To dye or not to dieHome » Latest issue » Good, issue 3 » The goods » To dye or not to die
Francesca Price ponders the big question
If we’re naming vanities, then mine is my hair. I’m pretty sure this comes down to a puberty spent with lank, mouse-brown locks. Rachel Hunter was doing her bouncy, curly, Tip Top thing as my hair hung in a great oily sheet. Then, at 14, I bought my first bottle of Sun-In and so began my 25-year love affair with hair dye.
Like any relationship, there have been rocky times. There was the cheap salon that made my hair snap three inches from the roots. The expensive salon that left me with a red and itchy scalp for a week. And now, of course, there’s the eco-shame. Every visit to the hairdresser means yet more chemicals down the drain, more tinfoil clogging up landfills and more exposure to toxins so potent that pregnant women are warned to stay well away
In an attempt to lessen my chemical dependency, I’ve decided to investigate the alternatives. First stop is Nada, a new Auckland salon where manager and top stylist Gareth Peters uses Organic Color Systems hair dyes from California. These dyes can lighten your hair without using ammonia—that’s the stuff that can lead to headaches, stinging eyes, rashes and nausea.
The organic range is certified, which is impressive in an industry where the term ‘organic’ is often applied in a loose and unregulated way. They also contain the lowest possible level of PPD (paraphenylenediamine), a compound present in almost every hair dye on the market. They’re controversial because they’re derived from coal tar, which has been linked to bladder cancer. The only legal use for PPDs in cosmetics is in hair dye, because it doesn’t contact the skin—although, as Gareth says, “anyone who believes that is deluding themselves”. He often sees clients who have been referred by fertility doctors concerned that hair dye is partly to blame.
Gareth is a committed greenie. He uses recyclable foils which he washes and hangs out to dry after each client. If you consider that every client needs somewhere between 50 to 100 foils per colour, that’s a lot of foil saved from landfills.
And how were the results? Well, I’m pretty much always disappointed with my colour—and I’m afraid Nada was no change from that. But I am still blonde, my hair doesn’t smell and it certainly has a healthier feel to it. It’s good to have a like-minded hairdresser to chat to, so yes, I will be back.
In the meantime, I head off to meet one of New Zealand’s only trichologists, Nigel Russell, who believes the hair acts as a barometer for the body’s state of health and wellbeing. The bad news is my nervous system is “overworked”, but my hair survives the pull-test.
Nigel has a few tips for those of us committed to dying our hair. First, he says, we need to draw up a hair calendar. “Consult your hairdresser on how to stretch out your colour for as long as possible so you can just pop back into the salon for regrowth touch-ups.”
He also suggests you ask your hairdresser to rinse off the colour while the foil is still in place, thus minimising the contact the dye has with the scalp.
And for those of you confident enough to give it a go at home, there are a number of natural hair dyes on the market. Some of these still contain ingredients like hydrogen peroxide and PPDs, while others are simply powdered plant extract. I can’t vouch for the results, but I suspect you’ll be better off if you don’t try to go too light. It’s also worth noting that the darker the colour, the more likely it is to contain PPD, so check the ingredients list.
Also, a word of warning about henna. While it’s a great alternative, be careful not to use it while you have another colour in place. Piling one dye on top of another is just asking for trouble, as I found out the summer I tried to return to my natural hair colour and went a rather unsightly shade of green instead—although I suppose there are worse colours to turn.
Tints of nature
An ammonia-free permanent and semi-permanent home-dye kit with 24 colours including four blondes! It contains (some) certified organic ingredients and has the lowest possible percentage of PPD. In other words, it’s making an effort not to poison you while playing to your vanity. And I for one appreciate that.
Lasonia is a 100 percent natural henna product, which comes in five colours. The company was formed by New Zealand resident Esther Matai, who was forced to look for hair dyes without chemicals as she recovered from cancer. The henna she imports comes from Rajasthan in India, reputedly the best in the world.
For those whose hair is stressed out after too much hair product and needs a little pampering. Trichologist Nigel Russell has come up with this range of shampoos, conditioners and oils for dry and damaged hair.