When I first started looking for safer products, I realized two things. First, it is up to us as consumers to figure out which products are safe – nobody is going to do it for us. Second, in order to see if an advertisement is truthful, we must understand how products are made. In this post, you will find out whether we can call OWAY hair color a safe hair color by looking at the OWAY Hcolor hair dye ingredients.
OWAY stands for Organic Way. The Simply Organic Beauty website describes it as “the world’s first professional organic hair color formulated with the highest concentration of organic, biodynamic and fair-trade ingredients.” They also say that OWAY Hcolor is 100% ammonia-free. Further, the Oway.it website claims that the active ingredients of OWAY color are biodynamic hibiscus, organic perilla oil, cotton protein, and ethical date. It sounds great, doesn’t it? Before you learn what those claims actually mean, let me tell you one key thing you need to know about so-called organic hair dye brands.
OWAY hair color as an organic hair dye
Can a hair dye be organic? In my post about organic hair color you can get an elaborate answer to this question.
In short, if a hair dye manufacturer wants to claim that their hair dye is organic, they need to have the USDA organic certification. That certification means that at least 95% of the hair color ingredients are certified organic. The certified organic ingredients originate from organic agricultural plants, vegetables, fruit, or animals. For example, jojoba seed oil or chamomile extract can be certified as organic ingredients.
Hence, for a hair color to receive the USDA organic certification, it must consist mostly of extracts and oils. It would be great if OWAY Hcolor hair dye ingredients consisted of 95% certified organic ingredients to make it a truly organic hair color!
However, permanent hair color products (with the exception of henna and indigo powders) contain more than 5% of non-agricultural ingredients, which means that they cannot get the USDA organic certification. These ingredients are mineral pigments, petroleum dyes, preservatives, surfactants, emulsifiers, fragrance, and corrosive hair cuticle openers.
Thus, advertisement of a permanent hair color as organic is misleading. In order to function properly as a hair dye, it needs a lot of non-agricultural ingredients. And this is what prevents it from meeting the USDA organic standards.
Is it good that OWAY Hcolor is 100% ammonia-free?
The fact of the matter is that permanent hair colors must have chemicals to deliver the result of a changed hair color. These chemicals open the hair cuticles and push hair dyes inside the hair.
Normally, the chemicals that open the hair cuticles are either ammonia or ethanolamine. In other words, when a permanent hair dye, such as OWAY hair color, promotes the fact that it is a hair color without ammonia, most likely it contains ethanolamine instead. Now, the question is whether the ethanolamine is better than ammonia.
Is ammonia-free hair color better?
One of the negative characteristics of ammonia is its recognizable toxic smell. Hence, it is becoming popular with hair dyes to do without ammonia. That is why we will not find this chemical among the OWAY hair dye ingredients. What shall we find then? As I mentioned above, if there is no ammonia, there must be its substitute – ethanolamine. Let me tell you about it before we see if the OWAY hair color has it among its ingredients.
Ethanolamine in hair colors
Just like ammonia, ethanolamine opens the hair cuticles and, thus, is a corrosive chemical. Even though not as strong, ethanolamine has an ammonia-like odor, too.
The Skin Deep database gives ethanolamine a rating of 3-6 depending on its usage. This study found that hair colors with ethanolamine versus ammonia are more likely to cause hair loss. And I keep hearing from hairstylists that it is hard to achieve a desired hair color with no ammonia hair color brands without making the hair dry and brittle.
In addition, ethanolamine has not been evaluated for cancer risks yet. Conversely, there is some evidence that it may elevate the risk of birth defects. Therefore, if you are pregnant or planning to be, please do not use ammonia-free permanent hair colors because they will contain ethanolamine instead.
This may help you answer the question whether ethanolamine is better than ammonia. If you want to learn more to help you decide whether ammonia-free hair color brands are truly better, please read my post about that. Plus, with my Permanent Hair Color Rating List e-book, you can find out which brands use ammonia and which ones are ammonia-free.
OWAY hair dye ingredients
The most important step to understand whether marketing claims are truthful is to look at the full list of hair color ingredients. Here is the OWAY hair color ingredient list.
As you can see, ethanolamine that opens hair cuticles is among the OWAY hair color ingredients. Besides that there are 13 colorants on the list of ingredients:
toluene 2,5 diamine sulfate
n,n-bis (2-hydroxyethyl)-p-phenydiamine sulfate
You might have heard about PPD. To learn more about the fact that the European Union Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety has classified it as an extreme sensitizer (aka allergen), please read my Madison Reed Hair Dye review.
Yes, 6 out of 40 ingredients are either organic or biodynamic. The first three are biodynamic perilla seed oil, organic hydrolyzed cottonseed protein, and organic hydrolyzed wheat protein. Additionally, there is organic jojoba seed oil, date seed oil, and biodynamic hibiscus flower extract. But does it matter much when there are 13 hair coloring chemicals in the OWAY color?
Three facts to know about the hair colorants
First, the colorants in the OWAY hair color are derived from petroleum. In the past, they were derived from coal tar. Thus, the FDA still calls these synthetic hair dyes “coal-tar color additives.”
Secondly, unlike color additives in general, hair color additives do not need FDA approval. I will simply copy and paste from the FDA website to eliminate the risk of a lost meaning in the interpretation:
“Color additives, with the exception of coal-tar hair dyes, need FDA approval before they’re permitted for use in cosmetics.” (source)
Yes, that’s right – with the exception of coal-tar dyes which as hair dye ingredients serve to color the hair.
And this is not all.
The FDA chemists test every batch of coal-tar dyes to make sure that the level of petroleum contaminants is within the FDA’s limits. But again that testing is NOT performed on coal-tar dyes used to color hair (source).
In case the users of hair dye products have any problems, the FDA encourages them to contact their health care provider and file a report with the FDA.
Finally, the FDA cannot take action against a coal-tar hair dye, as long as the product comes with a special caution statement and adequate directions for consumers:
Caution – This product contains ingredients which may cause skin irritation on certain individuals and a preliminary test according to accompanying directions should first be made. This product must not be used for dyeing the eyelashes or eyebrows; to do so may cause blindness.
However, the FDA warns that even if you don’t see a reaction to the skin test, it’s still possible to have a reaction when you dye your hair. It also recommends against scratching or brushing your scalp three days before using hair dyes.
Conclusion about the OWAY hair color
In my opinion, the OWAY hair dye ingredients are those of a typical permanent hair dye. The product has typical coal tar hair dyes that may cause allergic reactions and possibly other long-term health problems.
Yes, 6 out of 40 ingredients are either organic or biodynamic. These ingredients are there to decrease the damage that the corrosive hair color ingredients can cause. Most hair dyes have some hair conditioning ingredients. But with all the other potentially harmful chemicals on the list, how important is it that these six ingredients are organic or biodynamic? As much as I am a huge fan of the organic and biodynamic farming, I would say, “not very”. And if you have an allergy to wheat, watch out.
Unfortunately, OWAY hair color is not the only one that has just a few organic ingredients and claims that the whole product is organic. For example, Organic Color Systems has five certified organic ingredients and lists about 25 other ingredients. You can also learn how Natulique hair color used to claim that their hair color was CERTIFIED organic and what happened next.
Now that you know the truth about the actual OWAY hair color ingredients, how do these claims look to you? Do you believe them?
Finally, if you are looking for the safest hair color for your situation here is what you can do. Check out my Permanent Hair Color Rating List e-book and/or book a consultation, and I’ll be happy to assist you.