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Do 'natural' and 'hair color' ever go together?

January 31st, 2008

By Harriet L. Blake

Can you be vain and green at the same time? That graying mane is often the first sign of aging. Looking old before your time is something most of us would like to avoid, but in an environmentally conscious world, is hair color even an option? And besides the environment, is hair color a health hazard?

hairpic.jpg
Photo by Robert Hart | Copyright © 2008 Noofangle Media

Hair dye can be bad on both fronts. Many hair color products are petroleum- based, not good for your hair or scalp, and because they are made from oil, a non-renewable resource, that’s a count against the environment.

These products often use chemicals – peroxide and ammonia – that are not good for your body. One of the harshest chemicals used is PPD (Para – Phenylenediamine), which is found in about 90 percent of hair color products on the market. PPD is a petroleum-derived dark dye, also known as coal tar, that is used in most permanent hair dyes. All of these chemicals can hurt your hair and scalp and cause hair loss, according to hairsite.com.

In addition, the Food and Drug Administration has said some PPD/coal-tar hair dye ingredients have been found to cause cancer in laboratory animals.

To make matters worse, and more confusing , there are a number of alternative names for PPD, making it hard for the consumer to tell if PPD is present in her favorite hair product. Some of the synonyms are: Paraphenylenediamine, 1,4-Benzenediamine, 1,4-Penylenediamine, Rodol™ D, Para-aminoaniline (p-aminoaniline), PPDA, Orsin™, Ursol™ D and Paradiaminobenzene.

The Organic Consumers Association has done extensive research on hair color. It takes warns that while the Food and Drug Administration oversees the safety of cosmetics sold in this country and can prevent the sale of any that are found harmful, that oversight does not include most hair dyes. Hair color made with PPD or coal-tar was given a special exemption from bans back in 1938. The association notes that the hair industry at that time was successful in lobbying for the product. As a result, manufacturers were required only to include a warning in labels that their products can cause skin irritation in certain allergic individuals.

So what’s safe? Hair coloring products run the gamut, from Clairol to Aveda. When asked about safety, a spokesman for Clairol responded, “there is nothing unsafe in our products.” She then proceeded to read from a corporate statement on hair color which said, in part:

“All of our products have been subjected to testing. Our dyes have been well-documented in epidiomology studies by the American Cancer Society and Harvard University. There are no elevated health risks and no casual relationship between cancer and hair dye. Clairol is committed to the well-being of our consumers.”

aveda.pngWebsite image: Aveda
Aveda’s website stresses its green awareness.

Then there’s Aveda, whose mission statement from founder Horst M. Rechalbacher, says: “Our mission at Aveda is to care for the world we live in, from the products we make to the ways in which we give back to society. At Aveda, we strive to set an example for environmental leadership and responsibility, not just in the world of beauty, but around the world.”

Dyana Brantley, a hairstylist for the Four Seasons Salon in Las Colinas near Dallas, says that in order for a product to be considered environmentally friendly, the product should be free of ammonia, peroxide and PPD. One solution for people who want to color their hair dark is the natural color, henna. Ms. Brantley describes henna as a strong stain “that delivers direct pigment which is what makes it cover the previous color.” But, she points out, “it also is hard to get out once it is in. And if you go back to regular color with peroxide or ammonia, it can be a disaster. Henna has been known to have metals and mineral that don’t react well with ammonia and peroxides.”

But all non-organic hair color products must use some sort of peroxide derivative, says Ms. Brantley. “The peroxide is the catalyst that opens the hair shaft to accept the color. The last 15 minutes sets the color and closes the hair shaft,” she explains. Henna doesn’t require a catalyst.

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