Know Before You Color Me!

In an era where people are often judged by the way they look, most see hair as an important aspect of their physical appearance. No wonder the increased popularity of hair colors. Especially common in people who want to project a more youthful look, hair coloring is becoming a trend.

Hair, one of the defining characteristics of mammals, is a protein filament that grows from follicles, or roots, found in the dermis of the skin. It is ‘fed’ by blood vessels at the base of the follicle, which give it the nourishment it needs to grow. Each hair follicle can be divided into 3 regions:

  • the lower segment (bulb and suprabulb): extending from the base of the follicle to the insertion of the erector pili muscle.
  • the middle segment (isthmus): a short section extending from the insertion of the erector pili muscle to the entrance of the sebaceous gland duct.
  • the upper segment (infundibulum): extending from the entrance of the sebaceous gland duct to the follicular orifice.
Each strand of hair is made up of the medulla, cortex, and cuticle. The innermost region, the medulla, is not always present and is an open, unstructured region. The highly structural and organized cortex or middle layer of the hair is the primary source of mechanical strength and water uptake. It contains melanin, which colors the fiber based on the number, distribution, and type of melanin granules.



Between starting to grow and falling out years later, each hair passes through four stages: anagen a long period of growth, followed by a relatively short period of regression catagen, a period of rest during which the hair is still attached to the follicle but not growing telogen and the stage of shedding or exogen.

Approximately 90% of hair strands are in the anagen phase, the other 10% are in the catagen and telogen stages. 

During the catagen and telogen phase of the hair growth cycle, though hair are at the shedding or in the rest-from-growth period, no bald spots are visible as every hair is at a different stage of the growth cycle and hair in a similar stage are randomly distributed over the scalp.

Anagen hair can be thick long and dark terminal hair, such as those on the scalp, or fine slightly colored small vellus hair that cover almost the entire body except the lips, back of the ears, some external genital areas, palms, and soles.

Anagen phase of body hair is much shorter than the hair on the head.

During puberty, the increase in androgenic hormone levels cause vellus hair to be replaced with terminal hair in certain parts of the human body such as armpits, pubic area as well as hair on chest and beard in men. In predisposed individuals, the terminal hair on the adult scalp can undergo involutional miniaturization and become vellus again.

Genetics determine hair follicles’ pattern of growth and rest. As we age, hair follicles are programmed to stop producing hair and spend more time in the resting stage.

What is Hair Coloring

Hair coloring involves changing the color of your hair by applying a hair dye on it. The dye works by removing, replacing or covering up the color pigment naturally found in your hair.

It has to overcome a couple of barriers to be able to get into the hair shaft before it actually deposits the color onto your hair.

  1. Ammonia in the hair dye breaks or lifts up the hair cuticle by raising the pH of the hair to let in the molecules present in the hair dye.
  2. Peroxide helps to break down and remove (bleach) the natural hair color. With the cuticle lifted up and pigment broken down or oxidized, the colorless hair is ready for the new color.
  3. The color from the dye has to be developed using a pre-mix. The dye penetrates into your open cuticle and hair shaft to deposit the color.
  4. After the rinse, the cuticle comes down.

Understand the difference between temporary, semi-permanent, demi-permanent and permanent hair color

Hair dyes vary greatly in their chemical make-up, thus their different types:

Temporary hair colors are applied in the form of color rinses, color mousses or hair mascara for dramatic effects; spray-on colors for controlled application and even color-tinted shampoos and conditioners to add depth and longevity to colored hair. Rarely lasting beyond your next shampoo, they are used as a quick cover or mask for gray hair, or to add a subtle/bold tone to your natural color or highlight. They sit on the outside of the cuticle and add color to the surface of the hair. They won’t take you from a darker shade to a lighter one but can add some depth and richness to lighter hair.

Semi-permanent hair colors are non-oxidative in nature (do not contain ammonia or peroxide). The formula includes an activator that develops the color and helps to raise the cuticle of the hair shaft so that the color can be deposited there. The color doesn’t penetrate into the cortex of the hair. They too are deposit-only colors on and in the cuticle. They are water-soluble. The color lasts only about 6 – 12 shampoos. They are a good choice if you are not sure about the color. They cause less damage and rather enhance the shine and condition of the hair. They can only make the hair darker and have no lightening effect.Demi-Permanent hair colors do not contain ammonia but do have low amounts of peroxide which unlike semi-permanent, can lighten the hair slightly. They deposit the color between the cuticle and cortex, therefore, making it last longer, anywhere from 12 – 24 washes.

Permanent hair colors just as the name suggests, are permanent and last until the colored strands grow out. They are designed to penetrate the hair shaft and deposit their color directly into the cortex of the hair. The formula contains a developer to raise the cuticle to allow the color in, and coloring agents such as aromatic amines and phenols (couplers) combine with hydrogen peroxide to produce larger color molecules which are then trapped inside the cortex. Depending upon the strength of the hydrogen peroxide used as a developer, they can light hair up to 4 levels. Anything more than that is not recommended as it can cause damage to the hair.

Health Effects of Hair Dyes

Hair dyes, being pure chemicals are hazardous to health, some of which are potent carcinogens. They can affect hair, skin and other internal organs. Breathing in the chemical fumes pose just as much threat as absorbing them. They should be used with extreme caution to avoid any short or long term side effects.

  • Formaldehyde and coal tar, two potentially harmful components – formaldehyde, very popular in the dye formulas of yore, is a hardcore preservative used to embalm dead bodies and is a known carcinogen. The use of these dyes was contraindicated in pregnant women as it could cause cancer in unborn children. Many hair dyes no longer use it as an ingredient, and even when used, it’s present in such minute quantities that your dye job isn’t going to give you cancer— so don’t be too alarmed.
  • Coal tar, a coloring agent in some dyes, while carcinogenic in large quantities, at concentrations under 5% is considered safe by the FDA and in fact, has beneficial effects: it’s the active ingredient in some anti-dandruff shampoos and is also used to treat psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis.
  • Ammonia and Para-phenylenediamine (PPDs), both common ingredients in modern hair colors, are currently touted as “dangerous”. They can cause milder allergic reactions in the form of itching/irritation, redness, and swelling on scalp, face, and neck.
  • PPDs can also lead to contact dermatitis. People with eczema and psoriasis should refrain from using hair dyes to color their hair.
  • Overuse of the chemicals ammonia and peroxide present in hair colors can lead to frizzy and dry hair, loss of luster, breakage and ultimately hair loss while washing the hair.
  • Hair dyes can also trigger asthma as persulfates present in them can irritate the respiratory system resulting in coughing, wheezing or lung inflammation.
  • If not done by expert hands, it can cause severe inflammation and discomfort if it gets into the eyes. Greater injury is possible with semi-permanent and permanent dyes. The FDA reports eye injuries, including blindness, from permanent hair dye.

Ammonia-free hair colors are composed of monoethanolamine (MEA), an organic chemical compound that is a primary amine and primary alcohol. It is used as a replacement pH adjuster in hair color making it less volatile and less damaging than ammonia.

Damage Control Tips

“Hair dyes are good if they are used with caution”, says leading Hair Stylist Imtiaz from the internationally renowned chain Looks Salon. “To look great is a good thing, but it can only happen if you take additional care of your health. Always use professional products. They contain fewer pigments and more ingredients to protect, nourish and restore the hair structure. Compare that to over the counter “box colors”, which are very cheap, the extra ingredients used for protection are missing in them”, he says.

After you receive your color service wait at least 24-48 hours before shampooing your hair. Try and limit your washing to 3 times a week, especially if you have a more intense color like, red.

Use moisturizing shampoos and conditioners; avoid shampooing every day, if possible; cover your hair when going outside to shield it from sun, which accelerates the fading process and tying your hair back when working out, doing chores or any other strenuous activity to avoid excess sweat in the hair to cause the color to rinse out… were some of the valuable tips he gave.

Allergic reactions are rare but are definitely worth testing for

Having a professional do a patch test if you are coloring your hair for the first time is the best way to make sure you are not allergic to the product. 

To ensure that your hair will get the desired results you are looking for without damaging it, go for a strand test.

Both can be done simultaneously.

Natural ways to keep up your hair texture and speed up growth

  • Lead a healthy lifestyle.
  • Try to keep stress levels to a minimum.
  • An adequate amount of sleep and exercise helps control stress levels.
  • Physical activity encourages body circulation including scalp, promoting hair growth.
  • Avoid fad diets. If you aren’t eating enough protein and iron you will lack energy which will lead to hair loss and other deficiencies.

All chemical processes reduce the elasticity (stretchability) of your hair and increase their chances of breakage. Therefore, any hair that has been dyed or colored is vulnerable to damage. While we’re not suggesting you don’t do it, but rather be aware of how to take proper steps to hydrate and care for your hair post color.


Note::  Consult a Homoeopathic professional for a medicinal treatment of after-effects of hair coloring.


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