Following my recent article on sulfite / sulphite sensitivity, it was pointed out to me that sulfites are also used in cosmetics. Given their role in colour preservation and to prevent oxidation in foods such as dried apricots, it’s not surprising that they’re often found in hair dye or colouring products (and also in bronzers and fake tans).
I’ve written extensively on hair dyes before, mainly in relation to PPD allergy and PPD-free hair dyes, given that PPD is the most serious of all allergens in these products, with the potential to cause extreme reactions.
But if you’re looking to avoid sulfite preservatives, your job is perhaps tougher, as very few brands make ‘sulfite free’ claims, instead preferring ‘PPD free’ and / or ‘ammonia free’ statements, for instance.
So here’s a round up of products which should be suitable.
Hairprint (US / International)
The first product actually isn’t a dye at all, but describes itself as a ‘botanical hair treatment’ which returns greying hair to its original colour.
It’s a restorer, essentially. It works by replenishing brown and black hair pigments which have started to turn grey, and recreates the original arrangement of these pigments (its ‘hair print’) which dictates our individual hair colour and which is unique to each of us.
There are a few limitations: it doesn’t work on blonde or red hair which is turning grey, for instance, and it’s advised you don’t use it on relaxed, permed or waved hair, or on hair on which you’ve used other products that may have contained metallic salts.
But if you have ‘clean’ and untreated brown or black hair which is greying, it may well be worth trying if you’ve had only low to moderate success with other, more natural products, such as henna or gentler ‘semi permanent’ dyes.
The ‘True Color’ Hair Restorer from Hairprint is free from: PPD, coal tars, henna, parabens — and sulfites.
The brand also offers a range of complementary shampoos, conditioners, hair oils, serums and treatments to help achieve and maintain good results.
This is one of the few brands that actually make a sulfite free claim, and it is the only permanent hair color I’ve been able to find suitable for those with sulfite sensitivity.
According to its website, it is PPD-free, but says it uses (or may use) a list of other chemical ingredients, one of which is TDS, a chemical closely related to PPD, but slightly less likely to cause allergic reactions. If you know you are allergic to PPD, you must get advice from your allergist or immunologist before using any permanent hair product containing PPD-substitutes such as TDS, as up to half of PPD-allergic people react to such substitutes.
If you’ve safely used permanent hair dyes before, there’s no reason to suppose that using Ecocolors should be any different, but as with all products you should always conduct a careful patch test in advance.
Ecocolors come in a range of options and are free from parabens, propylene glycol, ethanolamine, MEA, formaldehyde — as well as sulfites.
There are a number of safe options in this category. They include:
Herbatint Vegetal (UK)
The brand Herbatint produce the Herbatint Vegetal semi-permanent range, which is both sulfite-free and PPD-free.
NB: they also produce a Herbatint Permanent hair dye treatment, which is neither sulfite-free nor PPD-free. Ensure you’re buying the Vegetal.
Naturtint Reflex (Worldwide)
The brand Naturtint produce the Naturtint Reflex semi-permanent range, which is both sulfite-free and PPD-free.
NB: they also produce Naturtint Permanent hair dye treatment, which is neither sulfite-free nor PPD-free. Ensure you’re buying the Reflex.
Tints of Nature Henna Creams (UK)
Tints of Nature Henna Cream colours are sulfite-free, but the shampoo that comes with the kit is not sulfite-free. (You could of course use your own shampoo.)
NB: they also produce Tints of Nature Permanent hair dye, which is neither PPD-free nor sulfite-free. Ensure you’re buying the Henna Creams.
Surya Henna Creams (Worldwide)
These appear free from PPD, ammonia, peroxide, parabens, resorcinol, gluten — and sulfites.
Wholly natural options
The semi-permanent options above do use artificial dyes or colorants, on the whole, sometimes supplemented with henna and other naturals, so if you prefer to stick to wholly natural and botanical powders and products strictly based only on pure henna, indigo, amla, cassia, coffee and other similar ingredients, you may instead like to look at those products covered in Section 1 of my PPD Free Hair Dye article, which should all be sulfite-free. They are widely considered ‘gentler’, but the color will not last as long.
What about sulfates?
Sulfates — or sulphates — are common in cosmetics. Sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate, and ammonium lauryl sulfate, for example, are used as detergents, surfactants or simple foaming agents in products such as shower gels, but they do not need to be avoided by sulfite sensitive people, unless of course there is a distinct sensitivity or reason to avoid them, such as eczema, which they can sometimes aggravate.