As the hair industry continues to become more advanced and sophisticated, many of us have been seeking out haircare products that are friendlier towards the environment, our skin, and our general health. This is especially true of hair dyes, which are notorious for their chemically made formulas.
However, after doing some research, I realized that the term "clean hair dyes" is also not one to be trusted fully. That’s why, in this article, I will discuss the types of hair dyes and chemicals found inside them, as well as how these studies are usually conducted and whether they’re trustworthy.
Lastly, I will mention six non-toxic hair dyes that actually work and can be a great addition to your hair care routine.
Types of Hair Dyes
Hair dyes vary greatly in their chemical makeup. Currently, there are three main types of hair dyes in the market:
Temporary dyes: These dyes cover the surface of the hair but don’t penetrate into the hair shaft. They generally last for 1 to 2 washes.
Semi-permanent dyes: These dyes penetrate the hair shaft and typically last for 5 to 10 washes.
Permanent (oxidative) hair dyes: These dyes cause lasting chemical changes in the hair shaft. They’re the most popular hair dyes because the color changes last until the hair is replaced by new growth. These dyes are sometimes referred to as coal-tar dyes because of some of the ingredients in them.
Currently, cancer risk concerns are limited mainly to semi-permanent and permanent dyes. Also, it's worth mentioning that darker dyes have more of some potentially carcinogenic chemicals, which is why these products are of greater concern.
What’s Actually in Hair Dye?
Hair dyes usually contain colorless substances such as aromatic amines and phenols. In the presence of hydrogen peroxide, these substances go through chemical reactions to become dyes and change the color of the hair.
On a general note, darker hair dyes tend to use more of these coloring agents than lighter hair dyes, which is why the latter are considered safer by some users and professionals.
Chemicals in hair dyes might alter hormones like estrogen in the body, increasing cancer risks.
However, regardless of the color, there's a growing concern that some of the chemicals in hair dyes might alter the levels and actions of hormones like estrogen in the body, which can help certain cancers grow and spread, including some breast cancers.
Studying something like hair dyes can be even more complex because not all hair dyes are the same – they can contain any of thousands of different chemicals. On top of this, the ingredients in hair dyes have changed over the years. Early hair dyes contained chemicals, including some aromatic amines, which were found in the late 1970s to cause cancer in lab animals, so hair dye manufacturers changed some of the chemicals in their products.
Monthly hair dye use has been linked to bladder cancer in women.
With all that said, here's what we know about hair dyes being potential cancer triggers: According to research, most cancer risks are tied to dyes that color your hair permanently – not the ones that wash off after a few rinses. At high doses, some aromatic amines cause cancer in lab animals. Some studies show an increased risk of certain cancers in people who work with hair dyes or have been exposed to hair dyes continuously throughout their lives. But other research didn't find a link.
The strongest evidence so far is for bladder cancer: women in a case-control study in Los Angeles who reportedly used permanent hair dyes at least once a month experienced a 2.1-fold risk of bladder cancer relative to non-users.
Best Non-Toxic Hair Dyes To Try
We've compiled a list of the best non-toxic hair dyes that contain gentler, non-irritating ingredients and work just as well, if not better, due to minimizing the health hazard factor.
Revlon – Total Color Permanent Hair Color, $7
Best budget option that lasts long.
Revlon's Total Color Permanent Hair Color has a cream formula that’s not only inexpensive, but it’s also free of a litany of ingredients, including ammonia, parabens, sulfates, silicones, resorcinol, and phthalates.
The cream formula doesn’t drip, and the permanent color lasts for up to six weeks while also completely covering any pesky grays. It also delivers a beautiful, botanical-based, conditioning gloss.
The Henna Guys – Hair & Beard Color, $14
Best for darkening light hair and retouching faded color.
Available in 13 shades and made with plant-based ingredients, The Henna Guys’ Henna Hair & Beard Dye enhances your natural hair color without inflicting damage or breakage.
Free of ammonia, peroxide, alcohol, PPD, and metallic salts, this vegan-friendly hair dye features triple-sifted henna powder and prevents split ends and dryness with its nourishing formula, making it suitable for all hair types and sensitive scalps.
Matrix Biolage – Plant-Based Haircolor, $24
Best for sensitive skin and scalp.
Matrix Biolage Plant-Based Haircolor is 83% plant-based, containing only natural ingredients such as cassia leaves and coconut oil that deposit vibrant color molecules onto your strands that last for up to 20 shampoos.
But besides that, the two main active ingredients condition and nourish the scalp without irritating the skin or triggering an allergic reaction.
dpHue – Color Boosting Gloss + Deep Conditioning Treatment, $32
Best color-boosting and deep conditioning treatment.
Formulated without parabens, ammonia, or peroxide, the dye helps enhance and deepen your hair color while also deeply hydrating it.
Expect your hair to look extra soft and shiny with the dpHue Color Boosting Gloss + Deep Conditioning Treatment.
Madison Reed Hair Dye, $25
Best for those sensitive to smell.
Made in Italy, Madison Reed is a subscription brand that crafts hair dye free from ammonia, PPD, resorcinol, parabens, phthalates, sodium lauryl sulfate, and titanium dioxide. All of their formulas include keratin, argan oil, and ginseng root extract to strengthen, nourish, and prevent split ends.
Madison Reed hair dye is practically odorless, and each dye shipment includes everything needed to dye your hair at home.
Hairprint – True Color Restorer, $42
Best for restoring grey hairs to the natural hair color.
Hairprint is a patented scientific breakthrough that restores gray hair to its true color. This product isn't a hair dye. Instead, it works to replenish the natural pigment (eumelanin) found in brown and black hair that has turned gray.
Hairprint is also a true protein treatment that will add body, strength, texture, and sheen while reducing frizz and discoloration. Hairprint products are simple, hypoallergenic, and odor-free. Their formulas produce color so natural, it's impossible to detect.
While going completely free of artificial chemicals in personal care products is nearly impossible, there are always safer options to choose from.
And while you should always do your research in order to make an informed decision, some options over others are simply a no-brainer!
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