk of bladder cancer.

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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.


+ add your own
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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