- A new study finds that artificial melanin may someday replace traditional hair dye.
- The body naturally produces melanin, so artificial melanin is thought to have a gentler effect on the body.
- The new melanin dye method uses enzymes that create synthetic melanin that can produce natural colors ranging from blond to black.
Scientists from Northwestern University have developed a new type of hair dye that could be healthier than traditional chemical hair dyes known to cause allergic reactions, swelling, and a potential increased risk for cancer in some people.
In a new study published in the journal Chemistry of Materials in October, the researchers describe the new method, called artificial melanin, and why it’s potentially less toxic than traditional dyes.
Because the body naturally produces melanin, artificial melanin is thought to have a gentler effect on the body.
“Traditional hair dyes are believed to be carcinogenic, and 5 percent of people are allergic to hair dyes. Having a safe and effective alternative would be a boon to the industry,” said Dr. Michele Green, a dermatologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
Nathan Gianneschi, the research lead and associate director for the International Institute for Nanotechnology, came up with the idea for artificial melanin hair dye when he speculated what would happen when melanin in hair was manipulated rather than stripped and replaced.
The new melanin dye method uses enzymes that create synthetic melanin that can produce natural colors ranging from blond to black.
The color generated from artificial melanin can withstand multiple washes.
“In an era when people are seeking ever more natural hair and cosmetic products, we wanted to make the closest thing we could, in the closest way possible, to nature’s pigment as a new kind of hair dye,” Gianneschi told Healthline.
Typically, hair stylists apply bleach to remove melanin from the hair, and then ammonia and dye to penetrate the hair follicle and add permanent color.
These traditional dyes use harsh chemicals that can trigger allergic reactions and swelling in some people.
The chemicals can also cause anaphylaxis, a rare but life threatening allergic reaction in which people have trouble breathing.
Some studies have found the dye chemicals to be associated with an increased risk for cancer (specifically bladder cancer, leukemias, and lymphomas) in frequent users. That said, the study results are often mixed.
“Current hair dyes have been linked to cancer, and most commonly to hair dye allergy, which affects a tremendous number of people over the course of their lives,” Gianneschi said.
Artificial melanin is a sustainable alternative that uses chemicals the body naturally produces. Because the body naturally produces melanin, no toxic or allergic outcomes are expected, according to Gianneschi.
“Artificial melanin may be a good option for people to avoid becoming allergic to traditional hair dyes, or may also be an alternative for people who are allergic,” said Dr. Jeffrey Cohen, a Yale Medicine dermatologist.
Melanin also protects people against the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays, and it’s thought that artificial melanin may do the same.
“This new hair dye will be photoprotective against sunlight, and the dye will act to shield hair from damaging UV rays,” Green said.
Experts agree that more studies on artificial melanin are needed.
Cohen said that while using synthetic melanin as a hair dye could offer some sun protection, more data is needed to ensure that’s the case.
Additionally, allergic reactions to melanin can’t be ruled out just yet.
“Even though melanin is made by the body, it is still possible that some people would be allergic to a hair dye product with artificial melanin. Additionally, any product applied to the skin may potentially cause skin irritation,” Cohen said.
Gianneschi said his research team will continue to look into the safety and effectiveness of the dyes, first by testing the dyes on skin cells in a lab and then on human skin in a clinical trial.
Once the method has been adequately tested and proven, the research team hopes to develop the dye on a larger scale for commercial use.
“These are some of the first steps for getting our process defined as safe for use,” Gianneschi said.
Researchers have developed a new type of hair dye called artificial melanin that could be healthier than traditional chemical hair dyes known to cause allergic reactions, swelling, and an increased risk for cancer in some people.
Because humans naturally produce melanin, the new method is thought to be less toxic and gentler on the body.
More research is needed to test artificial melanin before it goes to market, but health experts think the sustainable alternative could revolutionize the cosmetics industry.