The Future of Hair Color: Can Lab Informatics Help to Make Hair Dyes Safer and Allergy-Free?

lab informatics
How can lab informatics help companies curb the rise of allergies to hair dye?
Image source: Flickr CC user Sarah-Rose

There’s no denying that beauty products enjoy a large market on the global stage. And a big chunk of that is devoted to products for our hair. From increasing shine to boosting volume, we do a lot to our hair—including changing its color. In the United States, 18% of revenue in salons comes from hair coloring services. What’s even more impressive is that an estimated 70% of women use some form of hair dye in the U.S. alone.1

With those numbers, you’d expect a wide array of innovative products competing for consumers’ precious buying dollars. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, the process used to dye hair hasn’t changed much in the last century.

The Chemistry of Hair Dye

Applying permanent color to hair isn’t the same thing as dyeing a piece of cloth. It’s not a stain but rather a chemical process and it’s deceptively simple. Bathe the hair in an ammonia solution to damage the protein layers that protect the individual strands. Add the dye compound and let it sit for at least half an hour in order to give time for the chemical reaction to take place. And make no mistake: it is a chemical reaction. The dye molecules need to be linked together to give rise to the diverse palette of blondes, reds and brunettes we see in the hair color aisles.

So what’s the problem? The hair coloring process seems to be working and you know what they say: if it’s not broken, don’t fix it. But is the system actually working? What many people don’t realize is that the dye molecules in hair coloring agents are usually derived from coal tar. That in and of itself isn’t necessarily a problem; we can find all sorts of surprising things in the products we use on our bodies. Unfortunately, those dye molecules are also electron scavengers, which means they can cause allergic reactions, some quite severe.

Innovation through Lab Informatics Can Make Hair Coloring Products Safer

We’ve previously discussed consumer concerns over the chemicals we put in our hair. Hair dye is no different. More and more people are having to resort to applying antihistamine creams and wrapping exposed skin in plastic shields in order to prevent adverse allergic reactions. Nothing beats that perfect shade of hair, but is risking blisters and skin rashes worth it? Even the number of children with dye allergies has risen in recent years.2 Surely, this is a sign that we need to find new, innovative ways to color our hair.

It’s certainly possible. Earlier this year, researchers developed a way to restore natural color to grey hair without the use of dye.3 This certainly sounds like a boon to our older generations!

While companies may not have needed to innovate their hair dye products in the past, this mindset appears to be set to change with the rise in skin allergies. To do so, firms will need tools tailored to support experiment planning and design as well as the analysis and visualization of experimental data. Changing tried and true formulations can be risky. When it comes to introducing new products, it’s important to ensure they’re as effective as the old ones they’re replacing but also don’t replicate the same problems.

This type of research and development is sure to generate lots of data. There are many variables involved, including the compounds necessary to achieve a desired shade of hair color, required application times and potential skin sensitivities. That’s a lot of information to track, manage and mine.

BIOVIA Experiment Knowledge Base can help with these challenges. Not only does this lab informatics system integrate with your existing infrastructure, it supports the development of new, innovative products at a faster pace thanks to its workflow management capabilities. With its ability to extract important insights from large swaths of experimental data, it’s the ideal tool for your company’s efforts in hair color innovation and other beauty products. Please contact us today to learn more.

  1. “Colour to dye for: how much do we really know about the risks of colouring our hair?” December 16, 2014,
  2. “Increase in hair dye allergies in children,” July 9, 2015,
  3. “Scientific Discovery Reverses Gray Hair to Its Natural Color – Invented by the Warner-Babcock Institute,” April 2, 2015,—-invented-by-the-warner-babcock-institute-300060308.html

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