There are a number of so-called ‘natural’ hair dye brands that use the catch-phrase ‘Ammonia-free’ to attract customers. This makes it sound as though you should want your hair dye to be ammonia-free. But do you really? Read on…
WHY DO WE NEED AMMONIA IN A HAIR DYE PRODUCT?
Ammonia is used to open up the cuticles of the hair so hair dyes may penetrate inside the hair. In order to achieve this goal, something corrosive, such as ammonia, has to be used. As you can imagine, this process is damaging to your hair.
All permanent hair colors have to open up the hair cuticles, which is what makes the color stay longer and cover even the most resistant grey hair. In other words, something corrosive is used to make the hair color permanent.
IS AMMONIA HARMFUL?
It is definitely damaging to the hair, because of the process described above. And also damaging in that it can cause:
- eye, nose and throat irritation
- breathing difficulty, wheezing, or chest pain
- pulmonary edema, pink frothy sputum
- burns and blisters
Ammonia has however, not been proven to increase cancer risk or disrupt our hormones.
The Environmental Working Group rates ammonia a 4-6 (on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being the most toxic), depending on the way it is used, see https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ingredient/700353/AMMONIA/
WHEN A HAIR DYE BRAND BOASTS THAT IS ‘AMMONIA-FREE’ WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?
First of all, you need to find out if that hair color brand is classified as a permanent hair color.
If it is NOT a permanent hair color (they are called semi- or demi-permanent), ammonia is not needed in the first place. This is like saying “plastic-free” on a glass product.
The reason semi- or demi-permanent hair colors do not need ammonia is that they do not need to open up the cuticles of the hair. Instead, they coat the hair, so it is a less damaging process.
SO HOW DO AMMONIA-FREE PERMANENT HAIR DYES WORK?
Because all permanent hair colors have to open up the hair cuticles, something else that performs this function has to be used.
If ammonia is not used, ethanolamine is used instead.
WHAT IS ETHANOLAMINE?
Ethanolamine is also a corrosive chemical. It has to be in order to fulfill the same function – opening up the hair cuticles.
It is not surprising that ethanolamine has an ammonia-like smell, too, although the smell is not as strong as ammonia.
IS ETHANOLAMINE SAFER THAN AMMONIA?
Because ethanolamine is a newer chemical, it has not been evaluated for cancer risks yet.
There is evidence, though, that ethanolamine might increase the risk of birth defects, which is a big deal. I highly recommend if you are pregnant, or planning to become pregnant, avoid using ammonia-free hair colors.
In comparison, ammonia has not been known either to increase the risk of cancer or to disrupt hormones.
The Environmental Working Group website rates ethanolamine as 5-6, which is slightly worse than ammonia’s rating of 4-6.
DOES AMMONIA OR ETHANOLAMINE DAMAGE THE HAIR MORE?
Ethanolamine has been shown to damage hair more than ammonia, in some extreme cases as much as 85% more. And ethanolamine has been shown to cause more hair loss than ammonia.
You would think that since ammonia has a stronger smell, it would be more corrosive and thus damage the hair more, but this is not the case.
You might want to ask a hairstylist who has had experience using both ammonia-containing and ammonia-free hair colors which hair color damages the hair more. Make sure though that the hairstylist is not bound by contractual terms with an ammonia-free hair color brand so they will have an independent opinion.
I also noticed an interesting correlation that normally ammonia-free hair color brands claim to be organic, natural, plant-derived, naturally-derived, and even certified organic. Misleading or what?
In closing, I would recommend avoiding all chemical hair dyes. Use Love My Hair 100% Herbal dyes instead! But if you are going to use a chemical dye (that is not a Love My Hair Low Chemical dye – which don’t contain ammonia or ethanolamine), rather use one that contains ammonia, and avoid ethanolamine like the plague.
Herbal dyes strengthen and reinforce hair. Sometimes these dyes can make certain hair types feel ‘dry’. This feeling is temporary and has little to do with moisture or lack thereof, and more to do with temporary changes to the hair’s physical structure.
A strand of hair is made up of a cuticle layer (consisting of tiny scales of overlapping keratin) over a central core. The cuticle layer is extremely important in regulating moisture within the core. It is tighter and thicker near the scalp, where the hair is newly grown and has not yet had time to experience damage. Nearer to the ends, the hair is older and often has a thinner cuticle layer that is more jagged. Split ends are the result of the complete loss of the cuticle layer, and the splitting apart of the inner core.
Hair that has been exposed to chemical processes such as bleaching, will have cuticles that are damaged and rough. The weather can also temporarily effect the cuticles. On windy days the friction causes the cuticles to lift, which makes the strands tangle as the lifted cuticles catch onto one another. Humid/rainy weather can cause the cuticles to become raised, which leads to the appearance of frizz.
What We Interpret as ‘Dry and Damaged’ vs. ‘Smooth and Healthy’
When the cuticles are raised, the hair feels coarser and less manageable. We often misinterpret this texture as ‘dryness’, believing that the hair is lacking moisture. As mentioned above, moisture itself can sometimes cause raised cuticles, so clearly this is not the case. It is simply a temporary change in the physical shape of the hair strands as a reaction to their environment.
Similarly, just because hair is artificially smoothed with silicones and glycerols, does not necessarily mean that the hair is healthier or more moisturized than it was prior to conditioning. As most of us are used to store-bought hair care products, we tend to think that tangled, crunchy feeling hair indicated dryness, and smooth, sleek hair indicates moisture.
What happens to hair during a herbal hair dye treatment
During a herbal dye treatment, moisture from the paste, along with the dye molecules move into the cuticle. The dye bonds to the keratin and this process plumps the cuticle, pushing each cuticle away from the others. In addition, sometimes not all the dye is rinsed out and these two factors are what can cause the sensation of roughness for some hair types after a herbal dye treatment. As the dye molecules settle into their places and oxidise, and as the remnants of the dye powder leave the hair, the feeling of roughness decreases.
The pigments in the herbal dyes (henna/lawsone, indigo/indigotin) coat and stain the keratin in the cuticles which strengthens and reinforces the hair. The added reinforcement prevents breakage and balances moisture levels. Hair that has been dyed with herbal dyes can still absorb outside moisture (unlike hair that has been coated with silicones), and it can be treated with chemical dyes, lighteners, and relaxers as long as very pure herbal dyes (like Love My Hair) have been used. Herbal dyes that are not pure may contain metallic salts and other chemical adulterants that will react badly to other chemical treatments.
How to fix rough hair after a herbal dye treatment
Here are some ways to help your hair feel smoother, softer, and more manageable sooner after dyeing your hair with herbal dyes.
Make sure that you have rinsed all the dye out before you shampoo. This can be done by submerging your hair in a bathtub, or with a strong shower.
After rinsing work conditioner through your rinsed hair. This will help any remaining paste to slip out more easily. Rinse with fresh water and repeat if necessary, until the hair feels smooth, then wash and dry your hair as you normally would. Washing will not cause anything to loosen except for leftover dye. It is however, best to avoid products containing essential oils (e.g. tea tree or peppermint essential oil) for this initial wash as these tend to loosen the indigo content out of the hair too soon.
If you prefer not to use conditioner, diluted apple cider vinegar will help to smooth the hair and close the cuticle. Rinsing with cool water also helps the cuticle to tighten and close.
Because the texture of the hair after herbal dyes is so frequently mistaken as dryness, some people choose to add ingredients such as coconut milk or oil, egg, milk, yogurt, and other plant oils to their herbal dye mix to prevent this feeling of dryness. This is unnecessary and these ingredients inhibit proper dye uptake.
Herbal dyes are so much better for our hair and bodies than chemical dyes. Love My Hair 100% Herbal dyes are certified organic and finely sifted for maximum purity and ease of use. They not only dye your hair, but also contain non-dyeing herbs to improve scalp condition and follicle health.
— thanks to Ancient Sunrise Henna for some information.
Ok, thats it! I’m going blond!
I tested the 100% Herbal blond recipe yesterday and I’m so pleased with the result.
My ever-increasing grey hair (why is grey hair always at the front of one’s head?) was beautifully covered and given a golden blond shade. It is so pretty that I think its time to kiss my brunette hair goodbye. And a big plus…. my dry, curly hair is now beautifully soft and shiny :).
Like all completely herbal dyes, my new mixture won’t lighten my dark hair but with repeated applications on my roots I will eventually go back to my teenage blond.
Here’s the golden recipe
5 heaped tablespoons Cassia powder
1 heaped tablespoon Light Auburn hair dye
half a teaspoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice
enough hot water to make a creamy paste (similar to pancake batter)
Mix it all up and apply as per the instructions for the 100% Herbal dye… I left it on for 1.5 hours.
And Yippeeee! Welcome to the Golden Years!
(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/.
(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!
Love My Hair is a range of plant-based hair dyes and treatments. There are three ranges, the 100% Herbal dyes, the Low Chemical dyes and the Herbal Extracts. The dyes give rich colour and contain herbs selected to nourish your hair and scalp.
Love My Hair is certified organic and Halal, approved by Beauty Without Cruelty and is vegan.