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Last updated on November 30th, 2016
All chemical hair dyes (including Organic Color Systems) have toxic chemicals that damage the hair and may potentially cause allergy or increase the risk of autoimmune disease or even cancer. Swedish researchers found a link between permanent hair dyes and rheumatoid arthritis.
The good news is that there is a truly organic hair dye I tried recently, and I’d like to share my experience with you. Last week, I applied it for the first time, and I achieved the hair color I’d wanted for a long time. See the picture on the right.
How Hair Dyes are Made and Regulated
The hair dyes used in most hair dye products are derived from petroleum and coal tar. The FDA normally does not test products itself, but these products are so potentially dangerous that it makes exception for petroleum and coal tar dyes used in food. Hair dyes are not tested and certified by the FDA; they are only subject to the FDA’s approval.
Permanent Hair Dyes Damage the Hair
While research on the long-term health effects of hair dyes is scarce and conflicting, the damage they do to the hair is more agreed upon. There are two things that have to happen for a permanent hair dye to work. First, the hair cuticle has to be lifted so the hair dye gets into the hair shaft. The hair cuticle, the outer layer of protection, is not meant to be lifted, so it gets damaged. Another thing that has to happen is that your current hair color pigment gets destroyed. You won’t see the damage because the hair dyes coat your hair making your hair smooth and shiny. You will see the damage when the hair dye comes off your hair.
Three More Things to Know Before You Use Hair Dyes
I had used hair dyes since I was 25. I wish I knew back then what I know now. I understand that we all want to be beautiful and have fun in life. I do not want to stop you from it. What I want is for you to make educated choices. The more I dig deeper, the more I understand that we can’t eliminate toxins from our lives. But we can reduce toxins to the amounts that our bodies can handle. Here is what you need to know about hair dyes to decide if you can handle them.
- Darker permanent hair dyes are generally more toxic than lighter colors
- Hair dyes may expose you to elevated levels of heavy metals
- If you are pregnant, your doctor will advise you against using hair dyes in the first trimester. In addition, however, and what doctors don’t tell you is that a female egg is more sensitive to environmental toxins in the 3 months before it is ovulated. (This information is provided by Myrto Ashe, MD, MPH.)
What My Hair Looked Like
Right after I had a baby, I started getting a few gray hairs. Please see the picture. Also, the hair close to the scalp was dark brown, while the rest of the hair was much lighter, almost a copper color from sun exposure and as a result of the last time I dyed it with chemical hair dye about one year ago (I wish I didn’t do that). So, naturally I wanted my hair to be more uniform.
I decided to use 100% henna
After I received a lot of encouraging comments from my blog readers, I decided to try henna. Henna is fine powder of dried and crushed leaves of the Lawsonia inermis plant. When darker color is desired, indigo can be used along with henna. Indigo is a powder, too, made from dried and crushed leaves of the Indigofera tinctoria plant.
Is henna safe?
As with everything, if something is truly natural or even certified organic, it can’t be assumed that is absolutely safe. If a plant is powerful enough to affect a change, the flip side of the coin is that it may also be powerful enough to cause harm. Henna is approved by the FDA to be used as hair color, but it’s not approved by the FDA for tattoos or color around the eyes. There is no information about indigo on the FDA’s website.
In 2005, the European Scientific Commission on Consumer Products assessed the safety of henna as a hair dye and concluded, “The SCCP is of the opinion that the information submitted is insufficient to assess the safe use of the substance as a hair dye.” As a result of conflicting results, more in vitro studies are needed to determine whether henna may be genotoxic” (which may lead to cancer). I am still trying to understand why the studies are performed in vitro where the cells do not have the protective layer of the skin. This is not how we use plant powders, extracts, or oils. (In my research experience, most in vitro studies find a link betweens plants and genotoxicity.) This study, for instance, found that orally administered henna to mice has anti-cancerous properties.
Why I decided to use henna
- Henna does not have the same environmental concerns that chemical dyes do.
- This study found that henna has low levels of lead ranging from 2.29 ppm to 65.98 ppm. The full study states that only black henna has lead content in double digits. My understanding is that pure henna can’t be black, meaning that lead probably comes from added materials, not from the henna itself.
- Allergic contact dermatitis caused by pure henna is very rare according to an article published in Allergy Journal (volume 56 (10) – Oct. 2001).
One More Thing to Know About Henna
When buying henna, make sure that it is pure henna without added chemicals to it, such as PPD. Watch out for black henna.
How I Applied Henna
I watched numerous videos online, talked to a lot of hairdressers, and experimented with the strands of my hair. I concluded that in my case I need 100% henna without indigo.
I was lucky to find a hairdresser who applied henna. I wanted to go to a professional to see how she does it, but next time I will probably do it at home. She mixed henna with brewed coffee, waited for 10 min, and applied it to my hair. She applied it only where I had darker hair. And I spent 20 minutes under a hair dryer.
The Result of Henna Application
I am very happy with the result. I have uniform hair with a dark copper tint. The gray hairs turned golden (see the picture) and became attractive highlights. Henna is also a great conditioner, making the hair shiny and healthy.
Everybody has different hair and color preferences, so there are a lot of different recipes out there. Some of you shared your recipes. Here are two recipes that you might find helpful, either because you have more gray hair than I do or you do not like reddish overtones.
I adore henna, I will never go back to poison! I use a 50:50 mix of henna/indigo to get brown. You do the henna powder with a bit of lemon and water and I add cloves for scent the night before you dye to let it do its thing overnight. Then mix indigo about 20 min before you start with nice warm water. Then mix the two. I found about six hours to get good grey coverage for me. I saran wrap and cover with a towel to keep things warm. It entertains my toddler to no end. There is little difference from my natural color after the first week and my grey turns golden and I loveee it! Yes you have to plan and commit time, but it is worth it I think, I’ve never had a dye I have been so happy with.
I should say I use the indigo because tinting my hair reddish would make my husband super unhappy haha. What I read is indigo doesn’t stick to hair well, but it sticks to henna. Henna would do the work sticking to the hair. Don’t know if its true, but it has been great for me. Do strand tests using hair out of your hairbrush and a tiny bit of powder to decide how long to leave it and what percentages you like. Anything less them half and half was too red for me. I put the hair and gooed it up good in a sandwich bag in my pocket to keep it warm. Worked out well, I did a few with different percentages and rinsed them at four and six hours. I just did my roots for three hours and the gold over grey is a little pale, but it still worked out.
Yes you can cover grey with henna!! I am living proof… I decided to give up box and salon color for my health and did exhaustive research on this. If you do a two-step henna color process it works!! And I don’t have red hair now either! My 70% grey hair is VERY stubborn (I am 48) and I was feeling hopeless until I learned about Color the Grey by Light Mountain (I think a few other henna kits may use a two step process) and while it is time consuming (and messy -read all the Amazon reviews for tips) I couldn’t be happier with the color (I use Light Brown and achieve a med to dark brown with slight auburn highlights where the grey used to be). I put step one on for about 30 minutes, rinse then apply the second step for 45-60 minutes. So using this kit I only have henna on my head for a total of 1-2 hours. After coloring my whole head twice I now only do the roots. My hair is stronger, less frizzy, thicker and shinier. I get compliments on the shine and color all the time. It took me so long to figure this option out, I want to let more people know you don’t have to go grey!!
Where to Buy Henna
As you can see, you can make henna work for all kinds of hair. And it is possible to do it at home while busy with other things. The henna Lisa referred to is available on Amazon.
Conclusion About Henna
I wish there were more hairdressers who would provide henna in their salons. Unfortunately, beauty schools do not teach henna. Please share this post and tell us your henna recipe, if you have one. Let’s give henna the credit it deserves!