Dyeing to make a difference

It’s World Environment Day, and here at Shape of Things to Come HQ we’re trying hard to keep our cynicism in check. Y’see, doing your bit for the planet isn’t exactly a once-per-year event and I tend to get a little frustrated with the types of tokenistic actions these sorts of ‘awareness’ days generate. World Environment Day it remains though, and as I lay in bed this morning, procrastinating over leaving my warm bed to confront the cold, grey morning, I thought about what I could do to mark the day.

It strikes me that today is a good day to initiate change; to think about and alter your lifestyle just a little to shrink your environmental impact. It’s a good day for beginnings, or in my case an ending: I’m stopping dyeing my hair.

It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a few months now, after giving my hair a break from regular chemical baths. I know the ingredients in your average supermarket bottle of hair dye aren’t exactly great for the environment, then there’s the plastic packaging, the money spent and the extra water and electricity used (for the long shower to wash the excess colour out). On top of that there’s some scientific suggestion that the chemicals I’ve been dumping on my head aren’t particularly good for me either, though it’s worth noting that to date there’s no solid evidence of harmful effects of hair dye on human health.

Crater falls

I think I might be better off admiring natural waterfalls instead of creating my own colourful chemical cascades in the shower.

What’s in permanent hair dye that might not be so great?

So giving up on dyeing my hair seems like a better deal for both the planet and my poor scalp, as well as for my wallet. It seems like such a simple thing I can do to make my life a little more sustainable, but I’ve got to admit I’m still a little worried about it.

It’s not just vanity, although I do have a surprising amount of grey coming through these days and I’m really not keen on rocking the two-tone look as the lightened dyed hair grows out. This is the first sustainability decision I’ve made that will affect the way other people perceive me. I’m changing the way I look, showing my greys in a youth-obsessed world and not conforming to societal expectations. Is it ok to rock the greys when you’re single or will I scare potential suitors away with my hippy ways and signs of ageing?

Most of all though I’m going to miss colouring my hair purple-black in the winter. I love the splash of colour against my washed-out winter complexion and just looking a little bit different. Perhaps I’ll give dyeing my hair with henna and indigo a go.


Plant-based dyes might be a better way to go, but they sound like a lot of hard work!

How are you marking World Environment Day this year? Are you embracing the tide of re-usable plastic coffee cups and plant-a-tree give-aways or are you as under-whelmed and cynical as I’ve become? 

Please share your stories of the little ways you’ve lightened your impact a little more permanently.

5 Comments on “Dyeing to make a difference

  1. eeep. This area is where I fail massively in my quest to live as ethically as I can. I don’t think I can give up dying my hair as it always makes me feel good (going to the hairdresser every couple of months is a nice day out for me, usually do a bit of shopping, have lunch, coffee etc) and I feel pretty and shiny when I do it. All silly and self absorbed reasons I know but sometimes I need to do something just for me. I don’t wear makeup or perfume very often (nights out maybe), buy organic personal products and live in Birkenstocks or trainers usually (not into $400 shoes or anything).

    I do respect your decision, I have to say. This world is youth obsessed and it irritates me no end. People get older and it’s not a crime, in fact generally you’re a better, far more interesting and attractive person as you age! The backlash against women lately is really getting to me – our personal appearance, lifestyle choices, weight, all seems to be up for discussion by both genders, the media, research, it’s quite depressing. I mean, I like to look nice but I’m in my 30s and feel like I’m banging my head against a wall sometimes – what’s it going to be like when I’m 50 or older?

    The way I see it, the problem is twofold – marketing and human nature. Marketing and advertising looks at 3 main, gender specific ‘problems’ (really just signs of getting older or not being perfect, not problems at all really); weight gain or body image (women), youthful skin (women) and hair loss (men). Then us humans start to buy into it because we’re made to feel ugly. So manipulative and really harmful imo.

    Aaargh. I could go on for ages about this but won’t. Sometimes I just want to go live on a farm back in northern NSW and collect chook eggs or something.

    • Hi Emma!

      I really wouldn’t call dyeing your hair a fail! I don’t believe that living as ethically as possible is really the way to go. I think it’s more important to live as ethically as you can sustain. That means that you do a few things that aren’t quite as low-impact as they could be, but you maintain your energy and motivation to keep making ethical choices and feeling positive about your life and choices.

      I don’t think martyring yourself to the ethical/environmental cause does anyone any favours. You start to feel like you’re suffering for your choices, and instead of inspiring others to be more mindful in their choices you can unintentionally put them off (the standard is too high, the sacrifices too great) as well as burning yourself out.

      It’s about balance and trade-off. Be aware of what you are and aren’t willing to sacrifice and make the changes that fit with the rest of your life. As I mentioned in my post about travel I tend to fly a lot (both for work and personal reasons) which has a huge impact on my CO2 emissions, but I’m not going to stop travelling any time soon: I simply get too much out of my travels to be willing to make that trade off, so I make other choices to reduce my impacts.

      And yeah, I’m a wee bit nervous as to how I’m going to find growing out the greys. Living in Tas and working in the environmental sector I experience much less image pressure than most women but I do value my looks and I wonder if it’s going to change the way people react to me (and if I ever get asked out again!). So I’ve given myself the “out” of using plant-based dyes if it all gets too traumatic!

      I could rant for hours about the ridiculous beauty standards and youth obsession of our society, but I suspect you already know what I’d say. 😉


  2. Well, you know my on again/off again relationship with my grey hair. Grey at 30 and I flip between being all grey and then losing my rag and bleaching it and dyeing it a rainbow of colours.

    I’m currently pink and purple, recently I was blue and before that I was grey. I get so frustrated that I am treated differently when grey, but I am and I can’t see that changing in the near future. People think I’m a young looking 40 something.

    I am tempted to shave my freaking head and just let it grow out curly and naturally grey. I’d look a bit like a chubby potato head if I shaved it and the same if it was cropped. Maybe I should just cut it all of an start again naturally. I don’t know. Tempting though!

    • I hate the way showing signs of aging is seen as some sort of personal failure and want to be comfortable in my own skin, grey hairs and all. At the same time though I don’t like looking “old and tired” and colouring is a really effective and efficient way of perking myself up when I’m feeling worn down.

      I do love your crazy rainbow hair, but I think you look funky with the grey too. I totally understand why you colour (and why most women and an increasing number of men to too) and am going to miss my lovely glossy purple-black locks. That said, I’ve damaged my hair pretty badly after 2 years of colouring and it does need to grow out and recover. I think a bit of grey will look better than the dry, frizzed hair I’ve got now (aside from the 5 cm of natural re-growth I’ve got going on). The two-tone look isn’t so crash-hot though, and if that worsens I think I’ll give indigo dye a go. Perhaps when you come visit me?

      Much love to my rainbow-hued friend!

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