Wednesday, August 7, 2013

To Dye Or Not To Dye

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?


Susan Schneider said...

Hi- I subscribe to your blog and I enjoy your posts. I will admit that I am not as hard core as you about most things. I try to be a good steward of the gifts that God gives us.

We all have our Achilles heel. I don't dye my hair and never have. I am 57 years old and my face is now pretty much framed in grey. It's hard to get used to because I am half Korean and my hair, though not black, is dark brown. It is weird to see light (grey) hair around my face. My sister started going grey very early and she dyed her hair for many years. She is 52 and stopped dying her hair about 4-5 years ago. She's mostly salt with a little pepper. :) She has gotten used to herself with her natural hair color and instead uses her few extra dollars saved (she did home coloring, too) to make sure she gets a really nice haircut. I am like you. It's been my one vanity. I don't do manis and pedis, but I spend a little more on my haircuts. I think that poorly colored hair looks bad. I'll say it plainly. Hair that is all one color is not natural looking and is a detraction from one's natural good looks. A good coloring job costs alot of money.
My sister and I have a sense of freedom about it. I hope you find some peace no matter what you decide. You asked, so I am offering my opinion. Otherwise, I wouldn't offer a comment. All the best-

Cheri said...

I go to an organic hair salon to get my hair dyed. I have only tried the regular dyes once and didn't like the odor and chemicals. I'm in Seattle and there are a few organic salons! Haven't done Henna but have heard good things about it.

Betsy (Eco-novice) said...

No, no one else struggles with this issue. Just kidding! I haven't dealt with this yet, but I'm on some green blogger forums and I can tell you this issue surfaces ALL THE TIME. Henna works, but not super well, I hear, and many green bloggers are using the yucky chemicals while others have resigned themselves to going gray. I think it has a lot to do with how you are when you start going gray. Here are two posts by Lori of Groovy Green Livin (the first also called "to dye or not to dye"! The second about her experience with two different henna products:

Betsy (Eco-novice) said...

That was supposed to say

"I think it has a lot to do with how YOUNG you are when you start going gray."

Christy said...

Good to know Cheri! I was just in Seattle for a vacation, but a 2 1/2 hour drive is a bit far, haha. I should look around and see if there are any here in Vancouver BC. to talk about products, prices, etc.

Betsy, really? Same title? I didn't copy, I swear, lol! Thanks for those links, will definitely read them. I think the bigger issue now is that it bugs me that it bugs me, if you know what I mean.

Anonymous said...

I wear my grey hair as a badge of survival! LOL

Seriously, I don't dye my hair. Why should I? I am as old as I am. Having grey hair isn't going to make me older or on Death's bed, and dying it isn't going to make me younger.

Unless you are very, very good about keeping up with your dye schedule, people see your grey roots, so you aren't fooling anyone anyway! I have a lot more respect for someone whose hair is natural, regardless of the colour or the amount of hair they have.

Ashley said...

I didn't dye my hair until this past winter when the doctor said something that threw me for a loop. Before then, I didn't care about the random strands of white (I was almost excited when I spotted my 22) and I secretly wished it would all change at once instead of slowly over time.
Back to this year... So now I've got this ginger-colored hair and it's time to re-dye or do touch ups. I figured, I'll find a dye close to my natural hair color and just stop dying it after that. My hair is short, so by next year, I'll have the dyed part cut off.

...but that's just me.

Eco Yogini said...

i haven't dyed my hair in three years... prior to that I had highlights in my hair since 18yrs old (so 10 years). but i don't have grey yet. I was figuring that when I do I'll really really want to dye my hair... so i thought i should get used to no hair colour and see what that was like.

like others who have already posted- i agree that I've heard that Henna is mediocre. I've also heard that Aveda is "better" but not chemical free. I would argue that any "organic" hair dyes or professional salons aren't 100% natural or devoid of chemicals.

I am going to struggle with this one, I know. I think we all just have to do our best, acknowledge that some cultural changes are slow (because this is all about culture- since men have much less stigma attached to greying hair).

Christy said...

Eco Yogini, I whole-heartedly agree with you!

From what I have read, anything chemical that dyes hair, be in salon quality (permanent or semi-permanent), or "natural" and "organic" all contain the same toxic chemicals.

It is also interesting to me that salon stylists have a higher incidence of bladder cancer than the general population. That speaks volumes to me.

I am struggling with this because it is a much larger issue than chemicals, as you state in your post. However, it is interesting to me that learning about the health effects are what is pushing me to confront my attitudes about ageing and going grey.

Jenn the Greenmom said...

It's interesting, I approach this from two different one, the one about my personal sense of my own beauty and vanity and such, I am perfectly happy to go grey slowly and gracefully. I am in my forties and am developing a bit of affection for what I call my "Bride of Frankenstripe" at my right temple by my natural side part. I don't mind it, I am comfortable with the gradual development of white in my hair, and I feel no real inclination to dye it.

However. I am also a doctoral student on the verge of a career change into a male-dominated field, and one where younger job applicants seem to be holding the advantage. When I am anticipating appearing publicly in an arena where my future job prospects might be affected, or when I appear in performances that might show up in YouTube, I do color my hair or at the very least part it on the left to camouflage the stripe.

So it's two different issues, I guess. Once I have the steady job and am no longer competing against 26-year-olds for jobs, I will probably abandon color all together. Until then, though....

And I use one of the permanent dyes I get at Whole Foods, a tone on tone color that doesn't strip away my natural color but does permanently lay new color over all of it, and this enables me to keep some of my natural highlights rather than going to the monochrome effect so many over the counter colors give you. I color as close to my natural color as I can, so thus far there are no obvious roots.

It's an interesting question, though, and one every woman has to answer and deal with on her own. (I also, by the way, reject the idea that women over 40 are "supposed" to cut their hair short.)

Deanna said...

I started going grey in my 20s. I got away with highlighting it for a number of years but eventually that wasn't sufficient. I'm almost 51 and have my hair professionally colored every 4-5 weeks. I know the risks and have chosen to accept least for now.

DramaMama said...

Age 35. I may be the anamoly in that I have never dyed or highlighted my hair in any way ever so far. Perms in middle school? Totally different story! I've been 8 years w/o any hair products. Before that, minimal - just gel mostly. My father went gray in late HS and has pretty much been a silver fox ;) since all of us kids can remember. I have quite a few white hairs so far but the only thing I've considered is henna...and even that scares me. I knew someone who once had an allergic reaction!! For me, I don't care about what people think of my age. I like what the Hispanic culture says - 'canas' (white hairs) show wisdom. However, I do think it would be fun to try henna for the change - kind of wow people that I actually did something w/my wild mop top! Especially since it is something I've never done...then I wonder if it's just a mid-life crisis...=)! Glad I am not alone in wondering about henna. Thanks for this post!


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