By Jc of The Natural Haven
There is a world of possibilities with hair colour and natural hair is the ideal base for it given there is no additional chemical process (e.g relaxing) which can greatly weaken hair. Here is your guide to what is in commercial hair colour.
There are three main ways to colour hair
*Editor’s Note: The British spelling of the world color is used throughout this article.
The colour of hair arises from melanin located inside the cortex. In order to permanently change the colour of very dark hair to a lighter colour (for example going from black to dark brown or from dark brown to light brown or blonde), it is almost always necessary to first bleach it. Commercial bleach kits generally contain either hydrogen peroxide or ammonium hydroxide as bleaching agents. These ingredients work at high pH (normally 8 or more) so that the cuticle can be lifted and allow penetration of the bleach which then breaks down the melanin.
Bleaching in general is not gentle to hair and affects the hair’s mechanical strength as well as disrupts the cuticle.
2. Permanent Hair Colour
Permanent hair colour is essentially a way to replace the pigment inside the hair with a colour of choice. A broad spectrum of colours can be achieved with permanent hair colour (from the normal spectrum – black, brown, blonde and red to the more adventurous spectrum – pink,purple,green, yellow etc). Normally permanent hair colour starts with a bleaching process as described above and then a pigment of choice is used to replace the colour inside the hair shaft. The ingredients in permanent hair colour usually include an agent to create the high pH alkaline environment (e.g ammonia), a bleach to lighten colour (e.g peroxide ) and pigment of various intensities (e.g benzene/phenol compounds .A common example is PPD)
Permanent hair colour processing is also in general not gentle as it involves a bleaching process as well as high pH.
3. Semi permanent /Demi permanent
Semi permanent colour is different from permanent hair colour because bleaching is not normally necessary to achieve the final colour. Many semi permanent colours use low levels of ammonia to create a high pH environment but others have no ammonia. The pigment is placed usually underneath the cuticle and sometimes can penetrate to the outer regions of the cortex. Depending on porosity (the more porous the hair, the further the colour can penetrate) and how often hair is washed/wetted, the hair colour can last for a 2-3 weeks. It will eventually fade away and semi permanent colours cannot lighten hair. Very dark hair will not have a noticeable change without the use of bleach to initially lighten hair.
Demi permanent colour is generally used to temporarily cover grey hair. It is similar to semi permanent colour in many aspects but the key differences are that normally the colour is normally just deposited on the outside of hair (so less cuticle damage) and while a high pH environment is also normally needed, often chemically weaker substitutes for ammonia can be used. Demi permanent colours tend to be darker and have a tendency to build up easily on hair. They normally last much longer than semi permanent hair colour – 1-2 months. Not all companies distinguish between ‘demi-permanent’ and ‘semi permanent’.
Semi and demi permanent colour processes are both regarded as much gentler than permanent colour or bleaching (provided that hair is not bleached prior to the process).
The process of getting permanent hair colour will almost always involve high pH (to lift the cuticle), bleach (to destroy melanin) and then the pigment added (to create the new colour).
Many naturals often ask me about Aveda (were you about to ask?) because they state that their hair colour ingredients are 97% naturally derived. Many naturals therefore think that the process is different and more gentle. I did request the ingredients from Aveda and the listing does show that some products do have ammonium hydroxide (bleach) and even PPD was listed. (PPD is a common hair dye which is known to produce allergic reactions in some people. You may know it from the warnings about black henna/pico henna. Some countries are looking to or have already banned it).
Does this mean that Aveda colour is not naturally derived – no in fact both of these ingredients can be made from natural ingredients. The important thing is to know that the permanent hair colouring process is essentially making a chemical change to hair regardless of whether the dye is naturally derived or not.
Choosing to permanently colour your hair means making a choice to weaken your hair, this does not mean your hair will break or fall off. If done correctly, you can achieve good colour results and maintain your hair. However, not all hair will be able to be permanently coloured without damage. Coming up next is the guide to the actual process of getting the colour in the salon.
Ladies, have you ever colored your hair? Have you ever considered it? Share your experiences below!
Journal of the Society of Cosmetic Chemists, pp 347-371, 1993
Journal of the Society of Cosmetic Chemists, pp 133-140, 1997
Journal of Cosmetic Science, pp377-389, 2001