Researchers detail the latest nontoxic alternative to hair dyes. Here’s how it works differently than traditional hair dyes.

Dying hair may not only damage strands but also cause other health ailments. That’s why a research team is excited about the promise of a nontoxic chemical treatment that can change hair color without unwanted side effects.

“Since graphene sheets are black, conductive and flexible, they form good coatings on hair surfaces that can last over 30 shampoo washes. This eliminates the need for chemically changed hair structures, which is how common hair dye works,” said Jiaxing Huang, a professor of materials science and engineering at Northwestern University in Illinois.

“Graphene renders hair tunable shades of brown to black color, and [has] new properties such as antistatic,” he told Healthline.

During the dying process, chemicals such as ammonia and hydrogen peroxide crack open the cuticle scales to allow the colorant inside.

The process of dying can make hair more fragile.

But graphene sheets can wrap around the hair to coat it. The polymer binders allow it to adhere to the hair shaft so it doesn’t have to crack the cuticle of the hair and damage it.

Graphene has antistatic properties as well.

Huang explained that some of the molecules used in hair dyes, such as ​paraphenylenediamine (PPD), can penetrate through the skin and cause allergic reactions and other issues.

Ammonia and hydrogen peroxide, which are in some hair dyes, can also irritate skin.

“Many people don’t realize that what you put on your head goes right into your scalp and your bloodstream,” said Elizabeth Trattner, AP, a holistic specialist from Florida.

She told Healthline that most hair dyes contain sodium metabisulfite, which brings out allergies in many people. The chemical can cause anaphylaxis in rare instances.

According to the American Cancer Society, researchers in the past have looked at links between hair dye and cancer. Dyes that contain cancer-causing materials have been linked to cancer in some hair colorists.

However, the study results haven’t determined concretely whether dye can directly cause cancer.

Cosmetics, which include hair dyes, are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The agency, however, does not approve individual ingredients, so product safety tends to be the responsibility of manufacturers.

More natural options have become popular in recent years. These include using henna, indigo, amla, and cassia to color hair.

As for graphene, work needs to be done to address scalability and regulatory issues, but Huang’s team was pleased with the developments so far.

Because graphene is conductive, it may open up other opportunities such as integrating hair with wearable electronic devices.

While a wide range of colors aren’t available, Huang said that may not be far off.

“​Right now the color is limited to brown to black. We hope other colors can be achieved using other materials,” he added.

Looking to use hair dye in a safer way?

Ask your colorist if they offer a conditioning treatment to keep dye from reaching the scalp.

That’s something that Billy Lowe, founder of Gloss and Toss, suggests.

Lowe recommends letting the scalp rest for 24 to 48 hours before application.

“What I recommend is a double shampoo after hair coloring,” added Trattner. This helps remove more of the dye off the scalp. Also, ask your hairdresser to not use hot water and adjust to tepid or warm water with a cool rinse. The hotter the water, the more it opens pores on the head and will drive them chemicals into the scalp.”