Commercial Hair Dyes: Are They Bad For You?

Whether you want to cover a few stray greys or find out if blondes really do have more fun, you'll need to use a permanent or semi-permanent hair dye to change your hair colour.

But if you're prone to allergies, or even just concerned about absorbing nasty chemicals, you might be worried about what's in hair dye that makes it work its magic. Hair colour contains chemicals that are known irritants, and rumours still persist that hair dye is linked to cancer. 

The hairy chemicals

To permanently colour the hair, hair dyes use a combination of the chemicals ammonia and hydrogen peroxide

The hydrogen peroxide works by bleaching out the natural colour and releasing oxygen, which allows chemical reactions to take place. 

The ammonia works by breaking down the outer cuticle around the hair shaft, allowing the other chemicals to enter the hair, where the colour development can take place. 

These chemicals are quite harsh and can harden and thin the hair, and they're also thought to irritate the skin, eyes and respiratory system

Other known irritants include: 

  • ethanolamine (monoethanolamine, diethanolamine etc), often used as an alternative in ammonia-free products 
  • resorcinol, which can sometimes cause allergies and can be irritating 
  • sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), which may dry or irritate your skin 
  • parabens, preservatives often questioned for their potential oestrogenic effects. They're not widely used in hair dye products, so excluding them isn't a strong selling point 
  • lead acetate, found in hair colour restorers rather than dyes. Lead is a neurotoxin and a suspected carcinogen. Studies have found that very little is absorbed into the blood through the scalp, though long-term cumulative effects haven't been studied. Bismuth citrate is sometimes used instead of lead acetate in hair colour restorers, and is thought to be less toxic 
  • para-phenylenediamine (PPD), toluene-2,5-diamine (TD) and toluene-2,5-diamine sulphate (TDS) can cause allergies. Symptoms range from a burning sensation and redness or rash, to weeping blisters, chemical burns and severe swelling of the face. Anaphylactic shock is rare but it happens. 

Allergic reaction

The symptoms of an allergic reaction to hair dye range from a burning sensation and redness or rash, to weeping blisters, chemical burns and severe swelling of the face. Anaphylactic shock is rare but it can happen. The allergic reaction can occur at any time - from the first time you use dye or suddenly, after many years of trouble-free use. These same allergens can be found in some henna hair products and henna tattoos

In a CHOICE test of home hair dye from 2007, five of the 113 triallists reported reactions to the dyes such as an itchy or stinging scalp, an itchy rash on the sides of the face and sensitivity to heat. Of the hair dyes tested, the ammonia and peroxide-free product delivered disappointing results.

So are there safer and more natural alternatives to commercial hair dyes?

Thankfully Yes. There are many Natural Choices if you wish to dye your own hair. 

You can find natural hair colour ranges  here: Beautiful Herbal Hair Dyes

.. Alternatively you may be able to find a hairdresser nearby who uses organic and natural dyes instead of the chemical ones.