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Artificial Melanin: The Healthier Replacement to Traditional Hair Dye?

November 24, 2020
Written ByPocosmo Staff

In the last decade, hair dyes have gained popularity among all genders and ages. However, dyeing hair using traditional chemical hair dye comes with its own risk. Apart from the hair damage, nearly 1% of people are allergic to the dye. Moreover, the frequent use of certain dyes has been related to cancer.

Could artificial melanin be the answer to hair color fanatics all around the world?

Melanin is a group of natural pigments. It gives skin and hair its color. It begins to disappear from hair fibers as we age, leading to color loss and graying.

In a study published in the journal Chemistry of Materials on October 30th, the researchers introduced a new method of dyeing hair using artificial melanin. As the human body naturally produces melanin, artificial melanin is thought to have a gentler effect on the body.

How Does the Dye Work

Scientists have been working on developing gentler processes to dye hair. A couple of years ago, a team created a hair dye incorporating graphene instead of the toxic chemicals. However, the process was unsuccessful due to the rarity of graphene and ineffective result on lighter colored hair.

Northwestern’s Nathan Gianneschi, the research lead and associate director for the International Institute for Nanotechnology, said every type of organism produces melanin, making it a readily available and versatile material to use in the lab. The synthetic melanin can produce natural colors ranging from blond to black.

The color generated lasts up to multiple washes.

“From a biomedical perspective, there’s a huge market of people with a hair dye allergy. Our first thought was it would be great to have a solution to help those people,” said Gianneschi.

What is the Application Process

The application varies from the traditional dyeing process.

In the typical process of coloring hair, stylists use bleach to strip melanin from hair, then add ammonia and dye to open and penetrate the hair cuticles for permanent color. Work being done with melanin in other parts of the lab inspired Claudia Battistella, the first author of the journal, to see how it applied to hair dye.

The new method works by putting synthetic dye on hair with mild heat and ammonium hydroxide. The shade of the dye depends on the amount of ammonium hydroxide, the more ammonium hydroxide the darker the hue. For example, to achieve a red or golden shade, a small amount of ammonium hydroxide is needed. The dye does not penetrate the hair cuticle, resulting in less damage.

“The dyeing process is similar from a stylist’s point of view, but these conditions are milder, so they take a little longer,” Battistella said.

“Though it could be combined with a base, it’s not necessary to use one, and there is no need for chemical pigments. Because we already have melanin in our bodies, we believe we won’t have allergic reactions to it.”

As an extra benefit, synthetic melanin protects the hair from UV damage too. Studies revealed that in contrast to untreated hair, hair coated with melanin pigment sustained less damage upon exposure to UV rays.

“This new hair dye will be photoprotective against sunlight, and the dye will act to shield hair from damaging UV rays,” said Dr. Michele Green, a dermatologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

Would you try the artificial melanin dye? Comment below to let us know.

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