Toxic Colour

Photo: Benedek

It can be fun to change the colour of your hair, and covering the grey can take years off your face, but prolonged use of conventional hair dyes can also take years off your life.

More than just washing the grey out

In her popular environmental guide Ecoholic, Adria Vasil writes about reports from both the National Cancer Institute and the International Journal of Cancer that found people who use permanent hair dyes (especially brown and black shades) have an increased risk for developing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, liver ailments, skin and bladder cancer. The problem is the chronic exposure to chemical ingredients like PPD (p-phenylenediamine) and diaminobezene: toxins that can accumulate in the human body. If you've been dyeing your hair with conventional products for more than 15 years, your chances of developing cancer are three times higher than non-dyers. Other hair dye ingredients like ammonia, lead, mercury, ethanolamine, peroxide and the coal-tar derived chemicals in aniline dyes can cause allergic reactions, respiratory distress and when used in the eye area, even blindness.

Healthy colour

Now may be the time to switch to the less toxic, semi-permanent hair dyes on the market, available in most health food stores. Herbatint makes a vegetable-based, semi-permanent line that is ammonia and PPD free. Ecocolors uses small amounts of ammonia and peroxide in a soy and flax base, but it is free of sulfites -- the standard preservative to which most people are allergic. Both Naturcolor and Naturtint are ammonia free and low in PPD. Virtually any henna-based product, like Light Mountain Natural Hair Color, will be a less toxic choice for darkening your hair. As well, you could consider finding one of the Aveda concept salons which use semi-permanent and permanent hair dyes that are 97 percent plant-based.

Grandma's secret recipe

Consider experimenting with traditional methods used by our great-grandmothers and time-tested over hundreds of years. To lighten your locks, try combing lemon juice into your hair and either sun-baking or blow-drying it. The book Natural Beauty (Orbis Publishing, l985) recommends making an herbal infusion (like making a strong tea) for hair colour. To darken grey hair, use 56 grams (4 tablespoons) in 474 ml (1 pint) of boiling water in an iron pot. Add 2.5 grams (1/2 tsp) each of powdered cloves and borax. Cover and let this mixture steep for one to two hours, strain off the infused water and use it as an after-shampoo rinse, pouring it over your head repeatedly, using two bowls. For red highlights, put a handful of marigold flowers and a pinch of saffron strands in a pint of boiling water in a ceramic or glass pot. Let this steep for 2 hours, strain, and use as a rinse as above.