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Hair is composed mainly of the protein keratin; the same protein found in skin and nails. The natural color of hair depends on the ratio and quantities of two other proteins, eumelanin and phaeomelanin. Eumelanin is responsible for brown to black hair shades. Phaeomelanin is responsible for golden blond, ginger and red colors. The absence of either type of melanin produces white or gray hair.
People have been coloring their hair for thousands of years using plants, minerals and other natural materials. Some natural coloring agents contain pigments, i.e., henna, black walnut shells and iron oxide minerals, while some contain natural bleaching agents, lightening agents or materials that react for color change such as vinegar or lawsone (found in henna).
Natural pigments generally work by coating the hair shaft with color. Some natural colorants last through several shampoos cycles but are not necessarily safer or more gentle than today’s modern formulations. It is difficult to get consistent results using natural hair colorants, and some people may be sensitized or allergic to natural ingredients.
The difference between temporary and permanent hair coloring systems is the ingredients used in each.
Temporary or semi-permanent hair coloring agents may deposit acidic (D&C or FD&C) dyes onto the outside of the hair shaft or may consist of small pigment molecules that can slip inside the hair shaft. Most of this color gets washed out after a few washings. This is not as harsh on the hair as permanent hair dyes but care should be taken when using these systems.