In this article we will explain why there is no true organic hair color or organic hair dye and how many people, including stylists with good intentions are tricked into promoting products that are not only not organic, but also not very different from the other products out there. This article is pretty long, so we have provided a quick links area below that can get you to the information you are looking for. Thanks very much for reading through the article, if you have any questions feel free to email us.
I work with hair stylists from all over the world and one of the hottest topics right now is the idea of Organic Hair Colour. Consumers are trying to find the safest and gentlest ways to color their hair and the best gray coverage and the word “Organic” carries a lot of weight in the conversation. Unfortunately due to a lack of certifications and standards and some not so truthful manufacturers, it has created a web of misinformation. What makes the situation worse is the spreading of this false information. For example one person will hear something about an “organic color system” and think it's amazing and then pass it on to the next person. The problem is that if that first message was a lie, every time it is repeated to someone else that lie starts to look like the truth to all the people hearing it. Even though it is still a lie.
This misinformation creates a huge problem for those who are truly looking for a hair color that is Organic or Healthier or More Natural. This article will hopefully present you with information that will help you to make better choices in what hair color you use and why you choose to use it.
I work for a manufacturer of professional hair care and hair color sold in higher end hair salons throughout the world. We own the manufacturing facility and formulate everything we produce with the exception of our aerosol hair spray. In the past we have also done private label manufacturing of hair products for other brand. I have learned a lot about hair color and hair care products in last 12 years of my career and as a company we've been in the hair care business for almost 40 years.
Hopefully I can share some of my experience with you today, and you can share what you learn with others. That way, maybe together, we can help people make more informed choices than what they are making right now. Also check out this article if you would like to learn about how harsh hair colors contribute to loss of hair, hair damage, and hair breakage and how to regrow hair with organic hair growth treatments.
Reading this article is also a test for you. Can you read through it without letting your own bias influence you. Could you look at the facts and not let your current thoughts about what you think you know jade what you are reading?
What I've learned from speaking to thousands of stylists is that most people who are passionate about something are hard to convince that what they know might be wrong. Hair stylists want what is best for them and their client. On that road to finding what they think is best, they can meet a lot of charlatans. If the stylists end up believing all the marketing, they start to create their own reality. Even when that reality goes against the facts, they stay rooted in the reality they have created. This isn't just a problem for stylists or with Organic Products, it's human nature.
A couple of weeks ago I had a conversation with a stylists in San Francisco who was interested in trying our hair color for taking a client with damaged hair from blonde back to brown. She was very nice and professional, she did however think our hair color was “ORGANIC”. Another stylist from an “Organic Hair Salon” had told her to check us out and so she was very excited to speak with us. I proceeded to explain that our hair color was not organic but that we have what we feel is the gentlest and best performing option for salons. Especially for “Organic, Green Focused, and ECO Friendly” hair salons. She said she only wanted an “Organic color”. I let her know that unfortunately at this point in time, there is no such thing as an Organic Hair Dye. That's when things went bad and she turned on me. She was very angry that I would tell her that, and wanted to know why I would say something like that. I presented the facts to her, and only the facts about organic certification, USA and EU standards, and even said hopefully someone can make one some day, but right now there are none. Her response to me was that she new the facts and she new her truth. And her truth was that her color was 98% organic. She let me know I was being deceptive by saying there was no such thing. When I walked through the ingredients in her color line on my own, guess what NOT ORGANIC, like not even close to being Organic. But the brand did have “Organic” in the brand name, Organic all over their magazine ads, and only 5 organic extracts out of 29 listed ingredients. Her response that she knows her Truth said it all. Even well meaning people can be tricked into believing something, and when they are passionate about their beliefs they are very convincing both to others and to themselves.
You often see this kind of situation in politics and in religion, but it also affects how people choose the products they use everyday.
Hopefully you can put aside any bias good or bad that you have; and I can put aside my biases as I try to present the facts below. If you feel I am wrong please email me and we can talk about it. Please be respectful as I will be to you.
Could I be wrong in my assessment? Maybe, but I don't think so because I am mostly presenting the facts on standards and certifications and pointing out how those are not met by companies peddling a product with deceptive or at least confusing marketing. The last part of this article where I give my own opinion on alternatives can be argued, but as far as Organic Hair Color, the facts are the facts.
We can have an even bigger discussion on whether Organic Hair Colour is even a need or of any importance, and on that we can differ in opinion but this article is not about that. It's about how people are being tricked into thinking something is good for them.
If you search Wikipedia for “Organic Hair Color” you get no page that matches it. I find that funny because there is a Wikipedia page for almost anything. But no one has written one for Organic Hair Color.
In the U.S. Organic products are certified by the USDA, that is the United States Department of Agriculture. Cosmetics, however, are regulated by the FDA, the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA does not define or regulate the term ORGANIC.
Here is an excerpt from the USDA National Organic Program on Cosmetics, Body Care Products, and Personal Care Products:
FDA does not define or regulate the term “organic,” as it applies to cosmetics, body care, or personal care products.
USDA regulates the term “organic” as it applies to agricultural products through its National Organic Program (NOP) regulation, 7 CFR Part 205.
If a cosmetic, body care product, or personal care product contains or is made up of agricultural ingredients, and can meet the USDA/NOP organic production, handling, processing and labeling standards, it may be eligible to be certified under the NOP regulations.
In short what this means is if you can make a cosmetic product that meets the agricultural standard, then you can have the ORGANIC certification from the USDA. This is possible but difficult to do for many cosmetics and currently no one has been able to do it for hair color. Hopefully someone will be able to one day. Hopefully it will be us, we are researching how we can meet these standards for hair color. We are close but the standards are very difficult to meet with a chemical service product like hair color.
Product labels can say “100% Organic” on the front of a product if and only if the product is made with 100% certified organic ingredients. These products can also display the USDA Organic Logo on their product label.
Product labels can say “Organic” on the front of the label if they meet the standard of having at least 95% organically produced ingredients (excluding salt and water). The remaining 5% of ingredients have to consist of non agricultural substances or non-agriculturally produced agricultural products that are approved on a National List.
Product Labels can say “Made with Organic Ingredients” on the front of the label if and only if they contain at least 70% organic ingredients and the product label can list up to 3 organic ingredients on the front label.
So anything with less than 70% organic ingredients cannot say the word organic on the front of the label or bottle or claim to be Organic.
No Hair color produced in the world today can meet this standard. You would think because there is a standard and no product could meet that standard, that the debate should end there. Wrong.
The easy answer is that there are loopholes that companies try to use:
Name the company with the word Organic in the company name.
Claim that the company or product has been around longer than the standard so it should not have to comply with the current standards.
Claim that certifications from other countries are stronger than the USDA standard, even though they don't really have those certifications either.
And lastly, hope that no one complains loud enough to be heard and just use the term until they are caught.
All of these strategies do 1 thing: Represent products as organic to the consumer without actually being organic.
In essence this strategy tricks the consumer into purchasing and using a product based on a promise that it is Organic when it is NOT Organic.
Lets break down some of the European Union Standards for Organic Products to see if that is true.
Europe is actually similar to the United States in that they DO NOT have a governmental standard on what is an Organic Cosmetic Product. There are certifying agents where you can get your product certified as organic, but they are private entities. One of the certifying agents that we will discuss below, The Soil Association Organic Beauty Standard puts it this way:
Strict EU laws ensure any food product labelled organic meets legal standards and is independently certified by a recognized body. Unfortunately, there are no EU regulations concerning the labeling of organic or natural beauty products.
Since there is no Governmental EU standard on Organic, there are many different certifications you can get and all of them have different standards you have to meet. Also good to know is that since the certifying agencies are private companies, these are NOT Government Certifications they are granted by the certifier. Some of these foreign certifiers are non profit agencies, and they all charge a specific fee to purchase the certification service. To top it all off they all have different standards that need to be met in order to be certified.
You can read the complete standards requirements on their web site, but in brief the standard they have is:
5% - 10% of the product not including the water must be ORGANIC
in order to qualify for this certification. I am pretty good at math, but even those who hated algebra class in high school can see that 100% or 95% or even 70% which are the requirements by the USDA are much higher than 5% - 10% which are the ECOCERT requirements.
But wait is that all the facts, not entirely, ECOCERT says that a finished product should have 95% natural ingredients. But what does Natural mean? They do NOT list what the term “Natural” means when it comes to the Organic certification. Based on their own definition we know for a FACT it does NOT mean ORGANIC as that standard for Organic is already set by the 5%-10% threshold.
The easy answer to this is because it is not the same thing. The term ORGANIC in the USA actually has a meaning and it does not mean natural, or healthier, or even vegan, it means Organic. The USDA standard is much higher than EcoCert.
There is another loophole that some companies may use. If they can get an EcoCert on one product, let's say a shampoo, they try to use the same EcoCert to sell their other products even if those are not certified.
The other little trick is that they have 1 or 2 EcoCert ingredients in the formula and then claim the whole product has the certification.
If a product uses between 70-95% organic agro-ingredients then we will certify it, though we will not allow it claim to be organic. In this case it can state that it is made with ‘xx% organic ingredients’. However, we will not certify any product with less than 70% organic ingredients at all.
This certification is actually similar to the USDA and the California Organic Products Act (COPA). It also includes labeling guidelines that manufacturers are supposed to adhere to but unfortunately these guidelines don't mean much if there is no enforcement.
Easily, there is almost no one watching and there is little to no enforcement of the punishments for doing it. Atleast that is the case in the Salon Products Segment of the beauty industry.
Thankfully the watching part is changing as states like California enact guidelines like the California Organic Products Act. But at the same time laws and guidelines are only worth something if they are enforced. And in this space enforcement is close to none.
They let me know that any complaints having to do with manufacturers not complying with the law or the statutes in the act are handled through the Department of Public Health. There is also a group called the California Organic Products Advisory Committee that you can contact to voice your concerns. I could not find a phone number for them so that link takes you to a page with all their email addresses.
They also let me know that their current strategy on enforcement of the act is complaints based. What that means is that they only investigate when there are a large number of complaints against a particular brand or product. There is no one out trying to fin people not in compliance. That tells me that if no one complains about a brand they won't get caught.
He also said that there are consumer advocacy type groups bringing law suits on these brands, but that it is still very difficult to enforce or make the consumer aware of the enforcement or the law suit.
Lets be honest this is a lot of research to do to find out that the miracle product your friend is raving about is a lie. How many of you would do this much research to find the truth, and how many would just trust a friends recommendation. This is the spot where that one stylist from San Francisco was comfortable with her truth so the research was not necessary for her. She knew her truth and that made up her opinion. And she was more than happy to try to spread the good news.
Here are some examples where posts on social media and traditional ads trick people into thinking a product is organic. I have blurred out the company names, because this is not a piece to call out specific companies. I did however feel it was important to show how this is done so consumers and stylists can pay more attention to the nuances.
Today I was looking through a hair trade magazine and I saw an Ad for an “Organic Moroccan Argan Oil Line”. The name of the brand is Mo-----an Organics. The ad however does not say the product is organic. Or at least it doesn't say it in words. What it did say was that they used 2 organic oils in the product. There was also no certifications on the ad or the bottles.
Take a look at the add and see what you would think.
I showed the ad to a friend not in the hair care business and she said “Oh cool an organic argan oil! I bet it's super good for your hair, are you guys making this?”
Just putting the word organic in such prominence makes you think the product is Organic.
From Farm to Chair.
There ad says: “the world's first – ever color, care, and styling line with certified biodynamic, organic and fair trade ingredients grown on 50,000 sqm of chemical free farmland in Bologna, Italy.” Then the copy talks about not having 6 six bad hair product ingredients. I'll let you come to your own conclusion on whether you think this ad is misleading. Then I'll hit you over the head with some more facts.
This ad props up Biodynamin agriculture. I had to look that up and this is what I found out. Biodynamic agriculture is nothing new it was first introduced in 1924 by a philosopher Rudolf Steiner in Germany. You can see its wikipedia page here. If you read to the end of the introduction you see this:
No difference in beneficial outcomes has been scientifically established between certified biodynamic agricultural techniques and similar organic and integrated farming practices. Critics have characterized biodynamic agriculture as pseudoscience on the basis of a lack of strong evidence for its efficacy and skepticism about aspects criticized as being magical thinking.
But the word sounds really cool doesn't it. Biodynamic sounds like something I really want to get behind. Then when we dig a little deeper we see this:
Go to this brands website you will see that they only list 4 ingredients for their hair color.
Organic Perilla Oil
This is interesting because since we manufacture hair color I can tell you there is no way to make hair color with just these 4 ingredients. They do not list an alkaline and they do not list any pigments, they also do not list anything that would be a substantial amount of the formula. They basically just give you a list of 4 ingredients that are most likely a minuscule part of the formula. What makes this worse is when you go further down the page.
They have a video showing a man in either a Chef coat or Lab coat, I guess either is fitting, mixing these 4 ingredients in a wooden bowl and then into a lab jar. Then he takes the four ingredients he just mixed and pours them into an empty ECO Packaging tube of hair color. Next pan to all the color tubes nicely displayed next to the Eco ingredients. A 4 minute video with nice music to make you think all the ingredients in the Hair Color are organic biodynamic ethical (can I throw any more Eco buzz words in the description). This brand is Italian made and sold in the US to salons as an “Organic” product and an “Organic Way” for the salon to exist.
If you get a stylist or industry expert who is popular on social media to spread your gospel you can make in-roads into many hair salons very easily. Here is a post on social media by a brand with Organic also in the name of the brand. This post makes you think their ingredients are all organic too. Click on the image to get a bigger picture so that you can actually read what they are saying. At the end of the post they list all the Organic Ingredients they claim to use. They even talk about how their products are Soil Association Certified.
So what is wrong with this post, it's a lie. When you look at their true ingredients list which I grabbed as a PDF from their website, you see that the ingredients they post on Facebook and the ones in the bottle don't even match. Take a look for yourself.
Only 1 ingredient has the EcoCert certification
The other 4 ingredients have the Soil Association Certification.
This brand also claims to be “The world's preeminent All Natural Organic Salon Color Line”. Yet their hair color is nowhere near being organic or all natural.
In this piece in particular they say: “Here are a list of our wonderful natural ingredients” and they go on to list 26 “Organic Ingredients” Only 4 of those organic ingredients show up on the actual products ingredients list.
But it is difficult not to fall for it. Even well intentioned journalists tend to fall victim to the marketing spin and pretty pictures. Here are a few articles posted on well known websites that promote Organic or Natural Hair Colors, but they fail to let the reader know that there is no such thing and instead claim that there is.
Writer for the Huffington Post who thinks she is now getting her own hair colored with a “Organic Hair Dye”. She is using the brand from the facebook post. I guess whe got tricked.
I tried to contact the editors of the Huffington post and the writer about this article and I posted in the comments of the article and as of this posting I have not heard back from them.
This next online article lists “Natural Hair Colors” without really defining what they mean is natural. They actually have a few brands on this list that claim to be Organic and use the letter O predominantly in their name and advertising and sales techniques. Talk to a salon that carries the brand and they'll tell you it's O for organic. It is actually O for original. Whatever that means.
The problem with reporters getting duped is that they have a loud voice and a huge platform. So much so that when you Google “Organic Hair Color” both these articles show up on the first page in the top 5 results. There are over 10,000 searches for that term and thousands more for similar terms every month.
Unfortunately, this person who is actually telling the truth does not have the same reach as the Huffington Post or Allure or Elle, etc. and her post doesn't show up until page 3 in the Google results. Ask yourself how often do you go to page 3 of the Google results. Especially if everything on page 1 says amazing things.
Henna Hair Color and other Alternatives that can be Organic.
There are currently no permanent hair colors or organic color systems that meet the true Organic standards. You can, however, use Organically certified Henna hair color, Indigo, Tea, or Coffee to dye hair. There are stylists that I have met in Europe that specialize in these color treatments but they are very few. The results are also very unpredictable and the products are very hard to work with. In order to use these dyes the consumer would need to be very comfortable with not knowing what the final result would truly look like. For example indigo may look to purple or too dark at times, henna has a tendency to be too orange and very warm, and teas and coffees have the tendency to be very unpredictable and hard to match over and over. These products also cause different issues with hair in regards to texture, feel, and coating of the hair. Ask anyone who does henna, it is very hard to get it out later. Also the #1 reason people dye their hair is to cover Gray. It is very difficult to get gray coverage with these products and very difficult to have consistency in the results.
This is where my own personal experience comes in to play, so please understand that this part of the article is my opinion based on a lot of experience.
Interestingly enough, even more important to people than the % of organic ingredients in a hair color is wether or not the color will work. Will it cover gray hair is usually the number 1 question and concern that people have when wanting to try a new hair color. Making sure that the dyes that the color is using to cover the gray are dyes that are less allergen or less damaging, or have less build up is a great place to start your research.
When we talk about allergies in hair color we are talking about the effects that hair color has on both the stylist applying the color multiple times a day and the consumer who is having the color applied once a month. As you can see just by that sentence when you think about it the hair dresser is the most at risk to develop a reaction because they are exposed to it on a more consistent basis. Stylists concerns usually have something to do with developing or already developed Contact Dermatitis. Hair color no matter what the ads say is a chemical process, so making sure you take precautions for yourself and your clients is super important. We have a very low amount of people who would have a reaction to our hair color, and even with this low reaction level we still suggest that every stylist do a patch test on themselves and their clients. You can view this video of one of our Educators who found our hair color because after so many years of being a stylist she was forced to stop doing hair color due to her Contact Dermatitis. She then found us and is now coloring hair happily again.
We also educate stylists to understand that even though they are considered the hair doctor, they are not allergy doctors. If a client is worried about a reaction or has a reaction to a product they are using, they should see an allergist. Too many times I've spoken to consumers on the phone wanting to know if they could please try our hair color. They heard great things about it and they are allergic to hair color but need to cover their gray hair. When I ask what their doctor says, they say oh I didn't go to the doctor, my old hair dresser told me I was allergic to color.
Most often people are allergic to the dye PPD. We use an alternative to PPD called Toluene2,5Diamine Sulfate. This alternative as shown in European Union Studies, is 2 -5 times less allergen than PPD. Does that mean no one is allergic to our color, no it means that based on the studies 2 -5 times less people are going to be allergic to our color. That is why we still recommend a patch test.
If you'd like to see studies about prolonged exposure there are many, but most have been done using traditional hair color with ammonia and PPD dyes. A good source for this kind of information can be the Hair Color Research done by the National Cancer Center.
Our goal is to make the safest of all the hair colors. So keeping the hair looking as healthy as possible and reducing the number of allergic reactions are 2 big performance indicators for our brand. Now that sounds great but someone else saying ORGANIC sounds so much easier. I am not saying our color is organic, I am making the point that 1 word descriptions are sexier than page long explanations.
When we think about damage to the hair we think about the Alkaline Agent, the ingredient that swells the cuticle to allow the dye pigments to penetrate into the hair. Traditionally ammonia is used in hair color and over time it shows a great deal of damage. We use 2 different alkaline agents in Mastey hair color, Monoethanolamine (MEA) and Aminomethyl propanol (AMP). We feel that these 2 alkaline agents are less damaging to the hair than ammonia. We have manufactured a non ammonia color since 1982 and we have seen the long term effects. And it is our opinion that it is better for the hair. Are there differing opinions on that? Yes there are. There are those that feel there is no difference and those that feel there is a huge difference. There are even those who believe ammonia is not that bad and that MEA is worse. They are a minority in the debate but those people do exist.
First you can leave knowing there is no such thing as organic hair dye. If you could be so kind as to link to this page or share it on social media to spread the word I would greatly appreciate it.
Second, think about what you are really looking for. Are you really just looking for something that does less damage, has less allergic reactions, has better ingredients?
Lastly if you are a stylist or are a consumer who would like to have a stylist try our hair color on you after reading this post. We would be happy to provide them with a sample to try. Just have your stylist visit www.masteyhaircolor.com and have them create a stylist account with their cosmetologist license number. They can then pick 3 shades of color and a developer to try. They will only have to pay a $10 shipping charge.
Remember, each one will have it's own bias, it's your job to make an educated decision. Also remember that when you look at products like shampoo ingredients and scores they are going to be lower than when you are looking up ingredients for chemical services like permanent straighteners and hair color and perms, etc...
This is a good place to look at ingredients you may not be familiar with. You can enter an ingredient name and then they will show you information that has been gathered by multiple studies. They also have their own SCORE that they give to an ingredient. I tend to look at this sight as a starting point as it provides links to the studies they cite.
My thoughts on their bias: they lean more towards the hyper environmentalist side of the green spectrum. There is nothing wrong with that, but you should know that when you read their information or look at their scores. They also get to pick what research they include in their site. So there is a chance that valid research information is or is not included. But overall it's a good place for information. You should however look at other sources as well.
The Cosmetic Industry Review Expert Panel is a panel that provides guidance on the use of cosmetic ingredients to the cosmetics industry. They have nice definitions for ingredients and you can learn a lot about what ingredients do by visiting their site an searching for an ingredient you are interested in learning about. They also have information on safe usage levels in products etc.
My thoughts on their bias: they lean more towards the business / chemical manufacturers end. So it's good to know that when you read their information as well. I look at it as a reliable source for data in the same way I look at EWG. If I can perceive and understand the bias I can make my own conclusion with information from both sides of the aisle.
There we go politics in the cosmetic industry. There's even politics in deciding if an ingredient is good or not .
Now it's up to you to decide what you believe about alkaline agents, dyes, allergy rates, results, and organic certifications. I'm sure I've left you with a lot to think about, and that is great. I hope that what you learned here in this long article can help you to make smart decisions for yourself and your family.
I would recommend that you look at all the information in it's entirety.
Think about the Integrity of the source and any bias that they may have.
Be open minded to new information even if it conflicts with what you believe.
Then make a decision you can logically understand.
I personally like certifications if they are real and actually mean something and can be enforced. For example there is a certification called GREEN SALON out of Denmark that we carry on our hair care products. This certification has to do with actual ingredients used in products and not with agricultural or water or farming issues. GREEN SALON basically has compiled a list of ingredients they feel are not good for the hair stylist or consumer. If you do not use these ingredients, you can have your product certified. For hair products I believe this type of certification is way more valuable than an Organic Certification because they are looking at research on ingredients specifically having to do with hair care, hair salons, hair product use. Remember just be cause an ingredient is Organic, doesn't mean that it is good for you or good for your hair.
Thanks for reading, email me if you have any thoughts or if I can help you or your salon in any way. And please share this on your social media.