One of my Facebook friends recently asked: "Where, locally (Philly/South Central PA) can I find a good salon that uses organic hair color or highlights? I hate to color because of the chemicals, but alas, the grays are no fun and being that my hair is dark, I find myself needing to color more often than I like...I try and put up w/the grays as much as I can so that I don't have to color more than twice a year. I've heard Aveda...but have also been told that they are not truly organic? Also, do the organic products take long (hate sitting and waiting, another reason I don't like to color!) and how long do they last? I've been told of henna products, too; I am not sure how the color turns out. I don't get jet black color, more of a dark brown with a tint of auburn for depth."
I, too, feel compelled to color my hair, which so far is not very gray, but is very dishwatery in color. I've tried semi-permanent vegetable dyes (in a salon, I believe they are called Color Shines but could not locate in my research) which don't last long (8 weeks max) but give a really gorgeous rich tone and shine, true to their name. I do recall though that the colorist used to put saccarin into the mix so it would not burn my scalp. Big Red Flag there on two levels!
I also have used home colorants, though I'm sure they were not really natural as the box suggested. I figured it was not on my hair long and I was using plastic gloves, so my exposure was minimal. Probably completely false, but I wanted to spend $8 and not $80 for a single-process color. I've been to so many salons over the years, I have no idea what brands have been used on my hair (not even sure at my current salon, but I can tell you it does not burn my scalp and it has no odor whatsoever. I take that as a good sign).
First, here are some interesting stats I've found in my research:
From thedailygreen -- "A 1994 National Cancer Institute report states dark dyes used over long periods of time seem to increase the risk of cancers such as non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and multiple myeloma. And a 2001 International Journal of Cancer study found people who use permanent hair dye are twice as likely to develop bladder cancer as those who don't dye. The FDA doesn't regulate hair dye ingredients (synthetic or natural)."
Alexandra suggests avoiding the following chemicals in conventional hair dyes: "ammonia, peroxide, PPDs (para-phenylenediamines, the chemical that creates color and is widely thought to be carcinogenic), coal tar (the FDA issued a warning about it being a possible cancer risk back in 1993), lead, toluene and resorcinol."
Now if you go to a salon and ask if their hair dyes contain any of these ingredients, you're either going to get a non-answer or a "yes, but I'm sure they are safe" because most people have no clue, and do not want to admit that they are endangering their health every single day at their job.
From what I can tell, there are two clear favorites: Organic Color Systems (OCS) and EcoColors.
I cannot find a salon locator on the OCS site, which is strange but the website seems to be geared entirely to the trade. OCS does have a nice Facebook page, though it's still mostly professionals sharing results and application tips. You can see before and afters and also get an idea of where you can find the products. (Should not be this hard for consumers to find them!) I saw that Elle Salon in Camp Hill uses OCS. In Philadelphia, JuJu Salon seems to get great press and is fully committed to organic, nontoxic products. Another in Doylestown is Hair Artistry and Skin Care by Edye.
EcoColors Professional Haircolor claims to be "different from all other hair colors" because "the emollient soy base and the essential oils of flax and castor oil make this shine enhancing base stand out from the rest." It purports to provide "super conditioning, long-lasting color" and boasts a 10-year history of safe use on allergy-prone individuals with this thoughtful addendum: "Though Ecocolors works well for many who are allergic to other brands, please order a free allergy test before purchasing, because EcoColors Haircolor is not a 'cure all' for all allergies." Always smart to do a test, though I am too impatient to heed that advice myself at home.
EcoColors offers a home hair color kit for those of you who are brave enough to DIY and save money in the process. I've colored my own hair; if you're just doing a semi-permanent color wash, it's safe and easy. If you are going for a drastic change in color, I recommend finding a professional who provides less toxic dyes.
In the Philly area (Glenside), one salon carries the EcoColors line: Naturalis Studio.
I've tried to sort out all the disparate voices on Aveda. The corporate line seems to be 97% natural (derived from botanicals) with a touch of chemicals needed to bond to the hair. My personal opinion is that they have a lot of experience in hair care products and their products are probably better than the average, however, it's hard to find an unbiased, scientific review of the safety (which is true of most products today, sadly). I also get suspicious of sites that make it virtually impossible to find ingredients. I could not find anything on their professional color products, which signals concern for me. You can check out their products in the EWG Cosmetics Database (see below), keeping in mind the parameters for using this rating system (i.e., understand data gaps).
Additional articles and resources that may be of use:
Hair to Dye For (E Magazine)
EWG's Hazard Scores for Hair Color (not all brands are represented, and most are home kits)
This was informative for me. Thanks, Quyen, for the question. If I ever dabble in the at-home coloring again, I know now where to find a safer dye. Oh, and to answer one last question, I've never noticed that any brands take longer than others, but I've never tried henna, so I am interested in hearing what others' experiences with natural hair colorants has been! Comments are open.
Photo credit: Kvon Photography; Model: Shannon Larkin Haskell