(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 a well-known hair care company 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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