Changing the color of one’s hair allows for a renewed sense of style and versatility that is difficult to find through other methods. Hair dyes have been used for centuries and were once solely derived from various plant sources like indigo and black walnut trees. Today, synthetic versions of these historic formulations allow for a more permanent, longer lasting look, and while these dyes range from permanent to temporary, we wondered, what’s really in hair dye? And more important, are these ingredients safe?

Ingredients of Concern

When utilizing a home hair color kit, keep in mind that researchers are still working to determine the effects that these chemical dyes have on the human body. While many extremely toxic ingredients were removed from many formulas in the 1970s, a number of brands continue to include known allergens and skin toxicants. We recommend reading labels thoroughly, purchasing hair dyes from companies that utilize safe practices and keeping an eye out for the following ingredients:


Although resorcinol is frequently utilized in the pharmaceutical industry as an external antiseptic and disinfectant, in large doses this particular chemical has been shown to cause eye, skin and lung irritation. Resorcinol is also a known environmental toxin, which means washing it down your drain at home isn’t going to benefit the water you drink or the soil your local farmer uses to grow the food you eat.


Both a preservative and a food additive, propylparabens can be found in cosmetics from mascara to hair color and are a known allergen and skin toxicant. While some debate exists over the impact propylparabens have on the environment, it’s important to keep in mind that they do play a role in endocrine disruption, which is a known cause of some forms of cancer. Despite many claims of safety by numerous cosmetics companies, do you really want this stuff on your body? Paraphenylendiamine (PPD) Frequently used in temporary tattoos and in the fur industry as a dye, PPDs can also be found in photography development chemicals and hair dye. A fair amount of research has shown that PPDs can cause scalp reddening, dermatitis and skin lesions, and according to the Canadian Food and Drug Act has been deemed dangerous and illegal for cosmetics companies to include PPDs in any product that requires it be directly applied to the skin.

Natural Alternatives

When you’re shopping for hair dyes look for those that contain soothing botanicals like chamomile, aloe vera and fruit extracts. Many environmentally responsible brands are free of ammonia, PPDs and peroxide too.