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To Dye or Not To Dye

For centuries women have risked their health for the sake of beauty. In the middle ages, Italian women used eye drops from the toxic belladonna plant in order to dilate their pupils. Pupil dilation was thought to be more attractive. Women hoped that "just a little poison" would give them the results they wanted without health implications. We may be doing the very same thing today.

Most hair dyes are made from petroleum sources and contain paraphenylenediamine (PPD). Here are several interesting facts about PPD:

  • PPD, a derivative of coal tar, is also used in fur dyes, dark colored cosmetics, photographic developer, printing inks, greases, and gasoline.
  • PPD was voted Allergen of the Year in 2006 by the American Contact Dermatitis Society.
  • DuPont, one of the makers of PPD, makes this cautionary statement on its website: DuPont does not recommend and will not knowingly offer or sell p-phenylenediamine (PPD) for uses involving prolonged skin contact.
  • 4-methoxy-m-phenylenediamine (4-MMPD), a derivative of PPD, carries this warning when used in hair dyes: Warning - Contains an ingredient that can penetrate your skin and has been determined to cause cancer in laboratory animals.

Lightening the hair is generally less toxic than hair darkening. Temporary hair dyes are preferable to permanent and semi-permanent, which utilize more chemicals. Highlights are a safer choice as they keep chemicals away from the scalp.

Keep in mind that permanent and semi-permanent dyes generally utilize hydrogen peroxide (a natural substance) and ammonia (a colorless gas). Peroxide removes the color, providing a blank canvas for the dye. Ammonia opens the hair shaft so the dye can bond with the hair. This combination easily weakens the hair, which can lead to hair loss. According to the Mayo Clinic website:

Overuse or improper use of hair-coloring products, hair straighteners and permanent waves can leave your hair brittle and prone to breaking off at the scalp.

Given the hazardous nature of hair dyes and bleaches, are there natural alternatives? Lemon juice and sunlight are a well-known lightening combination. Chamomile tea is another. See this article for specific ways to use chamomile to lighten hair.

One of the best natural alternatives for hair darkening is henna, derived from the leaves of the plant Lawsonia inermis. Henna is cultivated in countries such as Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, Somalia, India, and Sudan. When buying a henna product, be sure there are no extra additives such as fragrance, PPD, or other chemicals. Mountain Rose Herbs offers an excellent selection of natural henna products. The brand pictured below is a blend of Lawsonia inermis (red henna) and Indigoferae (black henna).

Henna Hair Dye

How effective are these natural hair-coloring alternatives? momsAWARE founder Andrea Fabry writes about her experience using this powdered henna mix as a darkening agent.

For this mix I used black coffee instead of water, mixing 1/2 c. boiling coffee into 1 cup of powder. I then added 2 tbsp. apple cider vinegar to help hold the color.

I stirred with a wooden spoon until the powder was dissolved, then spread the mixture onto my hair. I wore plastic gloves to keep my hands from staining, but the good news is there were no concerns about harsh chemicals on my skin! The mixture was quite thick. Some advise application utilizing a paint brush, but I just used my hands.

I covered my hair with a plastic hair cap and sat in the sun for 15 minutes. The cap and sun help activate the dye with heat and moisture. I left the mixture on for a total of 45 minutes. The longer you leave the henna, the darker the resulting color will be.

Then I rinsed my hair in the shower, using a rhassoul clay paste to help cleanse the hair. I allowed my hair to dry at room temperature, and it felt soft, light, and clean!

Andrea Hair Color Before Andrea Hair Color After
Before After


"My daughter started having digestive problems... heart palpitations... coughing episodes... muscle/joint pain... asthma/allergies... Her doctor finally advised me to check for mold in our home."

– Anonymous

"My symptoms persisted and eventually turned into lethargy and depression. At the age of 26, I required a nap every evening after work."

– Jennifer

"The ERMI mold test as well as your helpful articles and Toxic Talk Tuesday programs have helped us avoid a terrible mistake in purchasing a new home."

– Angela

"Our family has been out of our home for 9 months due to mold... I am so scared and weak from all of this. We have lost friends; family members don't understand."

– Anonymous

"I'm new at this, but today I cleaned my bathroom with baking soda and vinegar. It's much better not having those strong chemical smells afterwards."

– Anonymous

"I have been sick for almost 6 months now and doctors were not able to figure out why. I finally put it all together after going away for vacation for a week and suddenly my symptoms were going away."

– Anonymous

"We had some water leaks in our home... we never thought we needed to clean out and remove the floor, the ceiling, or the drywall... my two small children and I have remained constantly sick for years in this home."

– Mia

"We were having a lot of health problems and had been to the doctor countless times... we had large circles of slimy greenish-black mold on the bathroom ceiling, where it had caved in a few months before."

– C.

"The entire time we lived in our (mold-infested) house the kitchen sponge would get musty smelling within 3-4 days. It was so strange. I had to buy a pack of sponges nearly every week."

– Anonymous

"Both of my sons went downhill quickly and coughed for months... They both lost their ability to read, had profound vision disturbances, and had phenomenal gastric issues."

– Lee

"I've been living in a mold-infested home for 13 months... I was going CRAZY! Finally figured it out... Just a few days of recovering in a mold-free home and I feel AMAZING!!!"

– Lauren

"I started finding myself sitting on the floor in rooms of my house and not remembering how I got there, what I was doing before, or how long I had been there."

– Brenda

"We all suffered from headaches, hormonal body temperature fluctuations, brain fog, fatigue, difficulty breathing, thrush, rashes, and yeast infections... we vacated our home two weeks ago."

– Anonymous

"I knew it was mold, but doctors kept telling me I had anxiety. I was sitting in my office and could not remember who I was talking to, or what we were talking about."

– Brenda

"I had been struggling with headaches, head fog, breathing difficulties (unable to get a full breath), constant scalp tingling, migraines, nausea, feeling spacey/detached, and severe itchy skin."

– Anonymous

"In my moldy home if I left the wet clothes in the washer they would get musty very quickly and I'd have to re-wash... Sometimes I'd run a load, go to work, and they'd be musty when I returned that evening."

– Anonymous

"I was skeptical at first that these (natural cleaning) products would work, but they work better than the stuff I buy at the store! We will soon be moving to the personal care products as well!"

– Jennifer

" age 35 or 36 I started to become allergic to everything, and I got asthma at age 36... I went to doctor after doctor after doctor and was desperate for help, but nobody could help me."

– Mia

"My daughter has had many blood samples taken to test for everything imaginable and her doctor just seems puzzled. Everything comes back normal."

– Anonymous

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