Monday, April 12, 2010

Do you colour your hair? Switch to eco-friendly (and less toxic) alternatives

In my life, the last thing to go green was my hair. Chemically-speaking I was taking much better care of my lawn than I was my own hair…which probably sounds ridiculous but the truth is that for the longest time I ignored the fact that covering up my grey hair was a toxic habit.

I doubt anyone would be truly surprised that hair colour is toxic, considering the eye-watering smell. Almost all hair colourant (temporary, semi-permanent, and permanent), contains a laundry list of petrochemicals and other toxins. In particular hair dye contains ammonia and p-Phenylenediamine (PPD for short) and although there are concerns associated with both of these chemicals it appears that PPD is the most worrisome. PPD is on Health Canada’s “Hot List” (Health Canada’s term, not mine) a list of prohibited and restricted cosmetic ingredients and as such manufacturers are required to list warnings on both the inside and the outside of the packaging.

There is a lot of research to back up worries about hair dye. A number of studies link higher instances of multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma to prolonged use of hair dye, particularly deeper colours. According to another study, those who use permanent hair dye are twice as likely to develop bladder cancer as those who don’t and yet another study links long-term use of hair dye with ovarian cancer. Allergic reactions to PPD are also well documented.

Permanent dye is more toxic than semi-permanent and darker tints are more toxic than lighter tints. If you’re someone who lightens their hair you still need to worry, just not as much.

The truly green thing to do would be to let my hair go grey at its own pace. But since I’m not ready for that I went looking for a less toxic dye that wouldn’t keep me up at night with worry and would keep my hair its previously natural colour.

I have found two salon brands that are ammonia-free with lower concentrations of PPD. So far I have tried a Schwarkopf product called Essensity that has no odor and covers my grey just fine. Next I’ll try Aveda hair colour. They offer a range of products that are 93% to 99% plant-based.

If you prefer the do-it-yourself kits, experiment with some alternatives to mainstream brands that contain lower concentration of the worst chemicals. Try a less-toxic brand like Herbatint permanent or semi-permanent hair dye. Both are ammonia-free, the permanent has low concentrations of PPD and the semi-permanent is PPD-free. Naturcolor is another brand to look for.

Then there is always henna. Made from the leaves of a desert shrub you can’t get more natural and non-toxic than that.

If you’re going to stick with your regular brand be sure to heed the warning label, including the safe-use instructions, don’t leave the hair dye on any longer than directed by the package, always wear gloves when you apply hair dye, rinse your scalp well (and cross your fingers).

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