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Natural Awakenings North Central New Jersey

Made in the Shade: Natural, organic hair color enhances both our tresses and the environment

May 31, 2013 01:11PM ● By Susan Bloom

According to a recent survey, three out of four women color their hair, either to cover gray or to enjoy a new shade or highlight. While these new shades may make us feel younger and more vibrant, there is a downside: Many popular hair color products,whether in supermarket-friendly boxed versions or salons, contain hazardous chemicals that can compromise a user’s health and welfare as well as negatively impact the environment.

“A lot of professional lines and popular boxed colors contain harsh chemicals that can irritate the scalp and get absorbed into the bloodstream,” says Rebecca Gregory, technical and educational director of Organic Salon Systems, based in Palm Harbor, Florida. Among these harsh chemicals is ammonia, “which blasts the hair’s cuticle like a hurricane, changing its pH to an undesirable level, inhibiting the hair’s ability to produce the natural oils that contribute to its much-needed moisture, and potentially exposing it to breakage or other damage,” she shares. Not to mention the unpleasant and harmful fumes that ammonia leaves behind, making it hard to breathe and causing eyes to tear and swell.

According to Gregory, other hazards found in many modern hair color products include formaldehyde, plastics, and p-Phenylenediamine, or PPD, a dye used in many permanent colors that can cause an allergic reaction or skin rash among users. In addition, metallic salts can create a buildup on hair that makes it feel hard to the touch over time, while parabens, a popular preservative used in many cosmetics, deodorants, and hair products, have been found to slightly mimic estrogen, disrupting the functions of the endocrine system and believed to potentially play a role in the development of breast cancer.

Having suffered the effects of these harmful additives herself – Gregory was hospitalized for two weeks in 2010 following excessive exposure to ammonia and hydrogen peroxide – she’s particularly sensitive to the importance of natural and/or organic hair color options. “People think that an all-natural or organic hair color product won’t work or provide good coverage or lift,” she says, “but the truth is that with the right combination of high-quality ingredients, you don’t need a heavy dye load and you can still enjoy all of the beautiful fashion colors.”

Overall, Gregory recommends that users become savvy about the hidden hazards that may reside in their hair color products. “It’s not just about adding some natural ingredients to a toxic product,” she says of many brands that tout their “natural” status. “Consumers should seek out products which contain all or nearly-all naturally-derived or certified-organic ingredients, use an oil base that softens the hair cuticle, and incorporate antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents to build and restore hair internally.”

Gregory says that the benefits of greater awareness and a shift in end-user demand to more wholesome options will extend far beyond just consumers. “An increase in the use of more natural ingredients in hair color products will avoid sending toxic elements down the drain as well,” she notes of their environmental factor. In the end, she concludes, “It should be about the ingredients we don’t use as well as the ones we do.”

For more information on Organic Color Systems, call Organic Salon Systems at 888-213-4744 or visit

Freelancer Susan Bloom writes weekly Health and Food features for New Jersey’s Asbury Park Press and specializes in topics related to nutrition, fitness and healthy lifestyles.

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