Queen Composter is learning about the health and eco effects of hair colouring.
I have never been a high maintenance person, but as I have moved toward a “natural”, eco-conscious way of life, I have gradually moved away from commercial personal care products. I now wash my hair using baking soda and vinegar (no ‘poo), I wash my face with honey and moisturize my skin with coconut oil. I only wear make-up (“natural” non-toxic) on special occasions or for the days I work outside the house. Despite being a sweaty person, I have challenged myself to stop using antiperspirants and commercial deoderants, and I haven’t used perfumes for years. I don’t share these to brag or pat myself on the back. I am trying to convince myself that if I can do these, then I should be able to let go of one more thing.
I have an eco confession to make. There is one area that I am struggling to go au naturel.
My hair is beginning to go grey and I have been dyeing it, as in commercial, salon quality, harsh chemical dye. The last time I dyed it was almost five months ago, with a semipermanent colour that washes out more quickly than permanent hair colour.
|The grey hairs aren't very noticeable in this photo, but I see every single one.|
Like many women, my hair has been my vanity. People have always commented on my shiny, full hair. My hair is very dark, almost black, which highlights every little white hair, at least in my mind. The texture of my hair is changing and all of the white hairs in my already thick hair are wiry and standing straight up in the air. When I dye my hair it returns to a smooth, even colour and texture, making it more manageable.
I have been thinking a great deal about why I am resistant to going grey naturally. I know that I am definitely a product of our society’s beauty standards that being (or looking) young is associated with desirable and attractive. I feel washed out and tired when I look in the mirror and see the white streaks, which to some people are not noticeable yet (mostly underneath and visible when my hair is in a pony tail). My husband, however, likes the grey, and finds me attractive. That should be all that matters, right? Maybe I am struggling with accepting the ageing process and my own mortality. What message am I sending my young daughters about my body and ageing?
If confronting my thoughts and attitudes about greying hair isn’t enough, perhaps learning about the health risks and environmental costs of dye will change my mindset about dyeing my hair.
Permanent dyes contain chemicals too numerous to list, but it is phenylenediamine (PPD), which helps bond the colour to hair, that appears to be the most concerning. PPD, which is strongest in the darker dyes, is a toxic irritant that can cause skin irritations and allergies, asthma and other breathing problems and reportedly in some rare cases, anaphylaxis. There have also been links to rheumatoid arthritis. Unfortunately even non-permanent and “natural” hair dyes can contain PPD. The links to cancer are not as clear or conclusive. Some studies have found an increased risk of bladder cancer in people with high exposure to hair dyes (not able to process the chemicals through urine efficiently).
As someone who is trying to avoid artificial fragrances, I can’t help but think of the irritation to my body when breathing in the smell of the dye for days after colour treating my hair. What about the left over substances that are washed down the drain and into the water system, or thrown out and sent to a landfill where they will leach into the ground?
After learning more about the impacts of hair dye, I have a few options available to me:
- continue to dye my hair with semi-permanent hair colour: I have basically elminated this as an option after learning more about the health effects of dye
- try “natural” hair dye from health stores: they also contain PPD, and will still contain strong odours, so I will probably not chose this option either
- try henna: this is a favourable option, especially after looking at the ratings of some henna options on Skin Deep from the Environmental Working Group website. Most are rated 0 (low hazard) on a scale of 0 to 10 (contrasted with most popular hair dye brands in the store which are rated between 6 and 8 – moderate to high hazard).
- go cold turkey, stop dyeing my hair and let it go grey naturally: I am tempted to try this for a while longer to see how I feel about it and reevaluate in a few months.
I am curious if anyone else struggles with this. If you feel the need to cover your grey hair, what do you do? Do you dye your hair, grey or not?