Monday, September 5, 2011

Saying 'NO' to Hair Dye; Mousy Browns have More Fun

All the hair highlighters, raise your hands. (*I shamefully raise my hand*).

Since at least grade 11 (um, 12 years?), I have joined the ranks of people who have had their hair highlighted. I've been pretty darn blond, and once RED, and at least highlighting once and often twice a year. My natural hair colour is pretty boring, a mousy brown. BORING.

That said, I haven't dyed my hair in over a year (since before the wedding) and I'm starting to get the itch again. Especially since, I will vainly admit, I'm feeling a bit wonky about a new, shorter, haircut.

This post is to remind myself why I should reconsider the hair dyeing decision.

 I know it's small, but this is an example of how blond my hair got- I'm at Gray Monk Winery in the Okanagan Valley. My hair is naturally quite mousy brown, so you can definitely see the artificiality at work here...

Conventional hair dyes contain a ridiculous amount of nasty chemicals. Anyone with a nose knows this- that nostril burning smell? Those are cancer-inducing chemicals that you're inhaling into your lungs, soaking into your skin and entering your body. Yum!

Scary chemicals in hair dye:
Ammonia and peroxide: known allergens and skin irritants
PPD(p-phenylenediamine) and diaminobenzene: toxic to the chemically sensitive. PPD has been linked to cancerous tumours in lab tests by the US National Cancer Insitute (as cited on David Suzuki)
Coal Tar: darker dyes (like deep browns or blacks) often contain coal tar, or a synthetic version. This ingredient has been linked to higher rates of cancer. These coal tar derived ingredients may also be contaminated by heavy metals which are toxic to our brain (David Suzuki).

A few studies have linked prolonged use of hair dye and an increased risk  (two to three times and for hairstylists-estheticians up to 5x!) of bladder cancers, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma cancers and multiple melanomas (Ecoholic 2006, p. 13).

What isn't absorbed into our bodies gets washed down the drain:
Above and beyond our health concerns hair dye is directly washed out and down the drain, entering our water ways, rivers, lakes and oceans. These chemicals are toxic to aquatic life and how vain can we be that we'd risk our precious water sources for our hair to be a different colour?

Cultural Reality of 'Grays'
Ok, I say all this, but my one 'white-gray' hair is in my left eyebrow (yep, weird I know). I know that once I start getting whites and grays I'll feel even more tempted to dye dye away. COAL ME UP. In our culture of 'worship of youth' anything age related has left us conditioned with a knee jerk fear reaction. Nothing shouts age more than gray or white hair. I once thought one of my supervisors in Montreal was in her fifties as she sported a beautiful cap of gray hair. She was 36.

Lets be honest, gray and white hair will result in the perception of age. I do believe that we need brave women to say 'NO' to this culturally defined version of 'beauty' and 'worth'. But am I brave enough to be one of these women? I hope that when the day comes (most likely in a few short years) I will be. I am not judging though, that's all.

Some Solutions:

100% Natural: Henna is the number one natural darkening hair product. Yancy at FiveSeed has a first account post on the pros (and a few cons, notably the alfalfa aroma) of Henna; the results mainly of fabulousness. She also has a guest written post by Callah about Lush's Henna.

Halfway: Companies like Herbatint, Ecocolors and Naturcolor all have 'less chemical' hair dye solutions (Naturcolor is an ammonia-cruelty-free plant-based option *low* in PPD for example).

Not So Terrible Pros: If you're like me and am definitely not into DIY with your hair, there is virtually no chemical-free salon options. That said, Aveda, (who have, I will grudgingly admit, upped their 'eco' game in recent years) have hair dyes that are up to 97% plant based. (I highly doubt Aveda doesn't have at least a few sketchy ingredients...). Sadly, the Aveda salons here in Halifax are filled with not so friendly, snobby stylists.

Another option- pick up a box of the 'Halfway' options and bring it to your stylist, insisting on your and our planet's health. (Not for the faint of heart, I'd hope to have a kick-butt relationship with my hair stylist before attempting this one).

What about you, trusty readers? What are your thoughts on bucking the hair dye economic machine? Will you take a stand when those gray hairs start creeping in?


article and photograph copyright of EcoYogini at


  1. I've never put any colour in my hair. I saw don't do it. Enjoy the 'new doo' on its own, its super cute! Carla

    1. Hi Carla, yup, nowadays it is possible to enjoy everlasting hair color for your grey curly hair without having to worry about exposure to many harmful chemicals! Lelan Crucial PhytoNatural Hair Colorant is usually enriched using eco-certified normal plant natural skin oils to feed and revitalize hair the way it colors. See below for detail:

  2. I've had my hair dyed red since high school and am in the process of going back to my natural brown, also kinda mousy though it can look pretty in the right lighting. I'm about halfway back to natural, and then I'm going to try henna. Right now, I'm hating the brown. I was meant to be a redhead! (My dad is a redhead, and I have the freckles...)

  3. I always knew that mousy brown have more fun! That's why I used to dye my blond hair...

  4. Hoo boy! You've hit on a nerve here!

    A few months ago, I said I'd never dye my hair, and I'd grow grey gracefully, and I even wrote a post about it.

    That was two years ago. And I'm 40 now.

    I'm still really lucky. I've found about three grey hairs, and I don't dye my hair - yet. For anyone looking, they'd think I was naturally grey-free. I credit a vego diet and lots of fresha ir and exercise.

    But those three or so grey hairs have me freaked. So would I dye my hair now? I'm thinking about it!

    Because the truth is, women are judged really harshly in our society. Guys are told they look "distinguished" whereas we - just look "extinguished"!

    I don't know what I'll do, but that bottle is starting to look tempting.

    And I think I need to blog about this subject someday soon again...

  5. I am quite fortunate to live in a (U.S.) city that has two salons (that I know of) that use non-toxic-chemical hair dyes. One has 3 lines: their own "low PPD" line; Mastey Teinture Ammonia-Free Permanent Color; Act by Nature which contains no PPD, no ammonia or other amines, no peroxide, no resorcinol and no parabens. I have brown hair with gray coming in and I dye my hair to avoid age discrimination at work, plain and simple. I haven't decided how long I'll continue. I've seen women with gray hair that look great, because they have great hair and a great style - and honestly I can never tell how old they are. Not sure whether that's a good or bad thing.

  6. LOL, I forgot about the alfalfa smell! :) But I'd still do it again in a heartbeat. I think for ladies who are going gray, henna is a great solution. You can use it pretty often for touch-ups and it really covers, yet not in a uniform fashion - it allows natural highlights to glow.

    Thanks for this post! I'll definitely be sharing it!

  7. Yo girl, as usual I LOVE your posts. This also hit home with me, as I just went to get my hair cut in a salon last week, for the first time in about two years. Last time I was in a salon I had my hair cut, AND colored, maybe even highlights, can't remember. I've been coloring my hair since I was 14, and I'm 32 now.

    About two years ago, I started my journey with living a greener lifestyle, and this included, no poo, hairdyes, nail polish, etc. Sadly since then, I've also started graying BIG TIME, and I have TONS of natural highlights now, lol.

    At the salon last week, I had a hard time explaining to my stylist WHY she couldn't wash my hair, since I don't use shampoo, and of course explaining to her why in the world I'd prefer to look 10 years older than I do, with all my grey hair. It made sense to me, BUT I sooo wanted to get a great red color and be on my way, happier than ever, and once again hear people compliment me on my fabulous hairstyle, color, and cut. I haven't had ANY compliments for almost 2 years, but I've had tons of people comment on how much grey hair I have, he he.

    FOr now, I'm happy that I can keep my ground, and just hope that as I continue to get more grey hair, I can still make the healthy choice despite my desire to look "beautiful".

    Isn't beauty in the eye of the beholder anyway, so as long as I think I'm beautiful, hopefully others will think so too.

    Thanks for writing this girl, I REALLY need to blog about my struggles with going grey as well.

    Stop by anytime to say hello!!!
    Hugs, Bella :)
    Bella Before and After
    Euro Style Cakes.

  8. @Carla: awww thanks :)

    @Erin: hmmmm it sounds like Henna could be a fab solution! Did you see the pictures of Callah's hair from the Lush Henna? such a beautiful reddish brown :)

    @bbernrd: really??? wow- I like your blond hair though. Looks fab :)

    @Leanne: oh I am so glad I'm not the only one that finds it more challenging the more gray/white creeps in! I think it's a perfect time for a new post! :)

    @Anon: ouuu, lucky you indeed! knowing there's more than Aveda out there is inspiring!

    @FiveSeed: So wonderful to read/hear that henna wasn't too much hassle and covers grays well! I'm definitely going to keep it in mind when the time comes :)

    @Bella: Wow I am inspired by your courage- one for resisting when you have gray (although I'm sure your hair looks beautiful!) and TWO for going to a salon and sticking to your eco-beliefs!!! I'm so terrible at that. Good for you!!

  9. I used to dye my hair in highschool for fun. I tried lots of different colors. But for over 20 years I had not dyed my hair. Then I went to a funeral where a woman I did not know - had never even seen before - said to me, "Oh, I see you are letting your hair go gray."

    Gulp! No I'm not. I'm going straight over to the salon.

    I had my hair dyed in May (semi-permanent, "eco-friendly"), went through a 4 month grow-out, suffered at how mousey and gray I am, and dyed again. I'm not really liking it though. I think I'll go back to natural. This keeping up appearances is too much work for me and it's a real pain in the wallet.

    Also, as a side note, now that I have dyed, faded, and grown out, I can see all the other people who have also dyed. I can pick out fake haircolor in a glance. We're not fooling anyone with our fakery.

  10. I dyed my hair for 15 years before I kicked the habit...I went from black to bleach blonde once...I have also had it every colour in between except green and blue but fuschia here I come! It has been 3 years since I even thought about hair dye...the grey is there an I notice that I have more and more but I am okay with it. The only way to break the cycle of demeaning and sexist judgement is by not conforming to it. I guess according to your post, I will be one of those women who grow old gracefully...the last person I want to look like is Liz Taylor!

  11. You made some very good points. Anything that smells that toxic and burns the scalp like hair dye cannot be good for either you or the environment! I miss colouring my hair, but I decided about 6 years ago to go all natural. I'm lucky that the grey blends in nicely with my natural blond, and I'm asked regularly where I get my highlights done because it looks so natural :) Lucky me! I actually like my hair more now with its natural "highlights", it looks way better than the mousy brown it used to be.

    Definitely a hot topic. I agree with your better solutions, but in the end I just don't want to spend the time or money changing my hair.

  12. @Sara: 'we're not fooling anyone with our fakery': so true!
    But this raises a VERY interesting point- in our society is it MORE acceptable socially and culturally to appear to be combatting grays than not?

    @Alli: I knew you would comment :) I love your gray hairs- they look very pretty actually in your hair!
    I agree wholeheartedly that in order to create change we need to say 'no' and step out of the cultural 'media created beauty standard'.
    That said- I do think that it's easier said than done.

    @Nicole: thank you :) lucky you that you get complimented on your natural highlights!

    And you know what- VERY interesting that we now believe that 'nice' looking hair must be highlighted or dyed.

    I had a friend in montreal that had THE most gorgeous deep rich red hair. It was natural- but I (and everyone else) always assumed first that it was dyed.

  13. Though I know this and stopped coloring my hair while pregnant, I've since gone over-kill in all my coloring. My hair becomes white, course white and can no longer hold natural dyes. Eventually, if I let my hair go natural, I'll look like I have a puffy white cloud sitting on my head. I know something is wrong though when my head goes numb in the process of coloring. It's one of the things I do I am not proud of, but I feel so pretty with my hairs did!!!! :~/

  14. Great post, since getting pregnant (again) my naturally auburn locks have started getting mousier and mousier so I went to have it colored. It was a nightmare and took weeks to finally fade into a more natural shade. Now that my mouse-like, naturally "high-lighted" roots are coming back in I am NOT FOOLING ANYONE! haha. It's a vicious cycle cause now I'm desperate to go get a spruce up!

  15. I think that dyed hair in general is quite acceptable now, so that it doesn't matter whether a colour looks fake. I still think that having gray hair and/or the perception that you are "letting your hair go gray" has an ageing effect in many parts of society (e.g., corporate).

    I'd love to be able to use henna though - I tried it once and it was a bloody nightmare to do and so messy I gave it up and went back to the (non-toxic) dye at the salon.

  16. horst rechelbacher started aveda line after returning from india. his chemist shivnath came to us from india. horst sold aveda about or around 1998 to estee lauder for millions. he had a no compete clause for ten years. in 2008 he launched the first 100% organic hair and skin care line called Intelligent Nutrients "IN". He does'nt make a permanent organic hair dye because it can't be done. the science isn't there yet. google an interview with him and a ny designer--can't think of her name. long black hair--dyed. (Donna koran or norma komali?) he has a talk with her about hair dye and explains that it just can't be done non toxically at this time.


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