Dyeing to be Natural

Not long ago, the term natural became a household word used in reference to personal care products; before that, it was popular in the food industry. While today’s natural personal care product offerings include soaps, deodorants, skin cream and toothpaste, there are still sectors lacking truly natural product offerings; among them are hair dyes.

Enter Jeff Greaves, founder and manager of Food Ingredient Solutions LLC, who built on his knowledge of the food pigments industry to create what he believes to be the first effective plant-based hair dye. A customer inquiry led Greaves to launch Advanced Cosmetic Technologies, a line of natural permanent, semi-permanent and color fixative dyes.

Selecting Safe, Effective Dyes
Greaves focused on the development of natural hair dyes to provide an alternative to synthetics, which contain ingredients that can pose problems. For instance, as he describes, p-phenylenediamine (PPD) has been found to be “a carcinogenic and a sensitizer that can result in rashes and other irritation.” Greaves also omitted other ingredients found in synthetic dyes that have been affiliated with toxicity or allergic responses, such as resorcinol and ammonia.

During the discovery process, Greaves found that not all natural dyes were viable; for instance, he avoided juglone, a natural dark brown pigment also known as walnut extract or CI 75500, as it “has been questioned by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).”

Not only was safety a key factor, but also efficacy. Greaves sought edible plant cultivars from which usable dyes could be derived. However, he was not looking for any natural dye; he wanted a dye that would provide real efficacy.

Henna, a commonly used natural dye, did not exhibit the efficacy he was after. “The dyes we selected have a performance advantage over henna. With henna, you can only get some reds and oranges. Also, the pigment coats the hair, so if the consumer decides they do not like it, it is hard to remove or color over it,” said Greaves.

The main objective for Greaves was to achieve natural permanent hair colors that are stable, strong and that stick. In many cases, Greaves bred plants specifically to create strong plant dyes. “We have plants such as madder [an herbal extract] that are selectively bred for their pigments. Madder contains multiple pigments in various forms but we only wanted certain ones-and we wanted to breed down the solids and sugars that we would have to pull out. There is a lot of trial and error to get the pigment you want,” conceded Greaves. This trial and error can involve plant exchange resins and solvent extraction. “We are not separating the molecules,” explained Greaves. “We are just isolating them.”

Most of the edible pigments chosen by Greaves are from vegetables. For example, he formulates with indigo from Indigofera tinctoria, a violet pigment from red cabbage, and anthocyanins from purple sweet potato, red radish and purple carrots. “Some of the traditional anthocyanin sources such as grape are less stable,” said Greaves, who added that they also contain an overabundance of tannins and sulfur dioxides. Instead, he searched for dyes containing double bonds to make them resistant to oxidation.

Reaction for Deposition
To deposit the dye into the hair, Greaves’ color kit reacts the plant-based dyes with mineral salts and the protein in hair to form a stable complex. The mineral salt is a divalent or trivalent ion that creates a bond with the protein. The dye does not open the cuticle like traditional dyes.

“Typically the isometric point of hair is around 4.5. An oxidative dye molecule is too large to get into hair. Therefore, the formulator would have to use an amine to raise the pH of hair to get the molecule [to penetrate]. This is typically done with an alkaline substance such as ammonia to open the cuticle,” said Greaves.

The natural dyes, however, have a molecular weight of 2,000, which are small enough to enter the hair cuticle. To produce the pigment, the color is set with a mineral salt such as magnesium citrate or calcium carbonate. These salts bond differently with the pigments and thus are chosen to deliver specific shades.

Lasting Reds and More
According to Greaves, PPD-based red pigments are not light stable and thus fade quickly, but natural red dyes are said to last longer. In addition, natural dyes can be removed with a fairly strong acid. Also, since no peroxide or ammonia is used with natural dyes, the hair cuticle is not opened, causing less damage to hair.

Greaves is currently working on additional natural dye technologies, including shampoos and conditioners with tinting capabilities. Although he does not yet have a natural lightening kit, he has a lead on a natural compound that may do this and anticipates looking into natural lightening in the future.

Jeff Greaves is the founder and manager of Food Ingredient Solutions LLC and the founder and president of Advanced Cosmetic Technologies LLC. He obtained his juris doctorate from Pace Law School before holding positions at Marubeni America Corp. and San-Ei Gen F.F.I. Greaves is a member of the Society of Cosmetic Chemists, the American Chemical Society and the Institute of Food Technologists.

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