Hair Dye, natural or synthetic?

What is Hair Dye and why does it matter what it is ?

Do you use a hair dye? If yes – do you feel comfortable with the ingredients of that dye? The label may indicate a ‘natural’ or ‘synthetic’ dye but do you really know what the ingredients are telling you about the product you use?

It is a topic that is relevant to a huge number of women (and indeed men too). Some of you may think that today’s blog is rather unusual when compared to our ‘staple’ output focussing on nutritional health. However as so many of us do use a hair dye it is indeed a very big topic, and with lots of health implications. And being and feeling good is also about feeling good with the way that we look – yet when it comes to using cosmetics, toiletries and products such as hair dyes I think we all generally want to be well informed about what it is we are literally putting into our body – even if the application is topical.

Our article today is provided by Sabrina Oz founder of the company Renaissance Henna. Sabrina developed an interest in the safety of conventional hair dyes after a friend suffered an allergic reaction to PPD in an over the counter hair dye.

The question of what is a hair dye can be perplexing ! The Oxford dictionary defines the meaning of  “dye” in the English language as follows:

“A natural or synthetic substance used to add a colour to or change the colour of something”.

And therein lies the borderline between what is natural and what is not. Is your hair dye from a natural or synthetic source? How you answer, and whether you know how to answer, tells an awful lot. If you don’t know the risks of natural v synthetic origin, then it’s not really a valid exercise of personal choice to buy something based on ease of purchase and what works.

Natural v Synthetic Hair Dye

Synthetic hair dyes commonly contain an array of ingredients, including one or all , or most, of the following ingredients :

  • Ammonia
  • Paraphenylenediamine, commonly known as “PPD”.

PPD is found in most permanent hair dyes, especially those at the darker end of the hair colour spectrum: browns & black. Because PPD & other chemicals are known allergy triggers for many people, other chemicals are being used as alternatives in an attempt to produce “safer hair dyes”, and “natural henna creams” such as:

  • para-aminodiphenylamine (PADA)
  • paratoluene diamine (PTDA)
  • 3-nitro-p-hydroxyethylaminophenol and other aminophenols.

These chemicals are usually found at the mid range of the hair colour spectrum: reds & lighter browns. They are less dangerous, but can still cause sensitivity and allergic reaction.

BEWARE: PPD is also commonly found in products marketed as “black henna”. There is no such thing as black henna.

Are synthetic dyes which are ammonia free and PPD free safe and “natural” ?

Many, many women, as well as men, have suffered an extreme hair dye reaction out of the blue, and have come frighteningly close to death. According to the European Society of Contact Dermatitis,Strasbourg (Sept.2010), only  20% of hair dye allergy is reported.

Natalie’s Natural Hair Dye Reaction

This is Natalie :

“My name is Natalie and this is what I normally look like:”


Sadly, many hair dyes labelled  “Natural” are laden with risk. Natalie reacted to a PPD Free, Ammonia Free, hair dye containing the following ingredients:

Aqua/Water, cetearyl alcohol, propyleneglycol, deceth-3, Laureth-12, ethanomine, oleth-30, lauric acid, glycol distearate, ployquaternium-6, hexadimethrine chloride, silica dimethyl silyate, resorcinol, tolune-2, 5-diamine, pentasodium penteate, parfum/fragrance, sodium metabisulfite, polyquaternium-22, carbomer, mica, erythorbic acid, benzylsalicylate, CI 77891/Titanium dioxide, m-Aminophenol, prunus armeniaca/apricot kernel oil, prunus perisca/peach kernel oil, butylphenyl methylpropional, limonene, 2,4-diaminophenoxyethanol HCI, hydroxybenzomorpholine, linalool, 2-oleamido-1, 3-octadecanediol

This is what happened :


Allergic Reactions to Hair Dyes are becoming more common

Tragically, a young mother, Julie McCabe  lost her fight for life in November 2012 after spending a year in a coma following the use of a popular brand of home hair dye in October 2011. This was after tragic seventeen year old Tabatha McCourt lost her life in October 2011 following the use of a home hair dye; Tabatha’s death was preceded by an earlier tragedy in August 2010 when Mrs. Narinder Devi lost her life after using a home hair dye.

Let’s spell it out: PPD = RISK

Cancer & Hair Dyes

In 2010, the European Commission Directorate General for Health and Consumers stated: “there is no proven risk between hair dyes and cancer” and “it is not possible to assess carcinogenic risk of hair dyes”.

In 2001 when the European Scientific Committee on Cosmetic Products and Non-Food Products stated its “Opinion on the use of Permanent Hair Dyes and Bladder Cancer Risk” in as follows: “The study shows an increased risk of bladder cancer among women who made regular use of permanent hair dyes over many years.”

 So what does all this mean?  On the face of it, there is what can best be labelled “cause for concern” as far as cancer goes. As to whether hair dyes are proven carcinogens is a matter for the scientists.

Current mainstream opinion from the European Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) states that there is no major risk. I disagree. But that’s just my personal opinion. I don’t like hair dyes for many reasons. PPD in hair dyes is one of them.

For more information on PPD and hair dye risks, visit our “about henna” resources at :

What is natural?

The key to the question is to define according to the origin of the dye, and the proportion of the “natural’ ingredient” in the dye. In my opinion, only 100% natural sourced dye = natural.

What’s the Alternative to PPD & Ammonia Hair Dyes?

Let me introduce you to two plants. They are centuries old. They grow in the most arid conditions.  They are pure henna and pure indigo. When their leaves are crushed and powdered, the powder is mixed with water to form a paste which is applied to the hair to colour it – naturally.

Historically, the key difference between natural and synthetic hair dyes is that, firstly, 100% natural plant dyes such as henna and indigo come from the earth, and they have never been known to kill or to damage health. Secondly, natural dye such as henna and indigo do not disturb the natural chemical make up of the hair that you were born with.

Henna colour coats each individual hair shaft without infiltrating it and is self sealing. It locks itself onto your hair and makes it feel immediately thicker, fuller, and altogether more alive.

The exception is grey hair – henna will penetrate the inner hair shaft of gray hair and dye it red orange, but using indigo immediately afterwards will turn it a deep brown to black, depending how long you leave the indigo in for. The more you dye your hair with henna and indigo, the deeper the colour will build, and the longer it will last.

Henna dye comes from the crushed leaves of the henna plant and its botanical name is lawsonia inermis. Indigo dye comes from the crushed leaves of the indigo plant and its botanical name is indigofera tinctoria.

Henna is a permanent hair dye and indigo is semi permanent; used together they are effectively a permanent hair dye. And, for centuries, these two plants have been used to colour hair and to heal the body.

 What colour do you get with henna?

These herbal hair dye colours strive to tone naturally with your hair to give natural permanent hair colour. The colour outcome is determined by your starting colour whether it’s your natural hair colour or your hair dyed colour. Incredibly, those who have previously used henna were never aware of the fact that such an amazing array of hair colour shades is available when henna is used with indigo! You can colour auburn, brown, black, and all shades in between.

Henna on black hair

On darker hair shades like black and brown, you’ll just be able to decipher a somewhat deeper hair tone with henna which enhances your own natural hair colour (or your hair dyed hair starting colour) and shimmers in the light. If your present hair colour is black, whether naturally black or hair dyed black, pure henna will barely show and, apart from the conditioning effects, you’ll get just the faintest reddish lowlights which will glow in the sun and the light.

BEWARE: These are not pure henna.

Black henna

There is no such thing. Black henna is in fact another PPD story, so please don’t confuse that with pure henna and pure indigo. Henna does not come in fixed shades. There is only one henna plant and its scientific or botanical name is lawsonia inermis. It produces an orange red dye colour and nothing else, unless it’s mixed with something else – the crucial question is whether that “something else” is natural or chemical. “Chemical” spells danger. PPD is chemical.

Fake ‘Fresh Looking’ Henna

Lots of dye henna for hair is sold in plastic bags or in smart looking little hair colour picture boxes with beautiful faces adorned with beautiful hair on the front, and marketed as nice and easy pure henna hair colour. Beware. Always check the ingredients are listed. And if you see anything other than “lawsonia inermis” added to it, then it’s not pure henna. If the ingredients are not listed at all, don’t trust it. It’s probably PPD laden. And watch out for the brightly coloured green powders that have colour dye particles added to make them look fresh and enticing.

Anything added to pure henna dye for hair – apart from other pure & non chemical ingredients – contaminates it and is definitely bad news. Also watch out for those cute little death trap bouquet garni type white cotton bags full of black PPD crystals. Popular in Turkey and surrounding countries, it’s quite common to see people of all ages proudly utilising these pouches to achieve darkest black in their hair and on their eyebrows. It’s sad that something so dangerous is marketed as something safe and natural. It couldn’t be further from the truth.

Compound Hennas

(Pre-mixed metallic salt fixed shade henna colours ) Remember that pure henna does not come in “fixed shades”; it’s always going to be red/orange/auburn (henna on gray is always bright orange – indigo then turns it brown, through to black, depending on how long you leave it in for). Any henna hair colour which contains anything other than just 100% pure lawsonia inermis is likely to be a metallic salt compound henna mix, unless it’s only other ingredients are 100% pure botanical ingredients like indigofera tinctoria. A compound henna mix is not a chemical free hair dye.

Do get used to reading through the ingredients (on henna powder packs and on all products). It’s the metallic salt fixatives in the compound hennas that get onto your hair and react badly with perms and chemicals in hair dyes and bleach solutions. It’s very important to know the difference between compound henna and pure henna because the two are totally different. Metallic salt chemical cocktail henna has given pure henna and indigo a bad name. Pure henna will never result in fried hair or colour catastrophe.

You can use pure henna (and indigo) safely on any kind of hair – bleached, dyed, permed, fried…etc. And you can use it pretty much straight away, except in the case of hair that has just been permed or is about to be permed – here I suggest a gap of two weeks either way. Other than that, you’re safe to go; but I personally recommend a waiting period. Make it as long as you can; let’s say a minimum of two weeks. And the only reason for the wait is simply 1. to rid your hair of chemical build up and 2. to allow for the best possible colour take from henna and indigo herbal hair colour.

Henna Hair Dye Creams

Henna creams often contain synthetic chemicals such as 3-nitro-p-hydroxyethylaminophenol and other aminophenols, alongside plant ingredients.

Sabrina Oz developed an interest in the safety of conventional hair dyes after a friend suffered an allergic reaction to PPD in an over the counter hair dye. Her research and interest in the effectiveness of natural hair dyes as an alternative to synthetic chemical hair dyes was fuelled by going gray ! She set up Renaissance Henna in 2005 in order to provide consumers with choice; and to promote natural, pure, henna and indigo as an effective natural hair dye alternative to chemical hair dyes.

Sabrina is an advocate of natural products and believes in promoting freedom of information and increasing risk awareness in order to support true freedom of choice. The henna resources website of Renaissance Henna can be accessed here:

Renaissance Henna: The Home of Real Henna & Indigo

Renaissance Henna is about the rebirth of real henna and indigo in the wild world which we live in. Our hair dye ethos is summed up in this simple little concept: we take what the earth gives, and we add nothing. Our products are made only from plants. There are no synthetic chemicals present. We source the finest freshly crushed dried leaves of natural plants, to ensure the strongest dye stain, and seal them. And that’s it: 100% PPD free, ammonia free, additive free, chemical free hair dye. Our simple equation is: 100% freshly sealed powdered plant leaves + nothing else = ammonia free, PPD free, additive free, chemical free hair dye, ready to go.

Henna and indigo are key ingredients in the Renaissance Henna natural hair care and natural beauty world. They are for men and women: for hair, beards, and eyebrows! We also stock a range of organic hair care and natural beauty products, all 100% plant and earth sourced products with absolutely nothing at all added. Henna and indigo are suitable for hair dye allergy / eczema / and anyone who loves stunning natural hair colour . They colour red, auburn, all shades of brown, and black. They are for all hair types and all starting colours, including 100% gray and including 100% chemically dyed hair.

Renaissance Henna and indigo are now recommended by leading consultants at N.H.S.Dermatology Clinics across the U.K.

“Now define hair dye. Love your hair. And love your freedom of choice!”

With many thanks to Sabrina for this insightful article on a topic that is relevant to many women, and men, around the world.If you have any questions regarding the topics that have been raised, or any other health matters please do contact me (Amanda) by phone or email at any time.

Amanda Williams, Cytoplan Ltd, 01684 310099

Relevant Products

Hair, Skin & Nails – This wholefood supplement has been specially formulated to help maintain the health of skin, hair and nails. It contains the important nutrient organic sulphur (MSM) which is an essential amino acid found naturally within the skin, hair and nails. It also contains copper which can help maintain hair colour.

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Hair, Skin & Nails – Health and Nutrition

Last updated on 3rd June 2015 by Cytoplan


2 thoughts on “What is Hair Dye and why does it matter what it is ?

  1. I’m impressed with how thoroughly you have studied and researched this subject and come up with mother nature’s answer. Mother nature ALWAYS has the answers, somewhere, we just need to look until we find them. Sadly most people want quick fixes (and not even reading the article!) so look to the big company products and the glossy ads that emblazon our screens, billboards and magazines. But that’s the way the ‘brands’ like it because then they can profit from people’s ignorance.

    I wasn’t looking for a totally natural hair dye, as my search was for alerts on those nasty chemical additives that are dirt cheap, so manufacturers use them, but still charge massively high rices for their (poor!) products. However, my search lead me here, so I’ve now been able to find the answer to what would have been my ‘next’ search. Seemingly a worthwhile find.

    I’ve already found a ‘natural’ deodorant that doesn’t pollute or have side effects (that I’ve been using for over 20yrs now without any problems), and recently changed our hand soap over to castile liquid soap, which I dilute 50/50 with water, and employ a foam dispenser.

    Now I need to source a totally natural skin lotion and shampoo. I’ll then be set for an even healthier life.

    Thank you for your help with this informative article.

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