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 gogreensalon.com.
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.
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.