Is hair dye biodegradable? (5 ways to buy the right hair dye)

In this article, it shall be deliberated if hair dyes are biodegradable or not. Other than that, many related and associated topics shall also be shed light upon including: 

  • What are hair dyes and their composition? 
  • Do hair dyes cause cancer? 
  • What are the impacts of hair dyes on the environment 
  • Why does the issue of hair dye matter?
  • What are some alternatives to conventional hair dyes? 
  • What are the health risks related to hair dyes?
  • How to shop for the right hair dyes, if you must?
  • FAQs 

Is hair dye biodegradable?

No, hair dyes are not biodegradable. Hair dyes contain many harmful chemicals such as ammonia, lead, benzene, toluene, and Paraphenylenediamine. These chemicals persist in the environment for hundreds of years and pose threats to man and nature. 

These chemicals cause direct harm to animal life, plant life and even humans. The chemicals used to make commercial hair dyes deplete the oxygen availability of water bodies, change soil conditions and cause medical complications in humans.

Among the medical complications that are caused by hair dyes include cancer, irritation, eye infections, scalp itching, and behavioural problems.

What are hair dyes? 

Simply put, hair dyes are a mixture that contains various chemicals that change the colour of hair. The major chemicals present in hair dyes are oxidising agents such as hydrogen peroxide along with other chemicals like ammonia, lead, benzenes and toluenes. 

The hydrogen peroxide present in hair colours reacts with the naturally occurring melanin in the hair to get the required shade but may also cause scalp irritation. 

Among the chemicals used to make hair dyes, PPD (Paraphenylenediamine) is cited to be extremely toxic to both the environment and human life. 

PPD is the most commonly used chemical in hair dyes that give a naturally occurring colour to the hair without being affected by hair wash. It usually requires oxygen to give off its function. FDA has recommended that the amount of PPD in hair dyes must not exceed more than 10 ppm. 

However, many hair dyes exceed this set amount that resulting in further toxication of the environment and other medical complications such as skin allergy or irritation to the eyes. 

Other uses of PPD include use in textile dyes, photographic development, cosmetics, tattoos, and black rubber. 

Other than PPD, hydrogen peroxide is also used in the hair dyes that is also responsible to react with the natural melanin in the hair to change the colour. This chemical is also harmful and not suitable for the environment. 

Usually, there are four types of hair dyes including: 

  • Temporary hair colours 
  • Semi-permanent hair colours 
  • Permanent hair dyes 
  • Gradual dyes 

Temporary hair colours can be washed away with shampoo. Semi-permanent hair colours are not easy to wash with shampoo. They usually contain aerosols. They require more time before the colour fades away. 

Permanent hair dyes usually contain hydrogen peroxide, PPD and other chemcials and their colour persists over a long period in time. The use of shampoo may, however, affect the colour over time. Lastly, gradual dyes are regularly used until the required shade is achieved. 

Do hair dyes cause cancer? 

It is a matter of piqued interest to know if the use of hair dyes causes any medical complications to human health. It is known that hair dyes contain chemicals like PPD, hydrogen peroxide, benzene, toluene, and ammonia which are harmful to the environment. 

It is also known that the chemical used in hair dyes also cause health complications such as skin allergies, or irritation in the eyes. The hydrogen peroxide used in the hair colours causes scalp infections. 

Other than these complications, it is also speculated if the use of hair dyes also causes major medical issues like cancer. In this regard, a couple of researches have been conducted but the results are rather equivocal. 

However, it is established for sure that conventional hair dyes contain a lot of chemicals and some of them are carcinogens hence it is plausible to hypothesise that the use of conventional hair dyes does cause the risk of cancers, particularly bladder cancer. 

What is the impact of hair dyes on the environment? 

The use of conventional hair dyes has a lot of negative impacts on the environment. The chemicals used in conventional hair dyes persist over a long period of time and affect life and the nearby environment. 

Most of the chemicals used in hair dyes have not been tested for safety considerations; therefore, all forms of life are affected by the use of hair dyes. For example, the PPD used in hair dyes makes the aquatic environment toxic for aquatic animals as well as humans. 

Since these chemicals persist over a longer period of time, they enter various food chains as well and eventually end up in our kitchens and water bottles. 

A large number of researchers have detected the presence of PPD in water bodies (in very large amounts). Many academics suggest that PPD is carcinogenic causing cancer in humans and other forms of life. 

The presence of hydrogen peroxide is also cited to cause many adverse environmental results. The hydrogen peroxide that enters the water bodies by the disposal of dyes reduces the amount of oxygen available in the water bodies and resultantly, organisms die. 

This is because of the reaction of hydrogen peroxide with the organic matter present in water bodies that cause aquatic death. Algae are said to be most affected by this chemical in water bodies. 

It has been established that the chemicals used in hair dyes persist in the environment for a very long time (as they are not biodegradable). That is why these chemicals also affect plant life. 

These chemicals when disposed of in the wrong ways may accumulate in the soil, changing the composition of the soil and making it toxic. Eventually, it results in the death of plants and convergence to many other food chains as well. 

Why is the issue of hair dyes important?

The issue of hair dyes is important because hair dyes are used by consumers in very large quantities because of the increasing shift towards hair dyes. This increased amount poses more harm to the environment. 

The hair dyes that are usually used in beauty salons and domestically at home contain various chemicals like PPD, ammonia or hydrogen peroxide. These chemicals persist in the environment and infiltrate many levels of food chains. 

As per the statistical analyses, the global market of hair dyes stands at 20 million dollars currently and is expected to rise up to 30 million dollars in 5 years’ time. 

As per other studies, it is known that hair dyes are the third most used consumer product belonging to the cosmetic category. The analysis says that in the US alone, more than two-thirds of the population use hair dyes. 

These surged figures properly convey why the issue of hair dyes is important. Greater production of hair dyes implies that more hair dyes are exposed to the environment and resultantly, the greater population is affected adversely. 

What are some of the alternatives to hair dyes? 

It is important to know what are some of the green alternatives to conventionally used hair dyes because awareness of better options would lead to more sustainable choices as a consumer. Natural products can also be used as hair dyes at home. 

Below are some of the sustainable alternatives for hair dyes: 

  • Carrot juice
  • Beet juice
  • Henna 
  • Coffee 
  • Chamomile Tea 
  • Sage 

All these alternatives are natural and sustainable and cause the least harm to the environment and people. On top of that, these alternatives do not contain any chemicals and hence have no element of artificiality in them. 

These options such as carrot juice, beet juice or coffee can be added to the carrier oil and can be applied to the head. They can give off a diverse range of colours from reddish or darker tonnes (in the case of coffee or sage, for example). 

Henna is a natural dye which is derived from plants. It is used widely as hair colour in many parts of the world; particularly in India & Pakistan. It contains natural elements which can easily biodegrade in nature. 

If getting a lighter colour is your priority then you might want to consider the options of lemon juice or chamomile tea. A detailed step guide on how to apply these alternatives is available online

What medical complications are caused by hair dyes? 

Hair dyes are known to cause a number of medical complications that affect human health greatly. Below are some of the medical complications that stem from the use of chemical hair dyes: 

  • Chemical hair dyes are suspected to cause cancer since they contain some carcinogens. It is speculated that hair dyes have direct role in bladder cancer. PPD is the main chemical behind this effect.
  • Hair dyes are also known to cause skin allergies and eye irritation. This is largely because of oxidising chemicals used in hair dyes like hydrogen peroxide. 
  • Hair dyes also cause scalp irritation. 
  • Hair dyes are also known to cause medical complications for expecting mothers. That is why hair dyes are avoided during pregnancy. Exposure to chemicals in hair dyes may affect the health of the child. 
  • Hair dyes cause psychological problems too owing to the presence of various chemicals. These may include attention problems, hyperactivity and behavioural changes.

How to shop for the right hair dyes, if you must? (5 ways to buy the right hair dyes) 

It is now clear that the package of hair dyes not only contains the bottles of hair dyes but also a plethora of problems for animal life, plant life, the environment and eventually humans too. 

Given this context, it is never advisable to use conventional chemical-based hair dyes. However, if you are still inclined to go for chemical hair dyes, there are some considerations that you can keep in mind to confirm your safety and that of the environment. 

Although the majority of hair dyes available in the market contain high amounts of chemicals, there are some options that are organic and ammonia-free. Despite being a bit hard on the budget, they make a good fit for the environment and your health. 

When shopping for hair dyes, be considerate of the packaging as well. Prefer those hair dyes that have more sustainable packaging (less use of plastics et cetera).

Those hair dyes should be preferred that have the labels of vegan & cruelty-free. In this way, you will be certain that no harm to animals and plants was done during the manufacture of that particular hair dye. 

While making the purchase of hair dye, be mindful if the hair dye is locally produced or imported. Imported hair dyes mean that they travelled large distances to get in front of you; increasing the overall carbon footprint of the product. 


It is concluded that hair dyes are not biodegradable. Conventional hair dyes contain a number of chemicals such as hydrogen peroxide, Paraphenylenediamine (PPD), lead, ammonia, and benzenes. These chemicals, when disposed of, persist in the environment for a very long time and cause harm. 

These chemicals disrupt the food chains, and infiltrate natural settings (change in pH et cetera). They also cause direct harm to human health including irritation, eye infection, cancer, problems to the foetus, and scalp allergies. 

The chemicals present in hair dyes also pose direct and grave harm to plants and animals. They may change the pH of the soil and can deplete oxygen availability in water bodies resulting in the deaths of hundreds of animal species.

Frequently Asked Questions: Is hair dye biodegradable? 

Are organic hair dyes commercially available in the market?

Yes, organic hair dyes (containing no harmful chemicals) are available in the consumer market. It all rests on the consumers to be aware, mindful and make the right shopping choices. Some examples are Henna colour dye, Green Hare, DIY hair dye. 

Do hair dyes cause cancer?

It is a topic of equivocality. However, many researches advocate that hair dyes do cause cancer because they contain harmful chemicals like PPD and hydrogen peroxide. 


  • de Oliveira, R. A., Zanoni, T. B., Bessegato, G. G., Oliveira, D. P., Umbuzeiro, G. A., & Zanoni, M. V. B. (2014). The chemistry and toxicity of hair dyes. QuĂ­mica Nova, 37, 1037-1046.
  • Kelsh, M. A., Alexander, D. D., Kalmes, R. M., & Buffler, P. A. (2008). Personal use of hair dyes and risk of bladder cancer: a meta-analysis of epidemiologic data. Cancer Causes & Control, 19(6), 549-558.
  • Rust, R. C., & Schlatter, H. (2022). hair Dyes. Cosmetic Dermatology: Products and Procedures, 309-319.
  • Gotter, Anna. (May 3, 2017). 7 natural dyes. How to colour your hair at home. Retrieved from:

Leave a Comment