Fine Quality Hairstyling

header photo

Get the Flow Newsletter! All sorts of fun, interesting and useful information on hair and styling. You can subscribe at the bottom of one of the newsletters or get them on my Facebook Page: here

Scroll here to see the archives:

Women, Booze and Home Hair Colour



Keeping Your Hair Color Beautiful



Growing out grey



aging hair



The Magnificent Comb-Over



The Art of the Hair Wash



What Kills Hair



How to Buy a Blow Dryer


Hair Colour Safety.

Just how safe is colouring your hair? Find out here.

And I don't mean aesthetically safe (although I've certainly seen plenty of hair colours that one could well describe as aesthetically hazardous). I'm referring to chemicals. What exactly is in that wondrous goo? Is it better suited to cleaning your driveway? Or is there a have a beautiful colour without beating up on your precious body?

Before I launch into this, I'd like to point out that I'm not a chemist and I didn’t investigate all the ingredients in artificial hair colour, just the most commonly talked about ones. The subject is so vast and so subjective that all a well-meaning stylist like myself can do is offer an opinion.

The short of it:

In my opinion, there are a few questionable chemicals in artificial hair colour, but several companies are making admirable gains in cleaning things up. If you know your stylist is knowledgeable about these things and holds them to be of importance, then all is well. If you're not sure where they stand, ask them; if they sound like a politician, dancing around the subject and smiling a little too much, you may have some priorities to examine. Of course the best thing is to know the fundamentals yourself. If that sounds like a good idea, read on, you'll probably end up knowing more than your stylist.

The longer of it:

Whether hair colour is safe or not depends, as always, on who you ask. It amazes me how two or more seasoned experts on most any subject will give you completely polarized opinions. In my investigations I heard all the way from: “No problem at all, there's no scientific evidence to say that hair colour is hazardous” to “You might as well stab yourself!” If you've ever investigated anything health related, you're undoubtedly rather used to such things; truth, strangely enough, is a very subjective thing. So what to do? The only reasonable thing: get a good, thorough overview, throw out the obvious lies, and take what seems doable and moderate.

There are primarily three questionable chemicals in artificial hair colour. One is called PPD (I won't bother with the long, scientific name), another is Resorcinal, and the third, ammonia. All colour companies (as far as I can tell) use these or something similar to get colour to do what it does, especially when covering grey hair. There are of course various herbal ways of coloring hair that use nothing but plants (such as henna) to stain the hair, but there's almost no consistency in the results. In my opinion, using them is only a good idea if you want your hair to look like you grew up in the rain forest. If they worked, I'd be all over them.

In recent years, due to the curious phenomenon of human beings actually caring about what we put in and on our bodies, some colour manufacturers have been looking a these questionable chemicals and making changes. These manufacturers have reduced the amounts of these chemicals or replaced them with something apparently less harmful.

Ammonia, the long time standard in hair colour, has often been replaced with something called MEA, which, in my experience, is a good idea. MEA seems to be gentler, at least when it comes to fumes and scalp irritation, which to me, says something. If it feels okay on the nose and scalp, it seems to make sense the hair and rest of the body would be less irritated too.

PPD, another suspect chemical, has often been replaced with PPT, a similar, but apparently milder alternative. This may or may not be an improvement, again, it depends on who you ask. It's quite possible that the reason for replacing PPD with PPT was nothing more than the manufacturer being able to claim “PPD free!”. According to my online research, many people who have reactions to PPD, still have reactions to PPT. So that one's up in the air, but nevertheless, we still have reason to celebrate, at least there are changes taking place. The fact that color companies are investigating healthier ways to colour hair at all is a good thing, even if there is some crashing around going on.

Resorcinal, the third of the Questionable Three, is still present in any of the colour brands I have looked into, but a few have removed it from certain shades or minimized it overall.

If you're doing your own research and encounter companies that claim “no PPD” or “no Resorcinal”, read the finer print and find out if that means in all of the shades or just some of them. At the time of this writing, darker shades still necessitate using these chemicals to some degree in any brands I've investigated.

If you do your own colour at home (yikes), it's helpful to be aware that contrary to popular belief, colour from the health food store is not necessarily any less toxic than most salon colours. Find out what's in it, don't believe the old “all natural, herbal” spiel, just because it's just across the aisle from the organic kale. Drug store colour is not something I have researched, but after reading this, you will know what to look for and be able to check into it yourself.

Removing or reducing suspect chemicals is not the whole story, you still have to end up with a product that creates beautiful, rich, shiny hair colour. A lot of the more “natural” colour lines I researched haven't been all that great at covering grey evenly, nor have they been reliable and predictable in general, hence the reluctance of stylists to use or even try them. It's not much fun for the stylist or the client when a colour doesn't work out.

It is also important to keep in mind that each of us have very unique bodies and some are more reactive to chemicals than others. I react noticeably to ammonia fumes, which is one of the reasons this whole investigation started. Being both an artist and hairstylist, I encounter plenty of toxic goo on a daily basis, so both my art studio and my hair salon have been subject to investigation.

As a stylist who genuinely cares about healthy bodies and hair, it's been challenging to determine what to use in my salon. In my research I ran into a lot of smoke and mirrors, misleading information and stretched 'truths'. For some distressing reason, many of us don't yet understand that we're all in this together, that truthful integrity is the only reasonable approach to life and business. But I believe we're growing and waking up, there are indeed companies who really do care and really do want to create healthier hair color and are doing a lot more than just throwing around words like “natural” and “organic”. Unfortunately, I can't give you a list of who are the heroes, who are the wolves in sheep's clothing and who are the stuck and stagnant. I wish I could, but it's too big and there are too many factors. You'll either have to ask your stylist about it (and find out if they know) or do your own research on whatever colour they are using on you. Research it, based on what you've learned here. Your stylist may not be using the “greenest” hair colour there is, but hopefully, they're headed in the right direction.

In my own salon, after rather exhaustive research, I ended up with a hair colour line known as Naturlique. It's not the only company creating healthier colour, but it's the one I choose, given all the criteria I have in mind. I want the least toxicity possible, and I want beautiful, dependable colour. Naturlique, which is fairly new to Canada, is from Denmark, and as far as I can tell, genuinely cares about what they're doing. They want what I want and are focused on getting it. The colour has very low fumes, no ammonia, very little Resorcinal (only in dark shades), and minimal, or no, PPD depending on the shade. And it produces beautiful colour. Few salons in Canada use Natulique, partly because it's so new to this country and partly because it's a pain to switch colour brands, especially when stylists have got something they already like and are used to, so not many have tried it.

Since I began using Naturlique, none of my clients get itchy or burning scalps when the colour is on, many of them comment that they cannot smell any fumes, grey is covered well, and the hair comes out shiny and soft. I like it and so do they. I also have people who have done their own research seek me out as a salon that uses Naturlique.

Colouring hair is one of a hundred or more things we encounter every day that may or may not cause us harm. People have been colouring for many years and we still can't really tell if it's any more or less of an issue than white sugar or food additives or a zillion other things. One day soon, with some clear intention, we'll all have a more accurate idea about what things in our lives are actually better to avoid, and with any luck, we won't have to dig a hole in the ground and live on organic carrots. All we can do for now is try to be informed and aware. Well now you're a little more of both.

If you'd like to learn more about Naturlique, go to https://www.natulique.com/

Thanks for caring. The world needs as many of you as it can get.

Jay Lamb

Flow Hair Salon