Like moisturizing and mani-pedis, hair dyeing is a standard beauty ritual for many women. Yet, while natural skin-care and non-toxic nail polish brands have flourished, the world of hair color clings to its chemical roots.
Concerns about the contents of hair color date back to the ’70s, when news outlets alerted consumers to the dangers of widely-used ingredients like coal tar and benzidine, which are known carcinogens. Most manufacturers took these out and replaced them with less toxic chemicals.
But that didn’t silence the alarms. Many of the substitute ingredients still used in today’s hair dyes, like ammonia and parabens, have been linked to cancer in several research studies. The most prevalent, p-phenylenediamine (PPD) is a known allergen and has been linked to various cancers.
But, according to the American Cancer Society, evidence of hair dye’s carcinogenic effect on people is still lacking. One highly-publicized study concluded that hairstylists “probably are exposed to cancer causing substances.” But it didn’t look at whether they actually developed cancer. Nor did the study address the risk to customers who come into contact with or inhale the noxious fumes (albeit less regularly than the stylists). Still, a lack of consensus about risk doesn’t keep us from worrying.
So what are the natural choices available? Aveda, the face of natural hair color, seems to be the best of the traditional brands. Their plant-based dyes are “97% natural.”