3 Questions About Hair Dye & 3 Reasons To Ditch It

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do you know what's in your hair dye-

Written by Ronnie Citron-Fink

First, listen to this Green Divas Confessions episode with Green Divas Meg and Lynn…

A quick synopsis of my hair color story…

When I started dyeing my very dark brown hair in my early 30’s, my colorist applied semi-permanent hair color to cover a few gray strands. Five years later, the semi-permanent color no longer provided coverage, so we switched to permanent hair dye. To compliment my “natural” lifestyle, I chose a “natural” chestnut hair color. People often commented how young I looked. I loved it!

For almost two decades, my colorist applied this “natural” hair dye…until one day I asked to see the ingredient list on the box and the tube. One ingredient stood out: PPD, para-Phenylenediamine. As part of the Moms Clean Air Force team, I’ve participated in many meetings with environmental science and policy health experts. Wasn’t PPD the ingredient thought to be carcinogenic? I knew personal care products were a $50-billion industry in the U.S., and was also concerned about the chemical regulatory system. I’ve discovered through my policy work that while we expect our elected officials to pass strong regulations to protect citizens from those who would benefit financially from poisoning us, it is not always the case.

This environmental wake-up call had my head spinning. I loved my hair color! Even so, I found I could no longer reconcile what I suspected about the harmful chemicals in hair dye, and what my perceived notion of “natural” beauty was.

As a silver skunk line quickly took up residency on my part, I realized my ego hadn’t quite caught up with my deep-seated environmental health beliefs. That dichotomy was the reason I started writing a book about women’s relationship to hair color and its possible health concerns.

3 Reasons I Ditched the Dye

1. Cancer

More than 5,000 chemicals, some carcinogenic in animals, are used in hair dyes. Hair dye is directly absorbed through the scalp, a rich blood supply that gets carried throughout the body. The American Cancer Society says that The National Toxicology Program (NTP) has classified some chemicals that are, or were, used in hair dyes as “reasonably anticipated to be human carcinogens.”

2. Regulation

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates the safety of hair dyes. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), the FDA “does little to regulate ingredient safety, it has authorized the cosmetics industry to police itself through its Cosmetics Ingredient Review panel.” 

3. Other Countries

Some chemicals in hair dye are banned in other countries and not in the U.S. PPD (a coal-tar derivative) is banned in Germany, France, and Sweden and restricted in other countries.

3 Questions About Hair Dye to Think About

1. What should I ask my hair colorist? 

First, find out what type of hair dye the colorist uses and ask to read the label.

Since hair dye varies in chemical make-up, know what your scalp is soaking in and what you’re breathing. Even with temporary dyes, some women react adversely to breathing fumes from the aromatic colorless substances that mask chemical smells.

2. How often is it safe to color?

This was an issue for me because I needed to touch-up my part every few weeks. It’s not clear how much hair dye accumulation ups your cancer risk, but most doctors agree that limiting exposure, especially during pregnancy or if allergy-sensitive, is a good measure.

3. Should salon colorists be more concerned?

The strongest evidence I read came from epidemiological studies that found an increased risk of bladder cancer among hairdressers with high occupational exposure to the chemicals in hair dye. Women’s Voices for the Earth provides a terrific report on toxic chemicals and salon workers. Also, if you color your hair at home, your best defense is to wear gloves.

While it was not easy to transition my long dark hair from chemically-dyed to truly “natural,” I could not be happier now. My hair is shiny, cheap to maintain (!) and most importantly, healthy. And, as we all know, nothing looks as good as healthy feels!

ronnie citron-fink with natural, silver hair colorRonnie Citron-Fink is a writer, editor and educator. She is the managing editor of Moms Clean Air Force. She has written and edited thousands of articles about green living and the environment for websites, books and magazines. Ronnie is the creator of Econesting.

Her posts can also be found on Huffington Post, Care2, Planet Green, Inhabitat, Yahoo!Green, Treehugger and other sites. Ronnie was named one of the Top Ten Living Green Experts by Yahoo. She has been a contributor to Family Fun and is included in their books. Ronnie was a teacher for many years and is the mother of two children. 

image via shutterstock.com

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Conscious Consumer, Eco-Style, GD Ticker, Green Divas Radio Show, Healthy Living, Natural Beauty

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  1. megan@thegreendivas.com'
    Green Diva Meg August 2, 2015 at 8:58 am -  Reply

    Ronnie, great post. if my natural hair color looked like yours, i would be thrilled, but alas my hair is a very dull grey/brown. although maybe it’s time . . .

  2. ronnie@econesting.com'
    Ronnie August 2, 2015 at 10:24 am -  Reply

    Thank you, Green Divas, for the opportunity to write about why I ditched the color! And thanks Meg for the sweet comment. I had no idea how “silver” my hair was because my hairdresser kept telling me I was all dark in the back. I thought it would look awful – silver up front, dark brown in the back. She was wrong – or maybe she was worried she’d lose my business – twice a month root touch-ups!

    It should be noted that I do not judge those who color. My mother, my best friend, and most of the women I know and love, color their hair. Hey, I colored my hair for 25 years. It’s difficult for women to ditch the dye and not feel like they’ve thrown in the towel. The beauty culture is build around looking young. But I’m living testament that “silver” (no gray for me) hair doesn’t make you feel or look older. So, if I can inspire women to be the healthiest they can be, I’ll keep writing about it!

  3. Rachel August 2, 2015 at 12:47 pm -  Reply

    Great article Ronnie! One solution to the conundrum is henna. I just started hennaing my hair and wrote about it in Mommy Greenest–I love it!! All natural, the color is great, and my hair gets a deep conditioning to boot 🙂

  4. sweetpeaandpod@gmail.com'
    Green Bean August 2, 2015 at 1:13 pm -  Reply

    I decided never to dye it after my mom – after years of dying it – had a major allergic reaction. Her face was completely swollen for a week and that was the least of it. These are more great reasons.

  5. ronnie@econesting.com'
    Ronnie Citron-Fink August 2, 2015 at 5:17 pm -  Reply

    Thanks, Rachel and Green Bean!

    Rachel, I never considered henna, although I knew it was chemical-free, because I thought it left hair looking one dimensional matt-colored – also heard it was a messy process. But your hair looks great. Would love to know what brand you use – not for me, but I’d like to include it in the book. Heading over to Mommy Greenest now…

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