Choosing the Best Cruelty-Free Hair Dye
Most of us have used some form of hair color in our lives, but we probably didn’t consider what ingredients were inside. How does your salon (or a drugstore box of color) transform dark hair to blonde or give you unicorn hair in every shade of the rainbow?
The short answer is chemicals. Synthetic chemicals work together to allow our hair follicles to become receptive to hair color, but the chemicals used in permanent hair dyes can be incredibly harsh and harmful, not to mention they are often tested on animals.
Cruelty-free hair products and hair color brands can help you avoid using products that involve animals and will also help keep you safe from the inclusion of chemicals that could damage your hair and harm your body.
What does it mean to be cruelty-free?
Cruelty-free means animals aren’t involved with the development, manufacture, and distribution of a product. For a product to be truly cruelty-free, it also won’t contain animal ingredients.
While one company may think it’s safe to add animal byproducts like lanolin or beeswax to a product, a 100-percent cruelty-free company will always avoid using these ingredients. These companies know the importance of vegan beauty, in addition to cruelty-free beauty. According to PETA, there is never a way to include animal parts or byproducts without endangering or harming the animal.
Are all cruelty-free hair dyes vegan?
No, but they should be. If a product is really cruelty-free, no animals will have been used to test or create the product. However, some cruelty-free hair dyes may contain animal ingredients, like keratin, which is an animal byproduct ingredient. If you’re looking for a vegan hair color brand that’s also cruelty-free, you’ll have to pay double the attention to a company’s products.
What hair dye ingredients should I avoid?
Hair dye companies likely aren’t going to advertise these ingredients on their labels. Instead, they’re going to highlight things like essential oils, cocoa butter, plant extracts, and vitamins C and B. It’s up to you to look past the easy-to-find ingredients to see what’s really in those products.
While most hair dye ingredients aren’t animal-derived, there are a few you can look for on the label. Keratin and carmine are two popular hair dye ingredients that are taken from animals and insects, so you won’t find those in a vegan hair color line.
The major issues with traditional hair dyes and semi-permanent dyes are animal testing in labs and the inclusion of unsafe, chemical ingredients. Here are a few you should avoid.
You’ll find ammonia in practically all traditional hair dyes. It helps your hair follicles swell, expanding and opening the cuticle of your hair to allow for hair dye to penetrate more deeply. The more the hair cuticle is opened, the better the hair dye will be absorbed by the cortex of your hair.
The problem with ammonia is that it can be extremely irritating to the skin and eyes. Even being exposed to fumes can trigger respiratory distress or cause your eyes to water. Ammonia also weakens your hair structure by changing your hair’s production of tyrosine. Ammonia can also enter the bloodstream from the scalp.
Tyrosine is an amino acid that helps your hair hold color. Over time, exposure to ammonia can destroy your hair’s tyrosine, making it difficult to dye your hair color at all.
Ammonia also causes your hair to dry out, become brittle, and break easily. It can also change the follicle of your hair and make it frizzy.
Permanent hair color requires a chemical reaction to permanently bond the color to your hair’s cortex. Resorcinol reacts with a developer in a hair dye to make it permanent.
Resorcinol is also used to make rubber tires. Imagine using a rubber additive on your locks to help boost your hair color. Yeah, we’re wincing, too.
Unfortunately, resorcinol is an inexpensive chemical to produce, which is why its use is widely popular (for tires and hair dyes alike).
Classified as a toxin, the European Union (EU) and Japan have both banned resorcinol from use, but hair dyes in the U.S. still contain it. Resorcinol is a known endocrine disruptor and can interfere with your hormones.
Thyroid function can also be compromised when using a product that contains resorcinol, which is why it’s important to seek out natural hair dye alternatives that don’t include this ingredient.
Persulfates are a group of chemicals that are known to cause significant respiratory irritation and sensitization. Exposure to these chemicals can cause asthma, allergic dermatitis, sinus, and bronchial irritation.
Exposure to these chemicals has proven especially dangerous for hairstylists who use products that contain them. Persulfates can even cause anaphylactic shock for some people who are highly allergic to these chemicals.
Hydrogen peroxide is most often used to lighten hair and make your hair color permanent. It, along with resorcinol, reacts to permanently seal hair color into your hair’s cortex.
Hydrogen peroxide changes the way your hair holds color, but it is an extremely strong chemical. Most likely, your hairstylist likely does their best to keep it away from your scalp.
Hydrogen peroxide can cause serious scalp irritation, damage your hair cuticle, and lead to hair breakage and frizz. This is why you may find the texture of your hair feels different if you’ve had highlights or if you’ve gone a shade lighter than your natural hair color.
Dyes that contain hydrogen peroxide are oxidative. Through the process of oxidation, the hair dye becomes permanent and sticks to your hair more efficiently, but oxidation also exposes your hair to oxidative stress, which can damage your hair and lead to hair loss.
It’s a commonly known fact that lead has no place in the products we use, and exposure to lead-containing materials can cause significant health problems. However, consumer advocate groups are still in the process of seeking out lead-containing products and ensuring the FDA issues a ban on them.
One such ingredient is lead acetate. Used since the early 1980s in progressive hair dyes, this ingredient is a known neurotoxin and can lead to serious organ toxicity and developmental delays in children. Mostly used in men’s hair dye products (we’re looking at you, beard dye), lead acetate changes hair color over time instead of in one treatment, making it even more dangerous due to continual exposure.
This ingredient is most often found in darker hair colors and works well to color darker hair. Not only is PPD a carcinogen and known for causing organ toxicity, but it’s also known for causing serious skin irritation.
Hairdressers and consumers alike can develop dermatitis, eczema, hives, and toxic anaphylactic shock when using hair dyes that contain this ingredient.
What are the best cruelty-free hair dyes?
While cruelty-free hair dye brands exist, Kinder Beauty doesn’t recommend many of them. We hold the products we feature to a higher standard. We expect kindness and clean ingredients that won’t harm your body or the environment.
One of our favorite brands is Overtone, a company started by two people committed to rich, vibrant hair color without animal involvement or damaging ingredients like parabens and sulfates. Overtone hair color isn’t actually a hair dye. It’s a richly pigmented, semi-permanent hair color conditioner that comes in some truly magical shades.
Available in vibrant shades and fun colors that are so safe you can even use them on children, we love Overtone’s approach to hair color and commitment to safety.
And don't forget about incorporating vegan cruelty-free products after you dye, too, for the ultimate hair care routine! Voir Haircare's Sunset Rituals Signature Conditioner will help you achieve a vivacious mane by infusing strands with hyaluronic and lactic acids for maximum hydration and body. Then apply a couple drops of 103 Collection's Vegan Heat Protectant Serum before or after styling for a sleek, high-gloss finish that seals in moisture and protects against breakage and color fading. Both these products were featured in Kinder Beauty's June 2022 boxes.
Out of the box
Coloring your hair safely is easy when you have the right formula from a cruelty-free line of hair dye. Remember, it’s important to look for cruelty-free and vegan hair dye brands to ensure your products don’t contain animal parts or involve animal testing—whether you’re in the market for semi-permanent hair dye or you’re heading for a salon service.
Protect yourself (and your scalp) by checking out The Kinder Beauty Blog for the scoop on the best vegan brands that you can trust to deliver lush, semi-permanent color that won’t contain drying alcohols, animal parts, or harsh chemicals like formaldehyde.
Not signed up for the Kinder Beauty Box? Um, why not? The Kinder Beauty Box lets you try the best cruelty-free brands without having to shop for them yourself—and they’re all one hundred percent vegan. Step outside of the hair color box and opt for nontoxic dye and clean hair color that will protect you and the animals you love.