Ready for a change? You can transform your looks with milder products that minimize potential carcinogens. Of course, it’s impossible to achieve enduring color with zero chemicals–but natural options are on the up and up. Remember to always test for allergies by applying a small patch behind your ear and letting it sit for 24 hours, and dye a few strands before you commit to the color.
Permanent dyes open and penetrate the cuticle to infuse your locks with color that stays vibrant until hair grows out. Many products, though, contain resorcinol–a known irritant–or petroleum-based coal tar to make color last longer. “In lab studies, contaminants such as benzopyrene in coal tar have been associated with cancers,” says Kristan Markey, a chemist and research analyst for the Environmental Working Group, “and resorcinol is a possible endocrine disrupter. But long-term risks are less clear.” For a more healthful approach, search out brands that use minimal amounts of ammonia, hydrogen peroxide, coal tar, and parabens. “Changing hair is complex chemistry,” says Markey, “you’re doing reactions, and you need to know what’s in your products.” Note that ammonia- and peroxide-free dyes won’t lighten natural hair color and are best used for darkening and blending gray.
To steer clear of petroleum byproducts and other carcinogens altogether, look for a semipermanent (sometimes called temporary) dye or color-enhancing rinse that contains botanical hues that coat hair cuticles rather than opening them. Semipermanent shades are perfect for those who want to test a less dramatic look: Chamomile and lemon extract make blond tones richer; henna enhances red highlights; and walnut or coffee bean extract will bring out brunettes” depth. No matter what color you’re going for, look for products containing sunflower seed extract to help protect color from fading. Semipermanent tints will last for four to six weeks while rinses need to be reapplied with every wash.
A luster-enhancing botanical famously used by Cleopatra, henna is a powder derived from the ground leaves of the Middle Eastern Lawsonia inermis shrub. In its natural state, the dye is a deep, rich red, but it can be combined with other plant-based hues for a wide range of shades. The catch: Henna coats hair shafts and may disrupt the effectiveness of perms and permanent dyes.
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