Update as of 2015: The US distributor changed its name from Organic Color Systems to Simply Organic and does NOT carry Organic Colour Systems hair dyes anymore. Organic Colour Systems doesn’t list ingredients on its website.
I recently verified that I have updated the list of ingredients by getting them from a hairdresser who uses Organic Colour Systems in her salon. I also received a list of ingredients from the company by email, which has the same ingredients with the exception of Cocamide DEA (aka Cocamide Diethanolamine), which is a Prop. 65 carcinogen.
Cocamide DEA has been replaced with PEG-4 Rapeseedamide. The company claims that it is naturally derived from rapeseed oil. While it is an improvement, the ingredient is far from perfect. The word “PEG” indicates that it is made with 4 parts of carcinogenic ethylene oxide. As a result, the product might be contaminated with carcinogenic 1,4-dioxane, if it is not properly removed. To read how to avoid 1,4-dioxane in the products you use every day, click here.
Let’s talk about a hair coloring product called Organic Colour Systems. The US distributor uses the Organic Color Systems name. Yes, you read the word organic correctly. Have you ever thought that those stinky chemicals your hairstylist with gloves puts on your hair can be organic? So let me take you on a journey I have gone to investigate the Organic Color Systems. Is it really organic?
A couple of months ago at a meeting devoted to the harms of GMOs, I met a fellow non-toxic consultant. Her hair looked really nice, and she told me that she had tried this organic color. I was really surprised. “Did they make it out of organic beets?” I thought to myself. Instead, I asked, “What makes it organic?” She replied, “It just is.” Since she is a non-toxic consultant, I suspended my disbelief, but you know me: I had to read the label to make sure.
I looked up the ingredients that night, and confirmed my disbelief. There’s nothing organic about the product except the name. But it struck me how natural and human her reaction had been, to simply trust a product by its name. In the overwhelming amount of information (and misinformation) available, the proliferation of chemicals and the extremely limited time we all have, most consumers (except for you and me) make purchasing decisions based on marketing terms, such as “organic,” “non-toxic,” “hypoallergenic,” “plant-derived,” “plant-based,” “natural,” “naturally derived,” “approved by dermatologists,” etc.
I was disappointed that the Huffington Post seems to agree that this Organic Color Systems is truly organic. And in the article “Why I Decided To Ditch Chemicals And Go Organic With My Hair Dye,” Rebecca Adams encourages us to go with the Organic Color Systems as “[b]etween 98-99 percent of the ingredients are naturally derived or organic.”
The company Organic Color Systems tells consumers that the derivation process is natural. What does that mean exactly?
The Organic Color Systems products are sold to a great number of hair salons worldwide. The hair salons, like this one below, market their services to people who would like to avoid toxic chemicals. By looking at the salon’s banner, you can probably tell that consumers are led into believing that the hair color is organic and safe. And if you are an animal lover, color your hair away.
I sent an email to this salon asking whether their “certified organic” color system is safe during pregnancy. The salon stylist did not correct me to say that the color is not certified organic and welcomed me to make an appointment. To be fair, she did send me a text that stated the following, “Organic Color Systems’ on-staff doctor, Dr. Mazer, suggests: “Consider waiting through the first trimester to receive chemical services, but if you insist on coloring your hair, use a color such as, Organic Color Systems, which contains more natural, safer ingredients than other permanent hair colors on the market today.” So I think it is time to do our usual due diligence and look at the ingredients together.
The Organic Color Systems Ingredients
When you visit the Organic Color Systems website, a list of ingredients is not easily found. The first thing I found is the page with the following information.
Organic Color Systems contains some of the best natural ingredients to produce a gentle color which gives a superb result every time. Our natural and certified organic ingredients, along with their functions, are listed below:
Looks good, right? Everything is natural and naturally derived. Are we done here? Oh, wait, not quite yet. What about dyes themselves? As it turns out, this is not a full list of ingredients and you have to look carefully for a link at the bottom of the page that will take to the complete list of ingredients. And here is the full list of ingredients (for Gold Concentrate, Extra Bright Orange, Extra Bright Red, Extra Bright Yellow, Light Extra Ash):
PEG-2 Soyamine Naturally-derived from soya bean Emulsifier, Aqua Pure water (filtered and deionised) Solvent, Cocamide DEA Naturally-derived from coconut Surfactant, thickener *Alcohol Denatured Naturally-derived from corn Viscosity decreasing agent, Oleic Acid Naturally-derived from olive oil Surfactant **Propanediol Naturally-derived from corn Moisturiser, Ethanolamine Naturally-derived from coconut pH adjuster, Triethanolamine Synthetic pH adjuster, **Hydrolysed Wheat Protein Organic wheat Conditioner, Parfum Natural and synthetic blend Fragrance, PEG-7 Glyceryl Cocoate Naturally-derived from coconut Anti-irritant, *Aloe Barbadensis Organic aloe vera leaf Soothing, *Symphytum Officinale Organic comfrey root Scalp soother and healing agent, *Citrus Aurantium Dulcis Organic orange peel Anti-oxidant, *Citrus Grandis Organic grapefruit seed Anti-oxidant, Ascorbic Acid Natural vitamin C Anti-oxidant, **Tocopherol Naturally-derived vitamin E Anti-oxidant, Sodium Sulphite Synthetic Stabiliser, Sodium Hydrosulfite Synthetic Stabiliser, Tetrasodium EDTA Synthetic Stabiliser, p-Aminophenol Synthetic Colour pigment, CI Basic Yellow 87 Synthetic Colour pigment, Basic Orange 31 Synthetic Colour pigment, 4-Amino-2-Hydroxytoluene Synthetic Colour pigment, Basic Red 51 Synthetic Colour pigment, HC Yellow 2 Synthetic Colour pigment, 4,5 Diamino-1-(2 hydroxyethyl)pyrazole Synthetic Colour pigment, 2-Methylresorcinol Synthetic Colour pigment, 4-Chlororesorcinol Synthetic Colour
* Soil Association Organic Standard ** ECOCERT
Despite the fact that Cocamide magically transfers into Cocamide DEA and “parfum” is not exactly natural, a lot of ingredients are still naturally derived… Let me group them for you and take out words like “naturally derived” and see what changes, if anything.
Five Certified Organic Ingredients:
Symphytum Officinale Organic comfrey root
Aloe Barbadensis Organic aloe vera leaf
Citrus Aurantium Dulcis Organic orange peel
Citrus Grandis Organic grapefruit seed
I like that! So far so good!
Two Ingredients That, While are Not Certified Organic, Approved For Use in Certified Organic Products by ECOCERT
Tocopherol – this is Vitamin E
Propanediol – according to the Skin Deep database powered by the EWG (Environmental Working Group), it may cause skin irritation
Hydrolysed Wheat Protein – “hydrolysed” involves adding lye to it, that is why some people have allergy to it, it coats hair making it shiny but as you might guess coating prevents hair from breathing and absorbing nutrients, which might not be a good thing for the health of your hair in the long-term (read more here)
Synthetic Pigments (Azo Dyes or Coal Tar)
p-Aminophenol, CI Basic Yellow 87, Basic Orange 31, 4-Amino-2-Hydroxytoluene, Basic Red 51, HC Yellow 2, 4,5 Diamino-1-(2 hydroxyethyl)pyrazole, 2-Methylresorcinol, 4-Chlororesorcinol
There is nothing organic or natural about azo dyes or coal tar dyes, except for that they come from the earth and may be related to organic chemistry. They do say that there is very minimal amount of p-Aminophenol in the products. Some of the dyes are more toxic than others. But in general this is not a very friendly group to the environment and to human health. For more information about hair dyes visit here, here, and here.
PEG-2 Soyamine, PEG-7 Glyceryl Cocoate
While there might some coconut oil to begin the process, the process of making PEGs (polyethylene glycols) has nothing to do with being natural. At some point, carcinogenic ethylene oxide is added to make the final ingredients less irritating to the skin. If the final product is not cleaned up properly, there might be carcinogenic 1,4-dioxane left in the final product. My colleague Anne Hackman contacted the company and they informed her that there is no 1,4-dioxane in the Organic Color Systems. Let’s assume that we believe them, these two ingredients are definitely not organic or even naturally derived.
Parfum Natural and Synthetic Blend Fragrance
What is interesting to me is that the page with the incomplete list of ingredients said the parfum comes from essential oils. The complete ingredient list tells us that the fragrance is synthetic. The word “fragrance” or “parfum” on any product label represents an undisclosed mixture of various scent chemicals and ingredients used as fragrance dispersants. Phthalates are likely to be present in the mixture. There are a number of different phthalates and some of them are possible carcinogens and hormone disruptors (for detailed information on phthalates, read my phthalate primer here). Fragrance mixes have been associated with allergies, dermatitis, respiratory distress and potential effects on the reproductive system.
While the Organic Color Systems does not contain ammonia (yay!), it does contain its relatives – Ethanolamine and Triethanolamine. According to Cosmeticsinfo.org, both have ammonia-like odors. They are highly corrosive and toxic and perform the same function as ammonia – help open the cuticle layer of the hair and allow the color molecules to penetrate the hair. Organic Color Systems informs that Ethanolamine is used in very small doses.
By the way, they are rated 5-6 (10 being the most toxic) in the Skin Deep database, while ammonia is rated 4-6.
Also, Triethanolamine under certain conditions may break down into carcinogenic nitrosamines during the life of a product. Organic Color Systems claims that there are no nitrosamines in their product.
In conclusion, while the Organic Color Systems contains five certified organic ingredients, this product is far from being organic or natural. I strongly believe that it should not be advertised as organic. Please share this post with others so they can make their decisions as to whether to apply the Organic Color Systems products based on the actual ingredients, not the brand name.
To learn more about hair color products, read here: