Recently I have been pondering to balayage my hair. With all the beautiful locks on Pinterest, it’s hard not to be enticed to try something new. But I was curious to know how good hair dye is for us and what happens once the foils come off and the products are washed down our drains?
The heavy-hitting, questionable ingredients commonly found in hair-colour formulas are ammonia, hydrogen peroxide and p-Phenylenediamine (PPD).
Ammonia: The ammonia pulls apart layers of hair proteins so that the dye can access the hair shaft. However, your hair is not the only thing it is pulling apart. When ammonia is incorrectly introduced to fish species (via our waterways) in lower concentrations it can result in poor growth, reduced fertility and increased stress. When exposed to excess ammonia, fish may suffer increased heart rate, gill and tissue damage, extreme lethargy, convulsions, coma and even death. Additionally, ammonia can have a direct toxic effect on vegetation by changing species composition. For humans, according to The New York Department of Health, “exposure to high concentrations of ammonia in air causes immediate burning of the eyes, nose, throat and respiratory tract and can result in blindness, lung damage or death. Inhalation of lower concentrations can cause coughing, and nose and throat irritation”. Yikes!
Hydrogen peroxide: hydrogen peroxide bleaches the hair and helps PPD, one of the primary colouring agents, become trapped in the hair. Although it is a naturally occurring chemical, hydrogen peroxide in high concentrations(>8% concentration) can cause skin burns and eye damage in humans and animals on contact and is harmful to aquatic life. When inhaled, it can cause irritation of the nose, throat and respiratory tract, and in small animals such as mice, it can cause death. Ensuring hydrogen peroxide is diluted and used correctly is key to keeping you and our animal friends safe.
PPD: Is found in most permanent hair colour, predominately in darker tones and is derived from petroleum. PPD is noted as one of the most toxic ingredients in hair dyes with a rating of seven out of ten in toxicity on ewg.org.
The European Union classifies PPD as a wildlife and environmental toxin, as an irritant, as toxic or harmful for use on skin, and as an immune system toxicant. The EPA classifies PPD as a known human respiratory toxicant and as generally toxic to animals in moderate doses, noting there are no low-dose animal studies.
So now we know what we are working with what are the alternatives?
The most straight forward alternative is keeping your natural hair colour. Although not glamorous, it is the most effective way to keep yourself and our animal friends safe.
The next best option is natural based plant dyes such as henna for darker colours, or the lemon juice method for lightening.
A few natural based plants dyes are:
If a traditional dye is still the best option, ask your hairdresser for ammonia, PPD and hydrogen peroxide-free alternatives (noting that hydrogen peroxide-free alternatives are unlikely where lightening of the hair is required). A few notable brands are:
With all hair dyes, natural or otherwise please make sure you do a patch test. The last thing anyone wants is to have an allergic reaction and end up looking like Will Smith in Hitch.