If there’s one takeaway from a stroll down the haircare aisle, it’s this: people love to alter their hair. Whether it’s haircuts, extensions, or dyes, there’s so much you can do to change the appearance of your hair. Hair dye, in particular, has been incredibly popular for ages. Traditionally made from harsh chemicals, however, the hair dye market has gone the same route as so many other products available today: towards organic. Hair dyes today come in boxes with all sorts of buzzwords around the concept, which can make it difficult to identify exactly what’s safe to put on your head, and what’s not.
Wondering what’s the deal with organic hair dyes? Read on for the actual, no-nonsense truth that you need to know about them.
Organic Hair Dyes 101: The Real Truth
Make no mistake, organic hair dyes are super popular. A Google search for the best organic hair dye returns nearly 12 million results and over a half-dozen lists of the 10 best for any of the last several years. That certainly doesn’t make the selection process any easier. However, if you’re wondering about the truth behind organic hair dyes, here are a few things to keep in mind.
1. They (Mostly) Don’t Exist.
Much like with food, the cosmetics industry must adhere to certain labeling guidelines when it comes to using terms. One of those terms is “organic” which is regulated by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). In short, a product technically needs to acquire the green and white USDA Organic sticker before it can advertise itself as organic.
That’s closely regulated when it comes to food. For cosmetics, though, there seems to be a bit less oversight when it comes to things like hair color. However, if you look around at the hair dyes labeled as organic, you’ll see one of two things:
- They don’t have the USDA Organic logo, or they have some other organic certification. If that logo is absent, it means this product wasn’t certified as organic by the USDA. However, since USDA Organic certification is extremely difficult, time-consuming, and expensive to acquire, a lot of companies will go after a much easier certification. The California Organic Program certification is a common one.
- They have the USDA Organic logo, but they’re mostly henna. As of writing late 2019, the only “organic hair dyes” on the market with the USDA Organic logo are henna-based. Henna, as we’ll explore below, has its own problems when considering natural hair products.
Since organic is a regulated term, many other companies will circumvent certification by using synonyms. This is totally legal, but very misleading. Some terms you might see used as an alternative to organic may include 100% natural, chemical-free, plant-based, vegan, non-toxic, non-GMO, made with real [insert ingredient], naturally sourced, artisanal, local, or clean.
Read the labels and check for legitimate certifications. Don’t be fooled.
2. “Natural” Is Not Synonymous with Safe or Chemical-Free.
Natural doesn’t mean safe or ethical – it also doesn’t mean chemical-free. This is most readily seen with henna-based hair dyes, which are currently the only organic hair dyes with the USDA certification on the market. Henna has been used for thousands of years in India and the Middle East. It typically results in a dark brown or a black dye, but sometimes companies will mix it with other natural, plant-based hair dyes to acquire shades of red or purple.
Henna dyes the skin because of the presence of a compound known as lawsone, or hennotannic acid. Commercially, this compound is extracted from the leaf matter of the plant using sodium hydroxide, the active ingredient in drain cleaner. It’s then filtered with a microporous resin to trap the compound before being rinsed with ethanol and frozen to isolate the lawsone in its final, powder form – and it’s not shelf-stable. It’s either got to be used soon after production or mixed with chemical stabilizers so it lasts.
Many people are a fan of natural because it often means less exposure to harmful chemicals, but there are some cases where that isn’t true. Technically, because henna is derived from a plant, it’s natural. That extraction process isn’t exactly what you associate with natural (let alone organic) though, is it?
3. Cruelty-Free and Sustainable Hair Dyes Have a Bigger Impact.
Finally, it’s very worth noting that just because a company peddles an organic or all-natural product doesn’t mean their business practices are up to snuff, or that they’re really leaving the world a better place than they found it. Want to make a real difference with your purchases? Take a look at the company’s business practices, their history, and what else they might be selling under a slightly different name.
The cosmetics and personal care industries, in particular, are known for unethical behavior. Such behavior includes testing their products on animals, using questionable sourcing, and ingredients that are all but untraceable. Rather than endorsing such practices by beelining for the organic sticker, spend some time doing your research and look for a natural hair dye which:
- Is certified cruelty-free. That means no animal testing, no animal products, and no exploitation in the supply chain.
- Has pursued B-corp certification. Want to ensure that a company is committed to ethical business conduct? Look for a haircare company that’s a certified B corporation.
- Emphasizes sustainability and eco-friendly practices. Choose a hair dye that uses recycled packaging, is zero-waste, or embraces other sustainability initiatives for its product.
Remember, organic doesn’t always mean safe, chemical-free, or ethical. Know what to look for and choose companies that are really making a difference.
Natural Beauty Is Within Reach
The growing interest in organic hair dyes is part of a larger trend that embraces natural beauty. Here at Turbie Twist, we’re all about unleashing the inner beauty within each woman. However, we’re also about providing grounded, scientifically validated information and tips to help you do so. Our verdict on organic hair dyes? Pursue with caution. You’re likely to come across a lot of nonsense which is at best meaningless, at worst causing the very harm you’re trying to prevent.
Are you in the midst of leveling up your hair game with natural products? That’s fantastic! Check out our all-natural cotton bath towels and satin pillowcases to help keep your hair looking its best all day and night.