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Dyeing to go organic.

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They say blondes have all the fun, but after sitting for hours with tin foil stuck to your head and the stench of ammonia filling your nostrils, you can get the feeling that being blonde - or turning yourself into one - might be a touch overrated. Women have been dyeing their hair for centuries - even Cleopatra reportedly used indigo, turmeric and black walnut hulls to achieve that desired colouring - but when chemicals were introduced into hair dyes last century to keep the colours 'permanent', things started to go a bit awry.

Any woman who has dyed her own locks or had them treated at a salon knows that the process is a liberating confirmation of identity, allowing the transformation from blonde bombshell to redheaded siren in a matter of hours. But dyeing your hair can stink, in more ways than one. Not only can the dyes cause redness, swelling, and skin sensitivity, but regular use can increase the risk of leukaemia, arthritis and cancer.

And all that dye doesn't just sit on your head creating health problems - it also gets washed away into our water, introducing carcinogens and petrochemicals into our water supply and environment. Luckily however, there are eco-friendly alternatives to conventional dyes that promise to be a lot kinder to your hair and the world around us.


Forty per cent of women regularly dye their hair, according to the Cosmetic Toiletry and Perfumery Association (CTPA) in the UK. While the dyes contain a variety of ingredients, over half of which are 'sensitisers' (allergy inducing), according to the EU's Scientific Committee, most of the health problems associated with hair dye come from one niggling ingredient - P-Phenylenediamine (PPD) - an aromatic amine in almost every dye on the market.

PPD is most often associated with allergic reactions - like swelling, puffiness and constricted breathing - and is the reason that hair dye products recommend doing a patch test before dying one's hair. It's more concentrated in darker dyes, lending to health warnings that women who use dark hair dyes are 50-70 per cent more likely to develop follicular lymphoma, a non-aggressive blood cancer, according to a recent study in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

So why aren't these chemicals banned? Because there hasn't been enough consistent research to discover just how dangerous they are. While some European countries have banned the use of some chemicals, including PPD, their use in hair dyes is still accepted under European legislation - and they are even sometimes present in many natural dyes, including henna.

The main issue seems to be finding alternatives. According to the CTPA, PPD can't yet be replaced as "nothing else is as effective or as safe". Even organic hair colourists agree on this. Elaine Warriner of Herb UK, the umbrella organisation of natural dyes Organic Colour Systems and Tints of Nature, says: "The way the science is set up right now, you do need PPD's to permanently colour the hair."

But you do so at your own risk, says a mole at the University of Leeds' Department of Colour Science who wishes to remain anonymous. "The textile industry wouldn't dream of touching these chemicals and it's a scandal that the hair industry still does," he says. "You can become disfigured for the rest of your life if you react to PPD - and that's the reason why I don't let the women in my family dye their hair."


Until the hair colour industry discovers chemical-free alternatives to a process that helps boost many women's self-esteem, follicle fanatics can opt for hair colour ranges that use fewer chemicals than conventional dyes - and Herb UK's range could be one to try. Not only are there far fewer PPDs in their hair dyes, but Herb UK's colourings are free of parabens, ammonia and animal testing. They're jam-packed instead with aloe vera, chamomile, orange and grapefruit. And, says Elaine, they're about as natural as you can get.

"There's an EU limit of six per cent of PPD in hair dye," explains Elaine, "but we have an average of 0.6 per cent in ours, as we try to use as little as possible."

It sounds good, but how does this organic dye compare to conventional colouring? Karine Jackson, a hairdresser that has been using Herb UK's Organic Colour Systems dyes for the past 18 months, says that some organic hair dyes are just as effective as mainstream hair colours.

"I tried a number of ranges that weren't quite right, but I really love Organic Colour Systems, and now about 80 per cent of my clients are treated with it. "The colour lasts just as long as conventional dyes. People rave about how glossy and soft their hair is after colouring with it," says Karine. Herb UK's even got a range that can be applied at home - Tints of Nature - with all the same salon benefits, provided you're a regular at doing your own.

So, ladies, it seems like the days of tin foil, ammonia and smelly locks are gone for good - as long as we women keep our tresses coloured and beautiful with organic hair dye alternatives.


Organic Colour Systems from Herb UK are available to buy via the internet, visit Alternatively, the Organic Foods and cafE[umlaut] in Dubai sells a range of organic hair colour dyes from reputable brands such as Logona ( and Sante ( Check in store for more details.

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Publication:7 Days (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)
Date:Jul 1, 2008
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