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Hair colouring


September 2011 

Hair colouringDoes anyone out there remember the term.. blue rinse? This used to be such a familiar technique for women of a certain age whose hair had lost its colour. The blue rinse was a popular way to add a certain elegance and interest to dull grey hair. How things have changed! Today men and women can pretty well choose whatever colour they want to enhance or totally hide their natural looks. Men today can even colour their beards to match the hair on their head.

But while today hair colouring is a very normal and indeed essential part of many people’s lives, few of us know much about how it is achieved and few of us examine in detail the ingredients of the hair products used. This is especially true in hair salons where it is practically unheard of for customers to ask to see the packet of hair dye before it is mixed to examine the contents.

The jury still seems out on the total safety of hair dye. Generally over the years various ingredients in the dye have been omitted, changed or improved to make the dye safer and work better, but even so you can’t get away from the fact that hair dye is essentially a mix of strong chemicals that can, albeit in small doses, enter your body through your hair.

There has recently been considerable work to check the safety of hair dye and four years ago Europe banned 22 key substances found in hair dye that could have toxic effect on the body, including some substances with a link to bladder cancer. There have been contrary reports on the findings of tests on a number of these substances, but it makes sense to err on the side of safety.

One ingredient which has caused major concern comes from a family of chemicals called arylamines which has attracted attention because of its potential to connect with bladder cancer. In the arylamines family is p-phenylenediamine (PPD) which is sometimes included in even so called non-permanent natural hair products. PPD is a colourless substance that requires oxygen to become coloured.

Another area that is under research is the mixing of hydrogen peroxide with ammonia. Individually these products seem relatively safe but mixing them together produces changed chemicals that have caused concern among some scientists. Safer alternatives are being developed, for instance an alternative to ammonia has been derived from coconut oil, but these areas have a long way to go before being incorporated into mainstream hair colourings.

For the bleaching effect required in many hair colourings, hydrogen peroxide is still the key agent used to lighten the hair. This often includes additional ingredients such as potassium persulphate which helps to whiten and lift colour and sodium metasilicate which acts as an alkaline component and helps the bleach penetrate the hair shaft.

Then of course there is the actual colour that you want your hair to end up, which may be very different from the basic lightening effect achieved by hydrogen peroxide. These final shades are very varied of course but as an indication, the couplers (the chemical compounds that help to define the colour of the hair dye) include blue couplers which can include 1,3-diaminobenzene; red couplers which can include phenols and naphthols and yellow green couplers which can include resorcinor. 4-chlororesorcinol and benzodioxoles.

Once you start looking at even the very basics of hair dye it is easy to see that it is a very complicated area based on numerous complex chemicals which mean absolutely nothing to most of us!

There is increasing interest in more natural solutions to help colour hair. Henna of course has been around for ages and can give a wonderful shine to hair but it is no good if you want to be blond as while it comes in a variety of warm colours, it will not lighten hair.

Interestingly there are more chemicals in darker hair dyes than there are in blonde or lighter shades; although predictably there are more chemicals in permanent hair colouring than in semi permanent or temporary colours.

The good news is that in our increasingly health conscious world, the top hair product manufacturers are working hard to eliminate the extraordinary cocktail of chemicals that is found in modern hair dyes. For instance, L’Oreal is now offering ammonia-free permanent hair colouring.

While few of us would give up the benefits of hair colouring unless there was a major well-proven health risk, nevertheless it could be worthwhile taking the time to enquire what exactly is in the hair dye that is used on your hair.



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