Organic Hair Colour

At Lily Jackson Hair & Make Up our health philosophy is simple – less chemicals not more.

But let’s get something clear up front – Organic Hair Colour does not exist (apart from some types of Henna). 

There are ways to reduce your exposure to chemicals in the quest for beautiful hair but it is confusing and contradictory.

Organic Hair Colour Style


When it comes to Organic Hair Colour, it’s no wonder you’re confused!

Here are some of the problems that make deciphering healthier options in hair colour, just to name a few:

  1. The unregulated use of the word “organic”. If you really want and need to be organic then look for “certified organic” (which some shampoos and conditioners are) and check who the certifying body is.
  2. In our experience, certified organic shampoo’s and conditioners don’t always work with professional hair colour from a salon.  Some organic ingredients can change cooler shades of blonde to become brassy.  For example, anything with a citrus (lemon/lime/orange) base will do this.
  3. In our experience certified organic shampoo’s and conditioners don’t always improve the condition of your hair.  Just because it is a certified organic ingredient doesn’t mean it’s going to be of a high enough quality to prevent hair damage, especially not if you colour your hair.
  4. There is A LOT of misinformation being circulated and recycled on the internet by people who are not qualified hairdressers, industrial chemists or health care professionals. You will find the same (mis)information being tweaked and recycled.  Our personal “natural haircare” favourite is the use of coconut oil in your hair – it can change the colour of your hair, it has no UV filters in it and is the equivalent of putting Johnson’s baby oil on your skin and going to lie in the sun, it can clog your hair follicles causing irritation to your scalp, it smells rancid after a short space of time and is hard to wash out properly.
  5. There are companies making unethical marketing claims based on “organic”, “naturally derived” or “plant based” ingredients.  Essentially these ingredients do not change the fact that the hair colouring process requires a chemical reaction to take place and you need certain chemicals to do this.  Some of these chemicals have been approved to use in small doses/low concentrations.  This is a personal decision – sugar, alcohol and nicotine are legal and socially acceptable and yet the research pointing to the problems they cause are significant. Aluminium in deodorant is a known carcinogen yet legal to use in some countries including Australia.  The consumer must make their own choices which are hopefully informed – unfortunately you need a science and chemistry degree to unravel and make sense of most of the information.
  6. There are colour companies who are promoting the benefits of ammonia free colour.  This has nothing to do with the “organic colour” concept.  Ammonia is used for a specific purpose and has received a lot of negative press when the alternative MEA isn’t that great and from a professional stand point, is worse than ammonia on a number of fronts.  Ammonia is a naturally occuring gas.  Theoretically it is “organic” but the fumes from the gas are harmful when breathed in.  What most colour companies don’t tell you is that by the time the colour is being put on your head, most of those fumes have evaporated. MEA the “healthier” alternative actually has a significant draw back in that it remains “active” in your hair keeping the hair cuticle open for a lot longer than ammonia.  This has a significant effect on the quality of the end colour result.
  7. Many women love being blonde. It is impossible to go more than 3 shades lighter than your natural shade of hair without the use of bleach. The quality of bleach varies significantly between suppliers and there are different types of bleach for different applications in hairdressing.  Many salons use one type of bleach only. The type of bleach that causes the most skin reactions (you know the shocking images on the internet of puffy faces) should never actually touch the skin.  We have about 6 different types of bleaches in our inventory and some are so expensive (but produce amazing results) that they incur a product surcharge when used.
  8. People who have known sensitivities to ingredients in hair colours should consider alternatives to colour that touches their scalp and go to reputable hair salons only.  All people with sensitivities should be getting a skin patch test at a reputable salon and following the correct protocols.
  9. Women who are concerned about the effects of hair colour during pregnancy should be avoiding hair colouring techniques where the hair colour touches the scalp. Ideally this should be for 6 months prior to conception, during the pregnancy and for the entire time that breast feeding occurs.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that “organic hair colour” is organic

The word organic is not regulated in Australia.
Many consumers think they are doing the right thing by choosing a salon that says they offer organic colour.  The fact of the matter is that if you are changing the colour of your hair (or permanently change how it behaves like curly to straight), then you cannot be using products that are considered organic in the truest sense.

The term “certified organic” is regulated however.

This means that any product carrying this claim must have all its ingredients reviewed for compliance with the organic standard (rules) and this means synthetics and processing aids such as EDTA and DEA (DEA’s are wetting agents that provide lather in haircare products) would not be permitted under Australian Certified Organic and NASAA (National Association for Sustainable Agriculture, Australia), the two largest bodies in Australia who certify products.

The only  hair colour products that have been certified as being organic by these organisations are some types of henna.

Some types of henna hair colours are certified organic but….

Now before you go running off to your search engine and typing in “henna”, there are many types of henna products are not certified organic and probably more dangerous to you than conventional hair colour. Things to consider:

  • Lawsone, the principal colour ingredient in henna, has been found in some research to be mutagenic (affects our genes), not to mention allergenic and not suitable for use as a hair colouring agent.
  • The images used on the advertising have been photoshopped just as much as any other hair image. The actual results vary considerably and are always a function of what your hair colour is to start with.
  • Our direct experience with clients using henna and then going back to conventional colour is that the hair is permanently altered in such a way that makes re-colouring a very big, complicated and expensive process. Most professional colour companies provide guarantees on the way the colour performs with the exception of when the hair has had henna colouring applied.  That says something.

Companies who promote “organic” hair dyes may use organic ingredients but essentially they are just for show or marketing purposes.

There are NO 100% certified organic hair colour systems used professionally in hair salons.

There are quite a few companies who promote organic or naturally derived ingredients.

The first issue we have with this is that they always heavily promote these “natural” ingredients and rarely mention the fact that they contain almost the same “questionable” ingredients as most other brands.

These seemingly healthy ingredients mostly have no impact on colour or outcome. They are used as marketing ploys to draw you in and let you believe that the product is safer, when in reality, these are all inactive ingredients and the product would perform the same with or without them. People commonly refer to this ploy as “greenwashing”.

So, if a so-called “natural” or “organic” permanent hair colour uses naturally derived, organic or plant based oils and extracts, the reality is they are included to be able to make a marketing benefit claim rather than have a significant affect on the outcome.

In our direct experience, having used Wella and other large professional hair colour brands for over 20 years, professional hair colour products are being constantly reformulated for improvements (see more about Wella’s new ME+ technology below).  But the essential process of changing the colour of hair has not changed: all permanent hair colours have an alkaline agent (ammonia or ethanolamine-MEA) that allows opens the cuticle of the hair strand to allow the colour pigments to penetrate it thereby changing the colour of the hair strand (and that’s a really simplified explanation).

The process of colouring hair can reduce the overall health and quality of hair (especially if the colour is cheap and poor quality) because that is the nature of the process and this is a completely separate issue to the potentially harmful effects that some ingredients may have on humans.
Naturally it is in the interests of large multinational companies who supply professional hair colouring products to hair salons to ensure that damage to hair health is minimised or prevented.  This is why we use Wella – it is part of a large company who spend considerable amounts on research and development and the quality of their raw ingredients is superior to most other cheaper brands of professional hair colour on the market.  These companies add specific ingredients or find new ways to achieve an outcome to counteract any potential damage to the hair.

Often the “organic” natural oils and herbal extracts promoted by some colour companies appear in such tiny quantities that it is not clear (and there is no comprehensive research on this) as to how much benefit a tiny amount of oil or extract can do, especially in the presence of the alkaline chemicals used in the hair colouring process.

Let’s take a closer look at Aveda Hair Colour – the flagship “healthy colour brand”

The Aveda brand is one of the most well-known brands that have consistently aligned their brand with a promise of offering healthier haircare.
They boast a 95% “naturally derived” ingredient promise.

The Aveda definition of Naturally Derived is:

We [Aveda] define naturally derived ingredients to be those for which more than 50% of the molecule comes from a plant, non-petroleum mineral, water, or some other natural source.

But this promise pertains to their retail range only (ie haircare such as shampoo’s and conditioners), not their hair colour products used in salons!

Some of the ingredients listed on a box of Aveda hair colour from the salon include:

  • m-Aminophenol,
  • p-Aminophenol,
  • 1-Naphthol,
  • Resorcinol, and
  • Toluene-2,5-diamine sulfate (TDS) or PTD.

These are all classed as “sensitizers” – a chemical that may cause an allergic reaction in a person, even after the person has already used a product in the past without any problems.

Let’s be clear here – we are not bagging Aveda.
We are however highlighting the fact that despite all the “plant based” and naturally derived claims the brand makes overall, Aveda, just like any other hair colour company, MUST include these types of ingredients as an essential part of a chemical process to change the colour of hair. So to this extent, they may be better than a really cheap brand of professional colour, but probably not a lot better than other large brand names in colour such as Schwarzkopf, Loreal, Goldwell and Wella who all offer “healthier colour options”.

Not organic colour, but as clean as possible please

At Lily Jackson Hair & Makeup in Darlinghurst, Sydney, we spend a considerable amount of time doing our own research in the area of “organic hair colour” which keeps us informed of innovations and allows us to remain independent of being influenced by any marketing claims. We also place a high degree of pressure for our suppliers to be honest and ethical in this area.

We have used many different product ranges on the quest to finding colour that reduces the chemical load on clients and still delivers outstanding results. At this stage, the company that best meets our “less chemicals not more” philosophy is Wella Professionals. Wella Professionals Colour offers exceptional hair colour results minus the chemical cocktail, which is better for your hair and your health!

Wella Professionals hair colour offer some specific lines of colour that are free of the most chemicals allergens in hair colour called Paraphenylenediamine (PPD) and Paratoluenediamine (PTD).

PPD is aniline dye also known as a “coal tar dye” which is derived from petroleum and linked with quite a few illnesses, so it is definitely best avoided. Aniline is used to make a wide variety of products such as polyurethane foam, agricultural chemicals, synthetic dyes, antioxidants, stabilizers for the rubber industry, herbicides, varnishes and explosives. It was combined with other chemicals to create indigo and mauve coloured dyes in the past, and is still used in hair colour today.

Wella Professionals have developed a new break through ingredient called ME+.

This patented breakthrough technology offers:
• Pure, balanced colour results with natural depth and shine
• ME+, up to 60x less likely to develop a new allergy to hair colour
• Reduce the formation of free radicals for better hair quality, with less risk to develop allergy yet performs the same way for grey/white hair coverage colour spectrum and depth as more toxic options such as PPD.

Other hair treatment services should also come under the lens of health awareness

Organic Hair Colour for Women

We exclusively use Goldwell Kerasilk for our keratin treatments – find out why it is our choice.

There are some great options to meet your needs if you prefer plant and mineral base products but they are not organic in the truest sense of the word. The technology is improving in this field but it’s important to be realistic about the basic process of hair colouring.

In coming to Lily Jackson Hair and Makeup for your “organic” hair colour and hair products, you can feel safe and secure that we will make recommendations to you that will deliver outstanding colour results with the lowest chemical intervention possible.

Clients who have known sensitivities are given a skin patch test to determine if our colours ranges are suitable.

Even if you purchase colour from a health food shop, read this article about why DIY hair colour from a supermarket is dangerous and can never deliver the kind of results you would get at a salon.

We are more than happy to talk to you about what will work best dependent on your desired outcome and your needs. Just contact us through the our contact page or on (02) 9360 8708.

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