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To dye for

(Article published in Wellness Magazine April 2016)

It’s alarming to note that common products we use without thinking may contain harmful chemicals. These can build up in our systems and can be damaging to our health. Hair dye is one of the culprits. Here is some information on chemicals to look out for.

Chemicals are fairly new on the hair dye scene. For thousands of years, we have used plants like henna, indigo and woad to dye our hair and skin.

The first chemical dyes were synthesized from coal tar in the 1860s and in 1947 Schwarzkopf launched its first chemical home hair colouring product.  Since then the colour range and use of chemical hair dyes has expanded exponentially.

Our quick fix culture loves their fast action and colour reliability, especially when covering grey hair, but these come with a price tag of possible health problems and allergic reactions.

As awareness of these health issues grows, more people want to switch to healthier options for colouring their hair. It helps to know which ingredients to avoid.

Lets start with the big bad wolf of hair dye chemicals… Para-phenylenediamine or PPD. This compound belongs to a family of chemicals called Arylamines or Para-dyes. All these dyes are synthesized from coal tar. They offer a vast colour range, are permanent, quick and easy to use. All permanent chemical hair dyes, without exception, contain one or more of the Para-dyes. The darker the hair dye shade, the higher the quantities of Para-dye it contains.

If you’ve ever had a burning reaction to hair dye with redness, blistering and welts, you were probably reacting to one of these chemicals.

Sometimes these Para-dyes are dressed up in sheep’s clothing, and when your health is on the line, it pays to dig a little deeper (or read the fine print).  Chemicals such as p-toluenediamine, p-aminodiphenylamine, M-aminophenol, P-methyl aminophenol sulfate, 2,4-diaminoanisole and para-aminophenol are all Para-dyes and will cause adverse reactions in those sensitive to these types of chemicals. A chemical hair dye claiming to be Para-phenylenediamine (PPD) free will undoubtedly contain one or more of the other Para-dyes.

Another well-known gang of baddies are the Resorcinol chemicals. Like the Para-dyes these chemicals are known skin irritants and are also endocrine disruptors, causing damage particularly to the thyroid gland. Resorcinol is a dihydroxy benzene, which comes from crude oil. Some sheep to look out for here are 4-chlororesorcinol and 2-chlororesorcinol.  All Resorcinol chemicals should be avoided.

Other chemicals to be on the lookout for are all ingredient listings containing the word ‘toluene’, for example Toluene-2,5-diamine sulfate, ingredients containing Naphthol, for example 1-Naphthol, and the Ethanolamine chemicals.

Also watch out for so-called ‘henna’ that comes in different shades, as very often this contain chemicals.  Pure henna can only make hair orange. To achieve chemical-free brunette shades henna can be mixed with indigo, both of which come from plants.

Having now thoroughly put you off ever dyeing your hair with chemicals again, it should be noted that if chosen well and used carefully, chemical hair dyes do offer a very reliable and quick way of colouring your hair, particularly if you want to cover grey. Choose dyes that have few chemical ingredients in low doses and ideally you should do a skin patch test every time you dye your hair with chemicals. If you have ever had an allergic reaction to a chemical hair dye, it is best to avoid them completely.

Become an avid label reader. There is plenty of information on the internet and a very handy guide is the Environmental Working Group’s cosmetic database called Skin Deep http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/.

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Back to your roots

(Article published in Wellness Magazine November 2015)

Fancy some squashed tadpoles and goat fat smeared on your hair?  Not very appealing.  If we were living in the Middle Ages or Ancient Egypt when these hair dye ingredients were commonly used, we would just have to grin and bear it.

Our ancestors also experimented with equally unpleasant chemical dyes.  In the early 1600’s people were lightening their hair with “Oyle of Vitrioll”, otherwise known as sulfuric acid, and ancient Greeks and Romans mixed lead oxide and calcium hydroxide to make black hair dye. When the lead proved too toxic the recipe was changed to incorporate fermented leeches!

Thankfully, there was also experimentation with plant extracts and 5000 years ago Egyptians and Indians were using a variety of botanical extracts to dye and condition their hair, including henna, indigo, amla, shikakai, turmeric and alfalfa. The ancient Babylonians believed that henna had magical properties and attracted good spirits. The plant was widely regarded as a symbol of good luck and health and was used to adorn the hair and skin in celebrations.

Henna (Lawsonia inermis), indigo (Indigofera tinctoria), amla (Emblica officinalis) and shikakai (Acacia concinna) are still in use today as effective hair dyes, hair conditioners and as Ayurvedic treatments. It is now becoming more widely known that these plants not only colour and condition hair but also benefit the whole body.  Perhaps the Babylonians were not far wrong.

Henna maintains the acid-alkaline balance of the scalp which helps to eliminate dandruff, itchiness and premature hair loss.  It binds to the keratin protein in hair and colours hair by coating each strand in a protective film. This seals and repairs the hair cuticle, reducing breakage and giving hair a lovely shine.

Henna is not only good for hair though, it can be used to cool burns and sooth ringworm, eczema and fungal infections. An oil made from henna flowers is used in Ayurvedic medicine to relieve muscle aches, and the seeds are used in deodorants and to regulate menstruation.

Indigo is also a well-known herb in Ayurvedic treatments.  It has been used for centuries to treat depression, respiratory problems and to detoxify the liver. Modern research has shown that a tincture of indigo helps to remove carbon tetrachloride, found in cleaning agents and aerosols, from the liver. A paste made from the leaves helps heal sores and ulcers.

When henna and indigo are used together, they dye hair in rich shades of red to black.

Amla contains high levels of vitamin C and A as well as essential fatty acids.  It promotes hair growth, helps to prevent dandruff and makes hair shiny and smooth. Shikakai is anti-fungal, balances the pH of the scalp and makes hair glossy.

When it comes to dying our hair, going back to our roots has many advantages.  Whether or not we choose to believe that using henna attracts good luck and health, there can be no doubt that using plant extracts to dye and condition our hair not only nourishes our hair, it also helps to reduce the chemical load on our bodies and the environment. This can only bring good health!