Hair Dyes - All you need to know

Friday, 1 March 2013  |  Sarah

Hair Dyes - All you need to know to colour your hair safely and successfully 

Hair Colour
Natural hair colour is formed by hair pigmentation of two types of melanin: Eumelanin and Phaeomelanin. To significantly alter this colour, for example by using a permanent hair dye, a simultaneous decolouring and colouring process needs to occur – which requires the oxidation of a colourant in order develop the required colour, the oxidising of the melanin pigments and the opening of the cuticles on the hair fibre to allow the new colour into the cortex.  

Such a process is difficult to achieve without the use of some chemicals, such as hydrogen peroxide and the risk of allergic reaction should not be overlooked in any type of colorant, gentle or otherwise. Permanent colorants will also contain para-phenylenediamine (PPD) or a variation of, which sadly can cause allergic reactions in a small number of people. For these reasons it is extremely important that a skin test is carried out 48 hours before you dye your hair, even if you have used the product or shade before. 

Certain chemicals can however be avoided and less aggressive alternatives used. Ammonia is used in many mainstream colorants to open the pores of the hair allowing the colorants reach the cortex, but repeated use can cause hair fibre damage, leaving the hair dry, rough and dull in appearance. Another oxidising agent, resorcinol, is a severe skin irritant and colorants containing resorcinol have to carry a warning on the packaging. 
Hair colorants that are free from PPD and peroxide, as well as ammonia, resorcinol and parabens are available as an alternative for people who are sadly allergic to permanent colours or those concerned about possible allergies. As they are free from such ingredients however, they are not able to cover more than early, fine grey hairs and don’t have the ability to lighten hair. Such colours fade from the hair with washing so are also suitable for those looking for a temporary colour.

‘I’ve got my first few grey hairs and I’d really like to cover them up, but I hate hair dyes that smell of ammonia and want something that’s kind to my skin. What do you recommend?’

Health stores and webstores are one of the best places to look for a more gentle hair colorant that uses less of the harsh chemicals normally associated with mainstream dyes. Naturtint for example is free from ammonia, resorcinol and parabens, meaning the first thing you will notice is it’s pleasant, rather than pungent, smell. Ammonia and resorcinol, still found in many mainstream brands can be very irritating to the skin and eyes as well as damaging to the hair, leaving it coarse and dry.

Be realistic however and don’t expect to find a permanent, grey-covering hair colorant available in a wide range of colours to be completely chemical-free. Sadly, some chemicals such as peroxide are simply unavoidable in an effective permanent colorant, so whatever you use; remember to carry out a skin test 48 hours before every single use. At the same time as your skin test, take the opportunity to perform a strand test also, so you can see if you are happy with how the colour develops on your own hair shade – it’s much better to spot a potential colour disaster on a small lock of hair rather than your whole head of hair.

When choosing a colour, keep in mind the rule of sticking to one or two shades darker or lighter than your natural colour – most home hair colorants can only lighten by one or two shades and most skin complexions tend to suit one or two shades darker. 

Expert Q&A
Q: I’ve never coloured my hair before and I am very nervous, are there any tips you can give me to avoid a colour disaster? 
A: Colouring your hair for the first time can be a daunting prospect, so make use of the information and hair care advice on offer from your chosen brand to boost your confidence – any reputable brand will offer a good quality helpline at the very least. When choosing your colour, take into account your current base shade and work one or two shades lighter or darker – this will generally mean that your new colour will suit your skin tone and be accurate to the swatch or colour chart. Many people like to go lighter in the summer, but bear in mind that most home hair colorants, particularly the more gentle ones can only lighten the hair by one or two shades.

Most hair colorant ranges use a coding system to give the customer a more accurate idea of each shade – use this to make an informed colour choice. The code usually consists of a number and a letter, with the number telling you how light or dark a shade is (1 being the darkest, 10 the lightest) and the letter indicating the tone, for example G stands for Golden, M stands for Mahogany, C for Copper and so forth.

Above all else, remember to carry out a skin test 48 hours before you want to colour your hair to ensure you are not sensitive to any of the ingredients and why not carry out a strand test at the same time, so you can check you are happy with how the colour develops on your specific hair shade. 

To find your perfect hair colour and try one of Naturtint's naturally effective hair colours , please visit our Naturtint Store, where you can also get a free Naturtint Travel Size Shampoo & Conditioner when you buy 2 or more colours(whilst stocks last).

Check out these useful how to videos below: