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Organic Hair Dye Is a Myth—But You Can Still Find Clean Hair Color

Audrey Noble
Photo credit: Alex_Doubovitsky

From Harper's BAZAAR

Brands will slap the words "natural" and "organic" on just about anything these days, and big strides have been made in the beauty space toward creating cleaner, non-toxic products. But there's one area that's still ripe for green innovation: hair dye. Does organic and natural hair dye even exist? We asked Rob Peetoom, advanced stylist Michael Bowman, and New York City master colorist at IGK salon Stephanie Brown to separate fact from fiction.

Sorry: 100% Organic Hair Dye Doesn't Exist

It's sad but true: fully organic professional hair color does not exist. “You can have naturally-derived ingredients, but for it to work you still need a chemical process to happen,” says Bowman.

Brown says the only one hundred percent natural hair color is vegetable dye and certain brands of henna. “Hair dye must contain chemicals in order to work properly,” she adds. Just be aware that neither vegetable dye nor henna provide adequate gray coverage and can take hours longer to process. She also warns that henna can dry out hair over time.

If you're looking for long-lasting results and vibrant color, you're going to need a few non-organic chemical compounds. “Some direct dyes are more naturally-based but they will only last five to seven shampoos and only enhance your natural color. These natural dyes will only deposit, not lift hair color and are used for a glossing or toning affect," Bowman adds.

Hair Dye is Safe, Though

Both Bowman and Brown agree that hair dye is still completely safe even if it's not 100% natural or certified organic (because, let's not forget, water is also a chemical). According to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, color additives must be approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before they are used in cosmetic products, including hair dye. Brown says that all hair coloring products on the market currently are approved by the FDA and/or include a warning about potential allergic reactions. Bowman recommends researching a company to see what regulations they use when creating hair dye if you want to be sure what you’re using is eco-friendly and safe to use.

The Cleaner Hair Dye Options

The first step in seeking out an environmentally-conscious hair coloring routine is to know which ingredients to avoid. Brown says the two most common hair dye ingredients to try to avoid are ammonia and p-phenylenediamine (PPDA or pPD). She explains that the latter is found in most dark (brown, black) hair dyes, and has been known to cause severe-though rare-allergic reactions. The only way to know you're allergic to PPDA is to actually have a reaction, which is why a skin patch test 24 hours before slathering a dye all over your scalp is usually a great idea, especially if you've been prone to contact dermatitis or other skin conditions in the past.

In addition to asking your salon about the ingredients in their hair dye, you’ll also want to look for color brands that are cruelty-free. Brown lists Overtone, Smart Beauty, and IGK as some of her favorite brands that do not test on animals. She also likes Aveda and Lush and says both brands are committed to sustainable packaging. Bowman likes to use Davines hair color at the Rob Peetoom salon.

So while fully organic hair dye may not exist, it doesn’t mean you can’t find suitable options if you want to change up your hair color. You just have to do your homework on it first.

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