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The Organic Hairdresser

For many women, a trip to the hairdresser is the first port of call when things go wrong.

Bad break up? Book a blow dry. Kids driving you nuts? Sanity is just a salon away. Mum diagnosed with cancer?… I think the first person I broke down and cried in front of was my long-time colourist in Perth.

I’m sure many of you have similar stories. Hairdressers are the people we turn to in times of need: when our soul wants soothing, when our ego needs boosting or just when a night calls for an extra bit of glamour.

While glossy hair won’t solve all life’s problems, there’s a lot to be said for that temporary high when you stride out of the salon knowing that even if you have bags under your eyes and a broken heart you still look good.

But although a few hours at the hairdressers can do wonders for your mood, it can seriously compromise your health.

Over 5,000 different chemicals are used in hair dye products alone, according to the National Cancer Institute.


These include probable carcinogens such as parabens, coal tar, and lead acetate.

These toxins are rubbed into our scalp and inhaled as we sip our latte and read about Brad and Angelina.

It would be so much easier to turn a blind eye and enjoy the head massage, but the mounting evidence is making it hard to look way.

A quick comb through the research

Take lead acetate for example, an ingredient often used in ‘progressive dyes’ – products that alter the hair colour gradually.

To be granted FDA approval these ‘progressive’ products must wear a large label cautioning people against using the product on their eyebrows and eyelashes, in their eyes, on their scalp if they have cuts or on any other parts of the body.

Lee Euler author of Cancer Defeated sums up the message:

‘Sounds like a lengthy way of saying, ‘Really, this stuff shouldn’t come into contact with your body in any way whatsoever…except the part you’re willing to sacrifice for the sake of looking good.’

It goes without saying that lead is bad news.

In fact, a recent study found that the level of lead in your body determines how soon you will die – of any cause.

As for lead acetate, it has been shown to induce kidney tumours in rats.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) maintains the evidence is ‘limited and conflicting’ with regards to hair dye and cancer. But there are a few not so grey areas.

Here are a few key points the NCI highlights:

* Studies show that people who started using hair dyes before 1980 have an increased risk of developing non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

* Population studies have found an increased risk of bladder cancer in hairdressers and barbers. A 2008 report released by the Working Group of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) concluded that some of the chemicals these workers are exposed to are ‘probably carcinogenic to humans’.

* Darker Dyes are more harmful

Better off bleach blonde?

After putting my hair through the rigours of chemical perms and platinum in the early noughties I decided to return to my roots eight years ago. Less damage to my hair and more grown up, I thought. But not necessarily better for me, according to research.

‘…darker dyes appear to have a higher concentration of the offending chemicals that potentially cause cancer,’ writes Lee Euler.

Terrence Wilson, (or Terry) Creative director and co-owner of Hair Organics explains why:

‘Dark permanent and semi permanent colours contain higher levels of P.P.D, which is the colour pigment necessary to stain or permanently colour the hair,’ he says.

‘These use an ammonia activator which release high bursts of oxygen quickly opening up the cuticle. These are both harmful to the hair and scalp.’

The Royal Hair

Originally from New Zealand, Terry has worked in the hair industry for over thirty years and has treated the likes of Keira Knightley, Helena Christensen and even the Queen.

‘I was inspired to set up Hair Organics as I worked alongside Daniel Field [ a pioneer in organic hair care] in Soho for five years and experienced first hand the difference in the quality of the hair after colouring,’ he says.

At Hair Organics Terry and his team use organic colours (including Field’s range) formulated with pure active botanicals.

These safe alternatives contain NO ammonia, lead acetate, copper acetate, hydrogen peroxide, ammonium persulphate salts or parabens.

Instead the products are derived from fruit, coconut oils and seaweed. The latter ingredient is used to create natural highlights.

Does it work?


After walking past Terry’s salon several times I finally got around to booking an appointment – and I’m never looking back.

Not only did Terry do a fantastic job (three months later my autumnal highlights are still glowing) but going to the salon provided the ultimate non-toxic indulgence.

Everything from the tea and coffee to the hand wash and cleaning products are natural and organic.

The recently refurbished salon also features air massage chairs and laptop drawers. Not that I was using my computer. I was too busy writing down Terry’s tips for bar hopping in Kensal Rise.

Lowering the toxic load

Of course going to a salon is not always a convenient or affordable option. According to surveys 60% of women who dye their hair, do so at home.

But if you’re going to go the DIY route, take heed of Terry’s advice:

‘If you’re colouring your hair at home with a commercial dye, drink lots of water before during and after to protect the blood stream and help flush out any unnecessary toxins,’ says Terry.

‘Don’t shampoo your hair first as this will open up the pores in the scalp and cause irritation and always do a skin test 3-5 days before.’

For the past two decades Mum has used hair products free from Sodium Laureth Sulfate and other nasty chemicals. [ In fact even the dogs get the Neways treatment].

But when it comes to highlights? That’s a different matter. Mum previously went to the salon and went with the flow. It was a toxic blind spot she didn’t think much about, until last year when every potential carcinogen came under scrutiny.

Mum noticed she felt tired and a bit headachy after coming back from the hairdresser and after reading up on the hazhards she started experimenting with various natural colours.

A Growing Trend


In the last few years, natural and organic hair products have flooded the market and while there’s no shortage of paraben free shampoos and plant-based conditioners, good quality non-toxic hair dyes are still hard to come by. But they do exist.

Recently I received a press release about another UK product called Herbatint, available for £9.00 online at, at Selfridges.

The product apparently contains no ammonia, added perfume, alcohol, resorcinol or parabens. I haven’t tried it, but I’m interested to hear from anyone who has.

In fact it would be great to hear from anyone who can recommend organic salons and products in their local area. Sharing is caring and we’re all dyeing to know.

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