Eco-friendly Hair Dye Created from Ribena Waste

01 June 2018

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Hair dye created by discarded blackcurrant skins will soon hit the market, thanks to researchers at the University of Leeds.

Globally, people spend about $10 billion a year on hair-colouring products, such as synthetic hair dyes. Many synthetic dyes are produced with the use of petrochemicals, which have been linked to irritation and severe allergic reactions. There is even debate on whether or not some petrochemical-based dyes can cause cancer.

To avoid these harsh chemicals, many people turn to “natural”, henna-based hair dyes. In reality, the active colourant in henna is lawsone, which is considered toxic by the EU Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety.

If these hair dyes are toxic, how do they affect the environment? It’s estimated that 95% of hair dyes actually wash out in the shower and go down the drain. The environmental impact is still unknown.

Richard Blackburn and his team at the University of Leeds set out to find a solution to this hairy situation, which can be found in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry1. "Because of issues and concerns around conventional dyes, we wanted to develop biodegradable alternatives that minimise potential risks to health and offer consumers a different option," explains Blackburn.

The team discovered that the fruit juice brand "Ribena" discarded blackcurrant skins in the production of their blackcurrant-based cordial drinks. Blackcurrants, like many fruits and vegetables, are naturally pigmented by chemicals called anthocyanins.

Anthocyanins are non-toxic, water-soluble pigments that are responsible for red, purple, and blue colours found in many plants. Better yet, anthocyanins bond easily with proteins, like hair, making the blackcurrant a perfect candidate for Blackburn and his team.

The researchers went to work to develop an eco-friendly method of creating hair dye out of the blackcurrant skins. “The colour is extracted using a water-based process and special filters to collect the anthocyanins that we want. We believe that if we are extracting natural and food-grade products, we should not use any toxic or hazardous chemicals to get them,” says Blackburn.

The team’s efforts proved to be fruitful; they were able to produce vivid red, purple and blue dyes using the pigments extracted from the blackcurrant skins. Better yet, the hair dyes last at least 12 washes, which is just as long as the lifespan of most semi-permanent dyes.

Blackburn and his team have proven that it is possible to create natural products using renewable sources and environmentally friendly methods. The new blackcurrant hair dye will hit the market this summer under the brand name “Dr. Craft”.

You know what they say, if life gives you blackcurrants, make hair dye!

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