A Brush with Eco-Friendly Hair Color


Eco-friendly hair color. It’s so enigmatic it deserves its own sentence fragment. Does it really exist? Can you get lasting hair color without color-binding ammonia? Is a brunette really a redhead and a blonde really a blonde when false colors are involved? Does George Clooney really mean that he’s never getting married? (Sorry, just threw that in there.) Some experts estimate that between 65 to 75 percent of women dye their hair, and it is believed that the practice goes all the way back to ancient Egyptians.

First, the bad. Most hair dyes are made of up ammonia, which binds the color, and hydrogen peroxide, which lightens existing color. Many dyes also contain p-Phenylenediamine (PPD), which is linked to problems with the immune and nervous systems. PPD creates a permanent, natural look. However, women who used hair dyes containing PPD have shown an increased risk of diseases such as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Jackie Kennedy Onassis died in her sixties of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and her hair stylist Peter Lamas famously suggested that her doctors believed hair dye may have caused her cancer.

Healthier hair color is certainly on the minds of industry professionals. L’Oréal Professionnel just announced that is premiering an ammonia-free line of hair color.
But to call it eco-friendly is a bit of a stretch, as even the best organic hair colors are going to have some chemicals that we may not like. While experts argue that the best color you can get will always be professional, there are some box brands that go easy on the chemicals. For example, brands like Naturtint contain no ammonia. This particular color is enriched with wheat, soy, corn and oat plant protein complex. Another brand, Light Mountain, contains no peroxide, ammonia or other additives.

But are they healthy? I asked the experts.

One fine, recent Wednesday, I took myself to Primrose Organics Salon and Boutique, located in the heart of Los Feliz, California. Walking into the warm space filled with eco-friendly products galore, I spoke with owners Melissa Tournay and Felicia Howe. They explained to me that picking an eco-friendly hair color is more like picking your battles. Anything that colors your hair may have certain chemical ramifications, but there are healthier hair options out there.

Primrose Organics offers up primarily two lines of color. There’s the EcoColors line, which calls itself a non-toxic. It is free of gluten, parabens, sulfites and contains many natural based ingredients. They get props for offering up an ingredient lists – other eco-friendly lines responded to my request for ingredients like I was asking for secret to George Clooney’s dreaminess. (Again, just throwing that in.)

And then there is the Organic Color Systems. This line is free of ammonia, parabens, plastics, Sodium Lauryl Suflates, and other baddies. They also offer up a comprehensive ingredients list, which includes the ingredients, what they are derived from, and their function. For example, Organics Color Systems contains Alcohol Denatured, derived from corn, which works as a viscosity adjuster.


My hair, newly done with the Organic Color Systems.

But frankly, this all just covers the glossy surface of eco color. As I write this article now, I feel like I’m wreathed in spa scents – literally, hours later, my hair still smells like lavender. And I truly dig the color – I am self-admittedly, ahem, a bit intense about my hair and want it to look its “best version of natural.”  Mission accomplished, Organic Color Systems! And sure, retaining my dark blonde color might have been the “greenest” thing to do. But beauty doesn’t have to be toxic, and it seems that these hair color lines are on the forefront of the fight against chemically-produced color.

Images: Alex Campos, Katherine Butler

Editor’s note: this review is FTC Compliant.

Katherine Butler

Katherine Butler is the Beauty Editor of EcoSalon and currently resides in Los Angeles, California.